Yesterday I had the most surreal experience of my career. I found myself sitting in a circle with some of the most influential people in the field discussing the role of research lead or research “champion.” (name change needed) Among those encircled in the chapel at Raines Foundation were Dylan William, Rob Coe, Tom Sherrington, Alex Quigley, John Tomsett, Daisy Christodoulou, Oliver Quinlan, Jonathan Sharples, Keven Bartle, Helene Galding O Shea, Sam Freedman, Andy Tharby, Chris Brown and many more fascinating people who I sadly didn’t get to speak with. For me however, what made the moment so utterly surreal was having the AFL demi-god Paul Black in our presence in the ‘benevolent grandfather’ role. In my PGCE year at King’s College I saw give a lecture on assessment and have been in awe of him ever since.
There was some pre-reading sent around in the form of an article from Dylan Wiliam; ‘What Should Education Research Do, and How Should It Do It?’ which offered an excellent ‘state of the union address’ on the condition of education research. Essentially the article claims that the three intellectual virtues identified by Aristotle—episteme, techne, and phronesis—are related to the requirements of the “pure” education researcher, the skilled practitioner, and the clinical researcher, respectively, and also promotes the validity of “tacit’ teacher knowledge. This seemed to be a running theme at the conference; the notion that we must not lose sight of innate teacher “wisdom” in the face of the oncoming avalanche of evidence based practice.
Before we started, several pizzas were delivered by Caledonian Pizza boy Tom Bennett along with some crates of orange juice cartons, which we all descended upon before sitting down. Having Rob Coe next to me slurping the dregs of his orange juice, and trying (unsuccessfully) to be quiet was one of the funnier/surreal moments.
There was very much a tabula rasa feeling to the meeting with four broad questions to explore chaired by the fantastic Jude Enright:
1. What are the benchmarks for quality educational research?
2. How should schools be using research ?
3. What is the “Research Champion’s role?
4. How can a national ResearchED network help Research Champions in their roles?
We didn’t discuss the pre-reading (so much for checking the learning from the previous lesson) and went straight into an example of how research can be harnessed in schools by a really interesting few minutes from Caroline Creaby and her excellent work with
@Sandagogy, notably the Sandringham learning journal.
We then dived into a fairly loose exchange around the issues of using research in schools with Jude asking myself and Alex Quigley to outline our roles and how we envision them. I spoke about how I felt an integral part of the role should be to help schools own their own question and not have research imposed upon then. Research in the university is a central part of the mission of that institution, and that is not the case in schools and until there is a change then research/evidence based practice will always be an afterthought, or simply “just another thing we have to do.”
Dylan Wiliam felt that teachers just need to dynamically “do it” and make research happen in schools regardless of the leadership culture, and that it only takes one or two to do so, which I think might be slightly idealistic considering the current capacity of most teachers. Other contributions made the point that research should be linked to CPD and school improvement plans with excellent points made by Kevan Bartle on Teaching Schools and Daisy Christodoulou on how research is being deployed within the ARK academy chain. I am interested to read the minutes and hear from others there what was said/agreed.
All too soon we were told to “do one,” as there were 60 people outside waiting to see Andrew Old, who I only just realised had been creeping around the room during the meeting trying to set up his powerpoint presentation for his talk, arranging tables in groups, and laying out lollipop sticks, sugar paper and post-it notes for his “lesson.”
It was a fascinating assembly of voices that could have yielded so much more given time. I am going to be working with Tom to have a #rED “Research Leads” (Shall we change that name now?? ©Alex Quigley) strand to meet this December in London. I think it will be very important to keep this conversation going, and to share strengths and failings as this is a role that is very much a trip into the unknown, as is the whole enterprise of embedding evidence based practice in schools, and central to its success will be collaborating and supporting each other in this way.