Friday, 19 September 2014

So you want to be an evidence based educational leader

Last week I wrote about the need for a synthesis between the research/evidence informed education movement and the discipline of evidence based management.  In this post I will be using Barends, Rousseau, & Briner's (2014) pamphlet on the basic principles of evidence-based management in order to explore in more detail the implications of such an approach for evidence based educational leadership.
Barends et al define evidence based practice as the making of decisions through the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of the best available evidence from multiple sources by:
  • Asking: translating a practical issue or problem into an answerable question
  • Acquiring: systematically searching for and retrieving the evidence
  • Appraising: critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence
  • Aggregating: weighing and pulling together the evidence
  • Applying: incorporating the evidence into the decision-making process
  • Assessing: evaluating the outcome of the decision taken
to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome (p2)*.
In undertaking this task information and evidence is sought from four sources
  1. Scientific evidence Findings from published scientific research.
  2. Organisational evidence Data, facts and figures gathered from the organisation.
  3. Experiential evidence The professional experience and judgment of practitioners.
  4. Stakeholder evidence The values and concerns of people who may be affected by the decision.
Already it should be self-evident that there are a number of challenges, though not insurmountable, to the practice of evidence-based educational leadership.  Three challenges seem immediately apparent:
  1. The need to develop a greater understanding that being an evidence based educational leader requires more than reading John Hattie or looking at the latest Education Endowment Foundation reports.  It is about thinking fundamentally about how you go about your practice as an educational leader  and ensuring it draws upon multiple and possibly conflicting sources of evidence. 
  2. Evidence based educational leadership requires the building of capacity, both individually and organisationally, to create the conditions to make better decisions.  Given the current budgetary pressures faced by the vast majority of schools and colleges, creating the time and the space for this capacity building may be a challenge in itself.  On the other hand, these challenging conditions makes the need for better decision ever more important.
  3. Given the overwhelming importance of OfSTED inspections to what extent does this lead to internal school/college evidence being produced and presented in ways which make evidence-based educational leadership more difficult. In other words is the school/college based evidence, presented and interpreted in such a way to support a 'positive' narrative  - spin- rather than aid in a deep understanding of the issues at hand. 
So, if we accept  these challenges, where is the best place to start for an aspiring evidence based educational leader and manager?    Well there is no better place to start than to begin by developing the mind-set to ask critical questions, followed by the skill to ask those questions in way that they become answerable.

My next post will look to  borrow a technique devised in evidence based medicine to help us develop answerable evidence based questions.
Barends, E., Rousseau, D. M., & Briner, R. B. 2014. Evidence-Based Management : The Basic Principles. Centre for Evidence Based Management (Ed.). Amsterdam.

 *This definition is partly adapted from the Sicily statement of evidence-based practice: Dawes, M., Summerskill, W., Glasziou, P., Cartabellotta, A., Martin, J., Hopayian, K., Porzsolt, F., Burls, A., Osborne, J. (2005). Sicily statement on evidence-based practice. BMC  Medical Education, Vol. 5 (1)


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  4. It was also stated in some of the earlier instances and surely for the future would ensure all those key guides. check it