Monday, 13 April 2015

School Research Leads and Ambitiously seeking to improve practice through the use of evidence

Last week' s post, adapting the work of Barends, Rousseau and Briner (2014),  provided a definition of evidence-informed practice for teachers and schools.  This post, using the first of the 9 A's outlined in the definition - Ambitiously : seeking to improve practice through the use of evidencewill detail both what ambitiously means, and the steps which can be taken to help realise that ambition.  

So what does -  Ambitiously: seeking to improve practice through the use of evidence  mean in practice?  Well, there are clearly has similarities with Hargreaves and Fullan's (2012)  guidance for teachers on how they can develop their professional capital.    In the first of their 10 action points, Hargreaves and Fullan state teachers need to  - Become a true pro.  Hargreaves and and Fullan state :

Teachers are dedicated.  They care about their subjects and their students. They put in endless extra hours.  It is a lot.  But it is  not enough .  Not if you want to teach like a pro.  Teaching like a pro means preparing yourself properly : putting in years of study and practice until you reach your 10,000 hours of of highly accomplished performance and then honing your skills even more as you help develop the next generation of teachers …..Teaching like a pro means connecting with the latest research evidence, inquiring into your own practice - with other colleagues and other schools, down the street and across the word - to find new ideas, get advice, and sift what work from what doesn't. (p155)

In other words, your ambition is to become a tru pro in the use of evidence-informed practice to bring about favourable outcomes for those affected by your actions.  To achieve this there are four principles: first, aim to be expert in the use of evidence; second, where evidence is referred to - check-it-out. third, just because you think you know what the evidence is, check-it-out; four, you are responsible for you own professional learning.  

Aim to be expert in the use of evidence  

In my post of 16 February, 2015 I described the Dreyfus model of human learning, which identifies five levels within the human learning process: novice; advanced beginner; competent; proficient; and, expert.  Brown and Rogers (2014) - in a study designed to facilitate the use of evidence-informed practice - combine the Dreyfus model  with the work of Flyvberg (2001) and Hall and Hord (2001) to create a typology of the descriptors of expertise in the use of evidence. 

Self-assess your self against these descriptors and identify your current level of expertise in the use of research evidence in your day-to-day practice.  Make a plan on how you an move from your current level of expertise to the next stage, for example, how do you move from being a competent to a proficient researcher.  Identify a small-step that you can take right now, to help you make that change.  But remember, expertise in the use of research-evidence is just one part of being an expert evidence-informed practitioner; you will also need to develop your expertise in the use of the other three (stakeholder views, school data and professional expertise) sources of evidence. 

Whenever evidence is referred to - check-it-out 
Just because an expert or guru cites evidence you still need to check-it out. Hargreaves and Fullan cites the 10,000 hour rule for becoming expert or proficientand  which has gained its prominence through the work of Malcolm Gladwell and his 2008 book Outliers.   Gladwell draws attention to  the work of Anders Ericsson and his colleagues who argue that even the most gifted performers required 10,000 hours of deliberate practice   Nevertheless, research by Hambrick et al (2014) reported  that only a third of differences in performance, in elite music and chess, can be explained by accumulated difference in deliberate practice. Let's be clear, I am not arguing that becoming an expert evidence-informed practitioner does not take time and deliberate practice. Instead, I am arguing that you need to check the evidence, especially when it is referred to be experts or gurus.  If in doubt - CHECK-IT-OUT. 

Just because you heard someone say something at a conference does not mean his or her view has not changed. 
Even when you think you know what the evidence is - CHECK-IT-OUT.  At researchED's 2014 conference I saw David Weston, of the Teacher Development Trust,  give a fantastic talk on how a teacher's expertise tended to develop rapidly in the first five years of teaching experience, and then quickly flattens out, with teachers of twenty years of experience being no more effective than those teachers with five years experience.   As such, I was going to use this summary of research to justify claim that teachers should engage in evidence-informed practice as a career-long strategy for professional learning. NevertheIess I  thought I'd better check the evidence, and thanks to David himself, - I've been pointed in the direction of research evidence suggesting the relationship between years of experience and teacher expertise is more complicated than first thought.  For example, Kraft and Papay's (2014) analysis shows that teacher effectiveness is linked to professional environments, with teachers in more supportive environments improving their effectiveness more over time than teachers working in less supportive contexts 

It's down to you  
Finally - acknowledge that getting better at using evidence is a career-long activity and is not something confined to the first few years of professional development.  No one else is responsible for your professional learning, your head-teacher or head of department may be able to help with time and resources, but they are not responsible for your learning.  Becoming an expert evidence-informed practitioner is important and should, wherever appropriate, be prioritised over the non-important and yet somehow urgent  activities that so-often consume our daily working-lives. 

References
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)

Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital : Transforming teaching in every school, Routledge, Abingdon. 

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