My trouble begins when I start thinking about what does an evidence informed practitioner actually do. Is it reading research articles? Is it attending conferences with notable speakers? Is it about working with colleagues to try out new ideas? Is it about enrolling on a some form of post-graduate programme of study? Is it about undertaking small-scale action research projects?
Judging from the comments I've received via Twitter over the last 12 months, it would be seem to be about all of these practices, and then some. So as we approach the end of the academic year, how can you go about evaluating -in a non-judgmental manner - your performance as an evidence-informed practitioner. One approach is to return to the literature on evidence-based medicine and see what evaluative tools are available for adaptation for use in a school-setting. Fortunately Straus et al (2011) provide a range of questions which can be used for that purpose. But first, let's revisit the 5 steps which make up the practice of evidence-based medicine (and revised for education).
Step 1 - converting the need for information into an answerable question.
Step 2 - tracking down the best evidence with which to answer that question.
Step 3 - critically appraise the evidence for its validity impact and applicability.
Step 4 - integrating our critical appraisal with our teaching expertise and taking into account our pupils's values, circumstances and preferences - alongside the views of other important stakeholders.
Step 5 - evaluating our effectiveness and efficiency in executing steps 1 to 4 and seeking ways to improve next time (Adapted from Straus et al 2011, p3).
So let's now see how these questions can be used to help create a range of self-evaluative questions.
Self-evaluation of converting the need for information into an answerable question
- Am I asking questions about either my teaching and/or management practice?
- Am I asking, by using either the PICO or CIMO technique, focused and answerable questions?
- How do I go about systematically identifying the gaps in both my knowledge and skills?
- If stuck, how do I go about 'unstuck' when asking questions?
- How do I go about saving my questions for future investigation.
- Am I searching at all for 'research evidence' relevant to my teaching/managerial practice?
- Am I searching for evidence from a range of sources - school data, pupils and other stakeholders?
- Do I know the best sources of evidence relevant to my teaching/managerial practice?
- Do I have easy access to this evidence?
- Am I becoming more efficient in searching for evidence?
- Am I making good use of google scholar or ERIC?
- How do my searches for evidence compare to to school librarians, school research leads, senior colleagues who are passionate using research evidence to inform their practice?
Self-evaluation critically appraising the evidence for its validity impact and applicability.
- Am I critically appraising evidence - be it research evidence, internal school data?
- Am I becoming more effective in applying 'critical appraisal techniques' (for example Wallace and Wray) when reviewing the research evidence?
- Am I becoming more knowledgeable about some to the key terms used in educational research, for example, effect sizes and confidence limits
- Am I creating summaries of critically appraised topics?
- Am I integrating critical appraisals into my teaching/managerial practice?
- Am I adapting the findings of my critical appraisals to meet the needs of my pupils/colleagues?
- Can I explain (and resolve) differences in 'what the evidence says' and my teaching and management practice?
Self-evaluation of changing teaching or management practice
- When the evidence suggests a change in teaching/management practice am I identifying 'inhibitors and nourishers' for this change.
- Have I identified a clear and deliverable action plan to implement this change?
- Have I evaluated the impact on pupil learning/outcomes of any changes in practice?
- Am I considering the sustainability of any changes I am putting into practice?
Additional questions could be devised and added to this list, questions which are more relevant to your context and the development of an evidence-informed culture within your school. However, it is important to acknowledge this set of statements are part of a process of becoming an evidence-informed practitioner. If this is your first year in seeking to integrate evidence to inform your practice, it may be just becoming better at devising well formulated and answerable questions is where your self-evaluation should both begin and end. Remember, no-one is perfect and will be doing all of the above, what matters is that you are engaging in a meaningful process to improve your practice.
Straus, S.E., Glasziou, P., Richardson, W. S. & Haynes, B.R. (2011) Evidence Based Medicine : How to practice and teach it, (4th edition), Churchill Livingston.
Wallace, M. and Wray, A. (2011) Critical Reading and Writing for Postgraduates (2nd edition), Sage, London