Monday 26 January 2015

The School Research Lead and Strategies that Work - Lessons from Evidence-Based Medicine

In this post I will be drawing upon work undertaken in the field of Evidence-Based Medicine  to identify a number of strategies will increase the likelihood that the work of the school research lead will be successful.  In doing so, I will be adapting the work of Straus et al (2011) for use in a school-setting.

The work of the school-research lead is most likely to be successful when the work:

Centres around real teaching and learning decisions
It's important to ensure that any research or evidence-based practice focus on the needs of the pupils/department/ and school.  Ideally, by focussing on our pupils' needs we can begin to formulate the right questions and then engage in an appropriate search strategy to identify relevant sources of evidence.   Once, the various sources of evidence have found and appraised it's important to come back to the needs of the pupil to inform the stance on how to proceed.

Focuses on the needs to teachers (and leaders) to become better practitioners
Many colleagues will be relatively new to both and research and evidence-based practice and it is important to start with where those colleagues are in their own professional journey rather than start with where you would like or expect them to be.  Engaging in this work will involve some 'risk' and it is important to recognise colleagues will have both different levels of teacher and research expertise and appetite for risk.

Connects  'old' to 'new; knowledge
Most colleagues who engage in this work will already have a very high level of teacher expertise and this provides opportunities for colleagues to reflect on that experience and how that may enable them to address gaps of knowledge and understanding when meeting future challenges in meeting the needs of pupils.

Involves everyone in the teaching-team
Many teaching and learning challenges require the input of all members of the team and department, be it teachers, teaching assistants, technicians and volunteers.  All will have experience or evidence which can they bring to the 'table' and lead to more informed decisions.  Indeed, they may identify the need to change their practice, with that in mind it is best to actively engage with them right from the very beginning of the process.

Matches the school, time and other circumstances
It's important to ensure that any research or evidence-based practice development activity is developed with the particular circumstances of a school-mind.  The amount of CPD time which is made available will largely determine what can be done.  On the one hand, if 'research' and evidence-based practice becomes the school's number one CPD priority that will obviously impact on the scale and ambition of the activities undertaken.  On the other hand, if this is not the case, then less resource hungry activities may be required, for example, work-shops on how to formulate answerable questions using the PICO or CIMO formats or how to critically appraise a research text.

Matches opportunity
There is an old saying that luck equals preparation meeting opportunity.  It maybe that the time is not right for a research or evidence-based activity within your school.  That does not mean time cannot be spent developing both knowledge, understanding and skills so that when the appropriate opportunity arises, be it in a 1 to 1 conversation, departmental staff meeting or other setting the use of evidence-based practice techniques can be used.

Is explicit about how to make judgements and the integration of other sources of evidence from -  personal, school or stakeholders - into the decision-making process
It is absolutely essential to emphasise this is not about 'research evidence' replacing the expertise of teachers.  Rather it is about ensuring the use of the best available evidence to inform judgments - be it about teaching or managerial issues.

Increases the capacity of teachers (and leaders) to learn more in the future
Any work in this area should be designed to increase the capacity of individuals to undertake this type of work for themselves in the future.  It is important to recognise that not staff want to have a PhD, or even if they did that they have the range of support require to achieve it.  Much of this work is about helping colleagues become better consumers of research so that they can become better practitioners - be it as teachers and or leaders.

Finally, I hope colleagues has found this post useful and in my next two posts I discuss two relatively straightforward techniques that can be used by school research-leads to help colleagues become better evidence-based practitioners.


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


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