Monday, 23 February 2015

researchED Sydney - Some initial reflections

On Saturday I had the privilege of both attending and speaking at ResearchED Sydney.  As with all these events the best part was meeting some wonderful individuals.  Indeed some of the speakers were just staggering in their enthusiasm, commitment and dare I say it professionalism.  Some of the highlights of the day included:
  • The fabulous Deborah Netolicky and Janelle McGann from Western Australia sharing their work on a research-based model of teacher growth and creating a community of self-directed learners.
  • The wonderful Michaela Pinkerton from Auckland, New Zealand talking about the work of her school in developing a research focused model of professional learning
  • The boundless enthusiasm of Corinne Campbell from Castle Cove Public School who talked through an approach to developing a school homework policy, which showed how different sources of evidence - research, personal experience, stakeholder views and school data - could be brought together to bring about meaningful and agreed change.
  • The larger than life Brett Salakas (and part-time magician)  from Sydney who showed how the classroom was without physical limits and talked about how to make global classroom real.
  • The quietly authoriative Pamela Ryan who shared a very personal account of her experience as a leader and what this meant for her as she articulated a personal theory of leadership.
Of course at these events it's not just the presentations and speakers who provide much of interest but also other attendees who provide fascinating insights into other educational systems.  However, as with every researchED event I have attended, researchED Sydney provided an incredible stimulus for my own thinking about research and its' relationship to classroom practice and school leadership, so here goes.
  1. There is much work to do to de-toxify evidence-based practice 'brand'.  Too often critics of evidence-based practice or evidence-based education fail to recognise, or deliberately chose to ignore,  that evidence-based practice draws on four sources of evidence - academic research, stakeholder views, organisational evidence and professional judgement.  
  2. With the above in mind, there is also a lack of a shared understanding amongst teachers and educators about what we mean terms such as research, disciplined inquiry or evaluation.  This lack of a shared understanding, or at the very least a shared understanding of differences in approach, makes constructive dialogue on a range of issues more difficult
  3. It's important to distinguish between the following : consuming research for understanding; using research for improvement; and finally conducting research for the purposes of theory testing and development.  Given the knowledge, skills and experience required for all of the above - for me  the role of school research lead should focus of supporting colleagues consume research for understanding and applying research for improvement.   If 'research' is conducted within schools the emphasis should be on evaluation and improvement of practice, rather than attempting the development theories or generalisations for broader use.
Nevertheless, the researchED movement is at a beginning of a process - I was going to use the  Jword - and there are bound to be challenges as the movement matures from a scrappy insurgent to an essential player in educational change in countries all over the world.    However, before I set off back home on my own journey the least I can do is to thank everyone involved in researchED Sydney for making the event so memorable, and which I'm sure will make the 24 hours watching film after film home all the more bearable.

Tom Bennett put me on as one of the last speakers on the Saturday afternoon, he probably thought due to jet lag I would think it was a morning session!


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