Saturday 21 January 2017

The school research lead and the test of a first-rate intelligence

One of the challenges facing an evidence-based teacher or school leader is the need to keep two potentially conflicting ideas in some form of constructive tension. First, teaching involves increasingly complex work that is highly cognitive and intellectual, where evidence provides a source for improving student learning through enhanced teacher learning about effects of their teaching; strengths and needs of their students; and alternative strategies that have externally validated record of success.  On the other hand, teachers’ understandings of their problems run deeper than those offered by theorists, with teacher being able to provide common-sense insight into their problems of practice.  Evidence provides a legitimate but imperfect basis for professional judgement and knowledge.  Practical experience is as important as research-driven knowledge. Validity of teacher knowledge depends upon the conditions in which it is produced as well as the processes by which it is validated.  Teachers need to become adaptive experts who actively seek to check existing practises and have a disposition towards career-long professional experiential learning.  (Hargreaves and Stone-Johnson, 2009)

So given this tension tension between theory and experience, how does the evidence-based teacher and leader go about managing it.  One way forward could be provided by (Martin, 2009) who in part influenced by the F Scott Fitzgerald quote at the top of this blog has developed the notion of integrative thinking and which is defined as:

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new ideas that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each (p15)

Martin notes the work of the 19th century scholar Thomas C Chamberlin – who argues that when seeking to explain phenomena it is necessary to have in place a number of potentially conflicting hypotheses

The use of the method leads to certain peculiar habits of mind which deserve passing notice, since as a factors of education its disciplinary value is one of importance.  When faithfully pursued for a period of years, it develops a habit of thought analogous to the method itself, which may be designated a habit or parallel of complex thoughts.  Instead of a simple succession of thoughts in linear order, the procedure is complex, and the mind appears to be be possessed of the power of simultaneous visions from different standpoints.  Phenomena appear to become capable of being viewed analytically and synthetically at once. (Martin, 2009 p22-230

Martin goes onto raise the question as to whether integrative are born, not made, and subsequently raises the question as to whether the skill of integrative thinking can actually be taught.   That said, Martin is of the view that integrative thinking is untaught and that it is mainly a tacit skill which resides in the heads of individuals who have somehow developed an opposable mind.   However, Martin is of the view that the thinking processes of those individuals who undertake integrative thinking can be captured, described and analysed by others, leading us to be able to teach integrative thinking to others.

So what does this mean for you as an evidence-based school teacher and school leader. Well to me it seems that three implications immediately spring to mind.
  1. Integrative thinking is a necessary requirement for the evidence-based educator, balancing multiple sources of evidence – experience matters but so does research.
  2. Creative answers to pressing problems of practice are unlikely to be found from just one source of evidence  - be it research or expert knowledge of the school. New and creative solutions are likely to be found by the melding together of research, school date, stakeholder views and practitioner expertise.
  3. Developing your skills as an integrative thinker requires support, to help articulate your tacit thinking and make it explicit and to help you understand your thinking process
And finally

In future posts we will look at both a model thinking processes of integrative thinkers and a framework for building integrative thinking capacity, and how they might benefit the development of evidence-based teachers and school leaders.


HARGREAVES, A. & STONE-JOHNSON, C. 2009. Evidence-informed change and the practice of teaching. The role of research in educational improvement, 89-110.

MARTIN, R. L. 2009. The opposable mind: Winning through integrative thinking, Harvard Business Press.

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