Saturday 23 September 2017

Leading the Use of Research and Evidence in Schools : Closing the rhetoric/reality gap

Recent research suggests there is a significant gap between the supportive rhetoric that some headteachers use about the use of research and evidence in their schools and the reality of practice on the ground (Caldwell, et al 2017).  So if you want to avoid getting caught in the gap between the rhetoric and reality, it will be worthwhile having some form of action-plan to help make sure you are creating the conditions for a culture of research and evidence use.  To do this, a useful place to start is the work of (Brown, 2015) who identified a check-list of actions for school leaders to take in developing a research and evidence informed school, and his illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 Leading Research and Evidence Use in Schools - Themes, factors and sub-actions (adapted from Brown, 2015)

Does your approach to research and evidence demonstrate your own commitment as well facilitate the efforts of others?
Promote a vision of research and evidence-informed school
Make resources available
Design and implement support structures
Create time and space for such work
·Make it part of everyone’s work (especially leaders)
Model the use of research and evidence in decision-making
Develop an enquiry habit of mind – look for new perspectives
Seek out new information
Explore new ways to tackle old problems

Does your approach to research and evidence use have buy-in throughout the school?
Adopt a distributive approach to leadership
Attend to the informal aspects of the school organisation
Identify and influence key-opinion formers and shapers
Seek to be consensual

Teaching and learning
Does your approach to research and evidence use ‘start with the end in mind’ and ensure that progress towards this end is tracked?
Articulate what success would look like
Consider what will need to be done differently
Question how things will be different for pupils and teachers
How will you know things are different?
Evaluate the impact of any changes
Engage in learning conversations – develop theories of action and develop and trial new actions 
Constantly refine processes and actions
Stop doing some things

Does your approach to research and evidence have teacher learning and practice at its core?
Continue to emphasise the importance of teacher-expertise
Use data to help teachers refine their practice 
Create opportunities for collaborative learning both inside and outside of the school
Continually focus on evidence
Draw in external experience and knowledge/theory
Develop protocols and ways of working
Create facilitative arrangements

Does your approach to research and evidence ensure that the right people are in the room
Develop middle leaders who are interested in evidence-informed practice 
Identify research and evidence champions
Involve people with the right mix of skills to support the use of research and evidence

As useful as this check-list is; from your perspective as an evidence-based school leader it is important to acknowledge its’ limitations. First, as regular readers of this blog will be aware evidence-based school leadership is not limited to issues related to pedagogy and teaching and learning but extends to all aspects of the school.  Second, the check-list does not make specific reference to ethical issues associated with evidence-based practice.  Third, the actions that you will wish to take will depend very much on the current context of your school and its' readiness to engager in research and evidence. Nevertheless, Brown’s work provides a very handy starting point for what you need to do as a school leader to initiate, implement and sustain an evidence-based school culture.

Next week 

We will look at a PARIiHS tool, which was developed in the health-care sector to help you judge the readiness of your school to engage with research.

BROWN, C. (Ed.) (2015). Leading the use of research & evidence in schools. London: IOE Press.

COLDWELL, M., GREANY, T., HIGGINS, S., BROWN, C., MAXWELL, B., B, S., STOLL, L., WILLIS, B. & BURNS, H. 2017. Evidence-informed teaching: an evaluation of progress in England Research report. London: Department for Education.

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