Sometimes the inspiration for a blogpost comes from an unexpected
place, in this instance, my dentist’s waiting room. Now I happen to be a regular visitor to my
dentist because back in 2005 I had a ‘myocardial
infarction’ - better known as a heart-attack. Given that at the time I appeared
to be fit, active and had completed many triathlons, my heart-attack was ‘perplexing’ both for me
and the medical professionals providing my treatment. However, to cut a very long-story short, a
contributory factor to my heart-attack appeared to be that I had a bad-case of gum-disease and which research
evidence suggests is related to an increased risk of heart-disease, Dhadse,
P., Gattani, D., & Mishra, R. (2010).
And which is why I was in my dentist's waiting room about to have my both teeth cleaned and gums
Now you may be asking, what on earth has an
trip to do a dentist
have to do with evidence-based or,
you prefer, evidence-informed practice within schools.
Well it just so happened that whilst in the
dentist’s waiting room I was reading Hans Rosling’s recently published book: Factfulness: Ten reason we’re wrong about
the world – and why things are better than you think
, when I came across
paragraph about mistrust, fear and
the inability to ‘hear data-driven arguments.
In a devastating of example critical thinking gone bad, highly
educated, deeply caring parents avoid the vaccinations that would protect their
children from killer diseases. I love
critical thinking and I admire scepticism, but only in a framework that
respects evidence. So if you are
sceptical about the measles vaccinations, I ask you to do two things. First, make sure you know what it looks like
when a child dies of measles. Most
children who catch measles recover, but there is still no cure and even with
the best modern medicine, one or two in every thousand will die from it. Second, ask yourself, “What kind of evidence
would convince me change my mind about vaccination. If the answer is ‘no evidence could ever
change my mind about vaccination,” then you are putting yourself outside
evidence-based rationality, outside the very critical thinking that first
brought you to this point. In that case,
to be consistent in your scepticism about science, next time you have an
operation please ask your surgeon not to bother washing her hands. (p117).
So what are the implications Rosling et al’s critique of
critical thinking gone wrong
role a school leader wishing to promote the use of evidence within your
At first glance, it seems to me
that there are three implications.
First, ask yourself the question for about an issue which
have pretty strong views – be it mixed-ability teaching, grammar schools and
the 11 plus, or progressive vs traditional education – “What evidence would it
take to change your mind?”
important as a critical element of being a conscientious evidence-informed
practitioner is to actively seek alternative perspectives.
And if you are not at least willing to be
persuaded by those perspectives, there is little point seeking
them out in the first place
Second, when working with colleagues who may ‘reject’
evidence-informed practice – ask them the same question “What evidence would it
take to change your mind?”.
respond “there is no evidence that would get me to change my mind” ask them the
following question: “Ok, is there a teaching approach you particularly favour,
and if so, why?” and then ask the follow-question – “Tell me more.”
Third, there may be occasions when working with colleagues are resistant to evidence-informed practice that you have to resort to a
variant of the ‘surgeon with dirty
hands’ argument, so ask the following: “Would you like your own children or
children of family members to be taught by a teacher or teachers who:
- Do not have a deep knowledge and understanding of the
subjects they teach
- Have little or no understanding about how pupils’ think
about the subject they are teaching
- Are not very good at asking questions
- Do not review previous learning
- Fail to provide model answers
- Give adequate time for practice for pupils to embed their
- Introduce topics in a random manner
- Have poor relationships with their pupils
- Have low expectations of their pupils
- Do not value effort and resilience
- Cannot manage pupil behaviour
- Do not have clear rules and expectations
- Makes inefficient and ineffective use of time in lessons
- Are not very clear in what they are trying to achieve with
- Haven’t really thought about how learning happens and
develops or how teaching can contribute to it.
- Give little or no time to reflecting on their professional
- Provide little or no support for colleagues
- Are not interested in liaising with pupils’ parents
- Do not engage in professional development (amended from Coe, Aloisi, et al. (2014)
And if they answer No – we would not want my children or
family members taught by such teachers – then you might respond by saying “You
might not believe in evidence-informed practice though you would appear to agree
with the evidence on ineffective teaching.”
Working with colleagues who have different views to you on
the role of evidence-informed practice is inevitable.
What matters is not that you have different
views but rather how do you about finding the areas you can agree on, which
then gives you something to work on in future conversations
Coe, R., Aloisi, C., Higgins, S. and Major, L. E.
(2014). What Makes Great Teaching? Review
of the Underpinning Research. London.
Prasad, Deepti Gattani, and Rohit Mishra. “The Link between Periodontal Disease
and Cardiovascular Disease: How Far We Have Come in Last Two Decades ?” Journal
of Indian Society of Periodontology 14.3 (2010): 148–154. PMC.
Web. 29 May 2018
Rosling, H, Rosling, O., and Rosling Ronnlund, A.
(2018). Factfulness: Ten reason we’re wrong about the world – and why things
are better than you think,