Friday 1 June 2018

Evidence-informed practice and the dentist's waiting room

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 ‘gouged’.

Now you may be asking, what on earth has an ‘evidence-based’  trip to do a dentist have to do with evidence-based or,  if 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 this  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  for your role a school leader wishing to promote the use of evidence within your school.   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?”  This is 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?”.  If they 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 skills
  • 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 pupils
  • 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 practice
  • 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.”

And finally

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.
Dhadse, 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, London: Sceptre


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