Teachers can be wary of research evidence. Most teachers have experienced a career of political policies and school leadership ‘innovations’ that are apparently evidence-based, so perhaps we are right to be circumspect. Few teachers feel a sense of agency when they hear about ‘evidence based’ initiatives – or that the research evidence is theirs for interpretation or use. We need to ensure that research evidence is seen by teachers as potential ballast for their decisions in the classroom.
We can start by need to clearly characterise what we mean by research evidence. The best descriptions of research evidence show its breadth and the very practical nature of such evidence:
“Some teacher research involves posing and investigating a specific question, while other projects focus simultaneously on several questions… …while some research projects primarily attempt to develop a better understanding of practice, others also aim to improve it. Some studies focus on specific classroom issues, while others move beyond the classroom to issues that are school wide or larger.”
It is helpful to divide research evidence into three core options, as done by Bell et al. (2010):
- Researcher-led, larger studies (academic studies). These involved researchers and teachers as joint participants in research projects designed by academic researchers. although the teachers were active participants, the extent to which they were involved in designing and planning the intervention, and in data collection and analysis varied, as did the aims of the research.
- Teacher-initiated small scale studies (Tiss studies). These studies were reports of substantial practitioner research undertaken with specialist research support for the explicit purpose of improving practice and evaluating its impact. These studies were drawn from a number selected and quality assured for promotion nationally via the english national Teacher research panel.
- Masters-based teacher enquiry (masters-based studies). These studies were undertaken by teachers within a masters programme with specific requirements about publication. This single cluster of masters reports were distinctive in that the programme deliberately set out to develop teacher researchers to the point where they could conduct and write up research that could contribute to the wider public knowledge base.
Though each aspect of research evidence has value, for me, developing 1. and 2. should be our explicit priority, before 3. then develops in tandem with 1. and 2. Ultimately, the RISE project is an attempt to share the evidence drawn from 1. and better attempt to apply it to the context of our RISE schools. With some ‘disciplined inquiry’ we can look at the implementation of evidence from 1. as we undertake small scale studies in schools. Perhaps we should even go so far as to label them studies, but instead to consider them as thorough implementation.
Clearly, the teacher is an active participate in all of these three definitions, but they are integral to 2. and 3. We know that adult professionals will only really ever internalise the messages from 1. if they undertake the actions from 2. and/or 3.
There is a groundswell of interest from teachers to be evidence-informed – if only to reject the spurious claims of politicians or school leaders. Let’s harness this interest and actively engage teachers in evidence-informed practice. Let’s start by asking the teachers the questions they want answering and let’s pursue that evidence.