YOU’RE TEARING ME APART!
A few weeks ago I was lucky to have some time with John Hattie as part of a small group invited by Visible Learning. I’m going to write more about the day and the conversation but I wanted to explore on topic here as it links to an earlier post and something that has been plaguing my thoughts for a while.
Stemming from my work with the Office of the Regional Schools Commissioner (which was how I managed to be among a group of about eight meeting with a global luminary in education!) I have been wondering why teachers don’t seem to engage in research and had been batting around a couple of ideas. Firstly I think a lot of research is just disappointing to the regular classroom teacher and that a number of those who talk about research are basically reshaping CPD in another form. When I’ve looked at job descriptions for research leads in school they’re pretty much just that – a rehash of someone to over see staff training and development but couched in more attractive terms to ride the zeitgeist. If research can be seen as zeitgeisty.
It’s also disappointing as it doesn’t seem to deliver much in terms of providing answers and direction. I heard two presentations recently which were labelled as offering answers to that old question of ‘what works.’ One was looking at different groups of schools to see how they supported progress among disadvantaged children in comparison with each other. What was revealed – and hold on here – was that in some cases one group did better and in some cases the other did.
What would have been great was for this to be the first step and for the session to then follow on to say exactly what the schools that had done great things with disadvantaged kids so that as a teacher and school leader I could learn from this and perhaps take some of it back to the poorest ward in one of the poorest parts of the country. There were lots of nods and smiles in the room as some people saw they could get politically excited by their favoured group being seen as better or worse than the other lot at times (interestingly from some who are fairly vocal about the awful way education is being politicised) but in terms of what came from it to improve the lot of our kids I couldn’t really say it offered much.
Similar was a later opportunity to hear from someone at the forefront of educational research – surely some insight here. What was offered was a breakdown of why research is difficult to do and as such using any results to support any particular approach is quite unlikely and as such conclusions are pretty hard to draw.
I’m being overly arsey about this I know and actually the discussion around research methods in both examples were interesting and did encourage some thinking but had I gone to either to find useful ideas that I could apply working with children in classrooms or schools as opposed to with numbers in an office I would have been disappointed, disillusioned or just depressed. This is, I think one of the genuine issues with why people shy away from research as it’s currently presented. It just doesn’t offer much in most people’s worlds.
The other issue and the one that linked to the conversation that day is that there is just so much material out there that it’s hard to know where to look, what to believe and what to leave out. Not only is there a plethora of ideas that keep coming and keep contradicting previous ideas (even from the same people) but the prevalence of blogging and tweeting in some sectors – and always remember it’s an incredibly small part of the teaching community when you look to it for guidance/affirmation – leads to people referencing themselves or other bloggers as an evidence base even when the original piece was opinion rather than having any factual basis.
Finding your way in the educational world takes every gift you’ve got and I sometimes wonder what on earth people make of it when they are trying to find their path through it and make some sense of what the bloody hell the world wants from them. The issue of cognitive burnout was raised in our discussion group and I think it links directly to this. Outside of the cliche (they only become cliches because they have a foundation in a truth we can all recognise) of ‘initiative overload’ which again I’ve made references to previously when a colleague was clearing laminated sheets from a classroom cupboard the well intentioned teacher looking to kind hearted – if we’re being nice – colleagues, fellow teachers and consultants for some sense of direction will be equally baffled.
I do think there’s a light on the horizon and glimmers of hope when people resist reinventing the wheel (and just update the alloys? maybe not) which I’ll go onto next time but for now maybe we just need, as was suggested to me recently, to play with our kids/read a book/watch tv/play a record and give ourselves a break for a bit.
Lots of Love