Importing ex-army personnel into schools is in vogue with politicians, at the moment, with talk of improved discipline and building character. I actually wonder whether it’s more of a navy import we require.
The Eyebrow Challenge
Attending the Learners First Schools Partnership Conference I had the pleasure of listening to Captain James Shelton, an ex-Royal Marine, who was at pains to point out that the Royal Marines are part of the navy not the army. Amongst a number of stories he told around the theme of Brave Leadership he talked about the eyebrow challenge. If a Royal Marine makes a claim that a colleague finds unbelievable they challenge it with “eyebrow”. The marine can either reply “eyebrow” or back down, probably to much ridicule and mickey taking. The marine has to then substantiate his claim or lose his eyebrow.
Time to Discipline Teachers, Leaders and Tweeters – Being More Informed
Reflecting on some of the daft things I’ve thought, said and done as a teacher and leader I wonder how much of my professional life would have been spent with no eyebrows, if a similar challenge existed in schools. It would certainly discipline us all to think about the claims we make if we knew a colleague could shout eyebrow at any time.
Know thy impact has long been the rallying call of Professor John Hattie. It now needs to be the mission of all teachers and school leaders. There are so many different approaches we could take to school or class room improvement we need our decision making to be better guided or informed by the evidence available. One obvious place to start is being better informed by research. However, we need to make sure we don’t just end up quoting names at each other, he says, she says, without a deeper understanding of the potential power of research as we develop a more nuanced understanding. Walking this path you soon start to realise research can give you best bets and better bets, based upon what worked for a certain group, at a particular time and in a given place, but it doesn’t have absolute certainty and can be contradictory.
Equally, the use of data has proliferated in schools, over the past two decades, to the point that many schools are so swamped with data they can’t see the wood for the trees. Over the years we have used data to reasonably good effect to improve learning but less so for teaching. Data around the quality of teaching has actually been limited to grading teachers, using questionable practices, rather than being clear about what areas they teach well and what they should focus onto improve. Assessment, tests and examination data, when appropriately analysed, can inform a leader about which areas different teachers have taught well. Subject leaders can link teachers together, use teachers to lead on areas in which they show a high level of expertise and spread best practice throughout their department or phase.
It’s not just quantitative information that is useful but more qualitative information gathered, for example, through lesson observations. The observer can “validate” a teacher’s expertise so you don’t end up with potentially less effective practice being spread by an enthusiastic teacher when other better options exist.
ResearchEd’s Rallying Cry
I’m looking forward to attending and speaking at ResearchEd, in Glasgow, at the end of the summer holidays. And to the cry of “eyebrow” reverberating around the hallowed rooms and corridors of Glasgow University.
Attempting to transfer research, data and feedback informed thinking into schools needs a vehicle. The one I’ve found most useful is lesson study though we have started many more than we have actually finished. It’s very much a process in its infancy and a work in progress. The critical transformation I hope lesson study will introduce into our culture is more systematic critical thinking about what does actually work best or better in our context.
Next time some says “the research says …” or “this is best practice …” I dare you to shout EYEBROW!