The year has started with the usual whirlwind of meetings and decisions to make. It’s becoming increasingly frustrating to see a “guts to action plan” approach, bypassing the brain, with single solutions proposed to deep rooted issues.
I’m not pointing fingers; people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I’ve done my fair share of daft things without sufficient thought behind them over the years. I’m on a journey, as they say, to develop a greater wisdom (better judgement) in my decision making. Whether you’re in the classroom deciding which teaching approach to take or making leadership decisions, both affect many other people; getting it right first time, more often, is a goal worth pursuing.
The graphic below caught my eye when I was reading the Teacher Development Trust’s blog on Performance Management in Schools,
“Researchers at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) have acknowledged our struggles in making good decisions, such as relying on ‘gut feel’, following so called ‘best practices’, and, as a result, dealing with the consequences of the suboptimal decisions we take. Therefore, in collaboration with the Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa), the CIPD committed to upskilling its members in ‘searching for the best available evidence’ relying on the framework of evidence-based practice (Gifford, 2016a).”
Imagine the stereotypical departmental or senior leadership team meeting, “Houston we have a problem!” Before you know it someone has suggested this or said we’ve got to do that. The idea is kicked about, no other idea is offered, and the potential efficacy of the suggestion is not interrogated. Within ten minutes its on course to be in the latest action or raising achievement plan.
We’re at the end of the second week of term and I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve asked, “Have we got any evidence that that idea may solve this issue? Are there any other actions we could take that might be more effective? Are there any possible contraindications of this intervention that we need to think about?” The silence is usually deafening; we’ve become a profession where speed, looking busy and the pretence of impact has become ingrained. Feel free to use these questions in meetings; they can be game changers.
The process outlined above can be applied to leading in the classroom and the staff room. Agreed processes can massively enhance the performance of a team; individuals are able to contribute within agreed structures and ways of working together. Getting it right more often, as outcomes don’t come with certainty even when the path is carefully chosen, would be a massive workload buster. Let’s reduce the time and energy we waste running like headless chickens down various cul-de-sacs.
Firstly asking the right question is critically important; it focuses you on the right issue. “Our Maths results are awful” can with thought be translated into “the percentage of Year 11 achieving grade 5+ at GCSE in 2017 is lower than the national average”. Other aspects of the subject’s results may be good or better. The head of department and teachers can help develop and refine a question from this statement; was the lower attainment linked to a particular paper, topic or questions? Ultimately, the question needs an identified issue, associated target group and action identified to impact. As the question becomes more refined and focussed a means for evaluating the impact of the action taken can be thought through.
The acquiring, appraising, aggregating and applying steps identified above are part of this iterative process. Taking a bit of time to make sure you’re on the right path is far better than setting off quickly in the wrong direction. If you have someone who just wants to get on with it; give him/her a job to do to keep them busy. His/her contribution to the team will be crucial when it’s time for implementation but in these early stages frustration can bubble to the surface. Another point; for goodness sake, don’t take forever.
When thoughts move to the evidence needed don’t be myopic. There is better access to research these days but you may well have comparative and in-house data available that would be important to consider – what would this group be expected to have attained? In the example above you may have examination makers who can give you an insight; the class teachers and pupils who sat the examination may provide more. Keep refining the question as well as the evidence. Looking for the “best bet”, in terms of a potential intervention, and assessing its impact as you go would be preferential to much practice that currently goes on in schools.
With our new Research School status (can’t say we are yet up and running) and links with Teacher Development Trust around professional development, this type of approach may become increasingly well established in the Trust over the years to come. I’m feeling the need to go ferreting for some more funds though; I wonder what impact on Blackpool if we could fund a couple of days a week for someone to be a lead on the Use of Research, Evidence and CPD Best Practice in numerous local schools? Their focus would be to establish a school wide culture that seeks to bring together that which we already know; convert it into consistently effective classroom teaching whilst also ridding us of the worst excesses of ill-thought through, unnecessary and unproductive work. I have a dream …