Should teachers use research? How would they do it?

There has been a flurry of activity on Twitter this weekend around teacher research. This got me thinking about the whole topic. One tweet referred to a transcript of a conference presentation, which discussed the possible reasons why teachers don’t use research. One was the use of academic language used in publications. I agree that it would be nice not to need a dictionary beside you as you read some articles.

Research is one of those ‘it would be nice to find out more and I’ll get round to it one day’ tasks for many teachers. Time is a significant barrier to engaging with research as levels of accountability rise. It will be interesting to see how the guidance to teachers in reducing bureaucracy is implemented.

Why should teachers bother with research?

The Donaldson Report, (2011), recommends that teaching develops into a research informed profession. It is a requirement of GTCS registration – research is mentioned a number of times in the suite of standards.

It makes sense to consider research findings. The majority of teachers want to do their best for the children and young people, and if finding out more about a topic helps to support them more effectively, then this seems a reasonable thing to do. It provides evidence for self-evaluation and a rationale for your practice. However, barriers do still exist, including teachers valuing the role of research in their work and the other demands on their time. Could I dare wonder if space could be found in working time agreements for teachers to discuss their reading?

How would they do it?

Having worked in a university for two years and working towards an MEd, it may be more natural for me to consider research findings in my practice. I have seen how Masters level is now the norm in ITE – this should develop this in new teachers. Now that I have returned to the classroom, I am glad that, in Scotland, all teachers have free access to the EBSCO resource on the GTCS website. This was another finding in the transcript – that publications are not accessible for teachers, and so this helps to overcome this barrier. There is a developing GTCS Teacher Research Network, of which I am part, to promote and support engagement with research. I have recommended some articles on this site, and all the recommendations should support teachers who are not sure where to start with their reading. My own authority has a Professional Learning Academy, which is a fantastic support for staff in becoming research informed. I find Twitter itself a good professional network and a useful source of responses to articles. There is support out there for teachers who want to implement research in their practice.

For me, the first step in engaging with research should be to develop the skill in critical reading, whether a journal article or policy document. It opens a whole new perspective on education. Also crucial is the consideration of how findings can be implemented in your own setting – context is everything. Would it be applicable in your own setting and what impact would it have on your pupils? I believe these are fundamental when using research.

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Pedagoo Ayrshire

I was proud to be part of a nationwide event, run by teachers for teachers. I admit to a little grumble when the alarm went off, but I was looking forward to the topics on offer. Bill Boyd (@literacyadviser) opened the session and began with a spelling test. I’ve been called the spelling and grammar police more than once and I enjoy reading Eats Shoots and Leaves. I find it hard to split infinitives. I just can’t. So, I sat like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted, when she guesses the name of the visiting priest, waiting to start so I could collect my prize. They say pride comes before a fall, and what a fall it was. There is only one ‘n’ in ‘inoculate’ – and I’m still moving the letters of ‘manoeuvre’ around. Please note that this morning, I can spell them easily. I wonder if some pupils feel the same when faced with a test but let’s not go there just now.  So, with great shame, I slid my glasses case over the paper. Nonetheless, less than ten minutes in to the morning, I was learning. I believe I understood Bill’s point; that at the end of ITE, we do not roll off an assembly line as perfect teachers. There always is room for growth.

From there, the sessions I attended threaded together nicely, as if we four who led the learning conversations had planned them together. I got some very useful suggestions from @davie_marsh about how to challenge the top 20%. I have been charged with tackling this with P5 Writing. So his discussion on thinking skills was very useful. Bill then got our group thinking about what literacy is, and how wide the definition might be, as well as how we might respond to such tasks as writing a literacy policy. He challenged us to write a blog about the day. It was time for me to write my second blog and this was a perfect opportunity. What you now are reading is one impact of his session.

Our thoughts next turned to the concept of inclusion, led by @PaulineMurray8, with its rights, legislation and challenges. This fitted well with my contemplations about increasing reading engagement across the school. Finally, my own; teachers involved in research. This seems to bring mixed responses. With Donaldson, (2011), recommending that teachers should be research informed practitioners, the expectation of a critical engagement with research throughout the Standard for CLPL and with study at Masters level for PGDE, it is likely that research will have a more integral role in teachers’ lives. So, for those who want to engage with academic literature, the GTCS has free online access to academic journals through its Education Source – EBSCO. We agreed in our discussion that the ability to develop a criticality of approach to policy documents and pedagogies was no bad thing. The Donaldson report “sees professional learning as an integral part of educational change, acting as an essential part of well planned and well researched innovation” (p. 15). I intend to use the EBSCO source as part of my enquiry into raising attainment in literacy.

If I was forced to choose one thing that resonated most with me, it would be Bill’s suggestion that when children – and particularly boys – are physically active prior to writing (please do not confuse this with active learning in any shape or form) then they can perform better. In the spirit of this and undertaking his challenge to write something ourselves, I took the dog a walk along the beach and mused over the conversations that had taken place and how it might impact on my practice. And, right enough, I formulated some ideas as we made our way along the sand. I now have some innovative and creative ideas for my Thursday morning meeting with the HT and DHT and there is the flicker of a Mrs Doyle face once more. I am enthused about approaching my task and consider the Pedagoo event a valuable use of my Saturday.

Donaldson, G. (2011). Teaching Scotland’s future. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government.

Slow and steady wins the race?

Colour Me MindfulHaving noticed an increase in the frequency of ‘mindfulness’ in the press and social media, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that it infiltrated discourse in education. It has been well used for decades in the NHS to promote mental wellbeing. Although health and wellbeing is a priority in our curriculum, I wondered if mindfulness was deserving of this increased attention or if it was yet another initiative which would steal precious time then wither away in a few years. I have had a few uncomfortable moments recently, as I make my way back into the classroom after two years in a very different educational environment. I’ve described myself as ‘a fish out of water’ as I try to explain my chaotic thoughts to solicitous family and friends.

I’ve been informed more than once that I set unreasonable expectations for myself, causing needless pressure in trying to meet them. And I’m no stranger to sleepless nights and having a good old worry. I have worked silly hours for the past two weeks, only to feel as if I’m treading water and not achieving anything. (Despite my new HT warning me not to do this!) This is not good for me, my family or for the pupils for whom I am responsible. So, while filling my supermarket trolley with neon pencils and pens, rubbers, highlighters, the essential Sharpies and endless laminating pouches, I saw ‘Colour me Mindful’. A book that urged me to relieve stress and feel at peace. Since all my pennies had gone on stationery, it was fortunate that it had been reduced greatly. I decided to give it a go, to see if I could find this contentment.

I knew of colouring books for adults; I had thought they might involve the colouring of rude pictures, if I thought of them at all. These, however, were very intricate drawings of underwater scenes and I spent a pleasant afternoon completing my first. It was indeed relaxing and I let my thoughts wander. Benchmarks floated away as I decorated a starfish and planning vanished as a shell became gold and yellow. My mind calmed and I began to see the bigger picture of my teaching once more. The aches and pains have gone. This has been a timely reminder to slow down and take smaller steps. It will ultimately benefit the pupils and my family. Now, I feel ready to tackle the weekend’s tasks in a much more productive way and I was inspired to write this, my first blog. It occurs to me that mindfulness could be invaluable for many pupils. Too many children experience turbulent and troubled lives, and if it helps them to be ready to learn skills that will help them now and in future, then I feel it should jostle for a place in the busy curriculum. I look forward to finding out more about how I can support my pupils with renewed vigour, while remembering to take the foot off the proverbial accelerator, so I can be a better teacher.