Part One: In which I doubt my position and get inspired by two blokes off of Twitter.
I’ve blogged about ResearchEd before and Saturday’s Research Leads Network was an equally empowering and exhausting day as all the others. I don’t know if it’s one of those ‘end of term’ things but the further away from ResearchEd 14 we’ve got and the more stuff I’ve taken on, I get an increasing sense of ‘what the hell and I doing’ and I was really looking forward to spending time with lots of people all thinking about the same stuff.
There was a lot said on the day about how all of us in a research lead role (or thinking about it) are in new territory and no one really knows what they should be doing. I know everyone’s making this up as they go along, but I really have bullied my way into doing this. I basically prattled on without taking a breath in my support and supervision last year and was rewarded with a nominal role in the operational handbook. I didn’t particularly know what I was going to do with it, I just didn’t want anyone else to get there first. As it turns out, school (and particularly our deputy head) are being great and letting me do lots of things.
One thing that struck me on Saturday was the emphasis on how this is a leadership role. I’m doing a lot of new things, but there’s no getting away from the fact that I’m not even a senior TA – let alone a qualified teacher or on the leadership team. I’m not saying everyone’s wrong about this – it’s more that it adds to the feeling that I’m in the wrong place (or at least not being paid enough).
Alex Quigley and Carl Hendrick’s session did a lot to encourage me (even though they didn’t dance. Something about cables and dangerous break dancing). Their summaries of their respective roles included quite a few of the things I’m trying to do – albeit on a greater scale than mine.
I found the structure of Carl Hendrick’s system interesting and I suppose sort of a standard to aspire to. Having said that, I don’t think it would be for everyone but before Saturday I thought anything these guys were doing would be way out of my league and I could at best pinch some tips. Actually, what I found was that I’m already involved in quite a few things:
- Conducting research – We’re taking part in the Closing the Gap: Test and Learn research trials with the National College of Teaching and Leadership. We’ve part of their Research Lesson Study trial and we’ve just had our second training event with Curee. As well as co-ordinating this in school I have taken on the role designed to be filled by a member of SLT which will include disseminating our work to the staff team.
- Journal Club – I’ve started holding a semi-regular journal club at school. All are welcome, at any level and it’s been a really positive experience.
- Links with University – I want to do more on this. I have started by signing us up to have MA students coming into school next year and attended a free event in October so far.
- Critical friend/ Devil’s advocate – Our Deputy Head asked me to be her critical friend in the development of the ECHP transition meetings format.
- Body of knowledge – MEd and ResearchEd for fun count as this surely?
- Translating research – Advising colleagues where they can provide evidence to support initiatives they are running and sourcing information for them. I think there’s a good opportunity to do more of this.
- Consulted by leadership – So far this term I have been consulted on two draft policies for our federation, the EHCP process and asked to complete a couple of follow up question sheets from staff meetings I wasn’t at.
When I write it down like that, it doesn’t seem like too bad a start.
One of my favourite parts of this role is my Journal Club. It’s bit rough and ready at the moment, but I’ve got some regular attendees and it’s them asking me about when we do the next one. It’s nothing as regular as Carl’s fortnightly literature reviews with his staff research fellows; and rather than selecting them through written application, I’m bribing with biscuits. It is my baby and it’s wonderful to see how everyone who has taken part so far has loved it. Realistically it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but everyone is invited and my personal crusade is to persuade those who are interested but think it’ll be too hard for them to give it a go.
I was pleased that neither Carl nor Alex seemed concerned about getting everyone to rush forth and conduct their own research. Facilitating this is certainly part of a Research Lead’s role, but personally, I would much rather get my school involved in large scale research projects coordinated by organisations like the EEF than worry too much about trying to squeeze any sort of reliability out of our 50 pupils. I do want to encourage people to critically evaluate their practice and if they want to do this through some sort of investigation I am happy to help. I just won’t get caught up in trying to have everyone conducting RCTs. As a few of us are venturing into Lesson Study for our CtG research I can see that this is possibly the best way to ease staff into using evidence in their everyday practice so I’m hoping that goes well.
Translation of evidence is something I’ve been very keen on doing – equally I am an annoying devil’s advocate so I think I can manage to play that part too. Hopefully the more people see that I am happy to source evidence for them, the more they’ll ask me to do it. One of the most important things I learnt during my MEd was that it’s OK to realise sometimes research is unreadable and makes no sense. So many people assume that it’ll be beyond them and if I can help by translating and summarising important and relevant information then I think that is a good use of my time.
I’m going to have a bash at the whole Devil’s Advocate thing now…
Every ResearchEd event stirs up the pain of access to research. I love access to research. I love finding interesting studies and following a trail of papers. I really miss having access through the OU – I looked into all sorts of things during my three years. A lot of people want research to be free for teachers, but someone has to pay and whilst free access would be a lovely thing, I don’t know how achievable that is. The cost of access is a big issue in the university sector with the major publishers and providers charging huge amounts of money. So much so that even universities have to be selective in their subscriptions. Even when I was studying I’d get my Dad to access some things for me, or one of the students doing some work at our school. We want to avoid a situation where the free to access research is the bits sponsored by profit making organisations or lacks peer review and I suspect in the long run, the best way to provide access is through membership of a professional body. I’ll let you fight it out about that, but I will add that it shouldn’t just be for teachers. I want access too.
The Quigley-Hendrick experience was a good way to knock me out of doubting what I’m doing. I may be in a small school with a handful of staff and pupils, but we still have to fulfil all the criteria other schools get and I’m quite convinced that what I am trying to achieve is benefitting the school. That should keep me going ‘til March anyway.
I have put together a list of some ways to access to research, free and not free, which I’ll post after this as a light break before Part Two which will feature the SUPER Network, some CPD and my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network.