Part 2: In which I talk about the SUPER Network, some CPD, and what was going to be my thoughts on the next ResearchEd Leads Network but ended up being a brief conclusion due to me waffling on for too long.
One of the things I was interested in looking into at that first ResearchEd in the hazy, drawn out summer of 2013, was the potential for links between school and universities. I had just had my first year for a while without any academic study and I wanted to find out what was out there and where I could start.
During the session with Kay Yeoman from UEA I met, sorry, networked, with the lady next to me who happened to be Bethan Morgan (@morgteach) who works for the SUPER Network. We’ve tweeted about a few things, namely access to research and she recognised me at ResearchEd 2014 as doing a lot of pub quizzes (we run one, Thursdays at the White Horse in Ruddington if you’re in the area) and she was there with the SUPER (School-University Partnership for Educational Research) Network gang on Saturday to present a session and workshop on how Universities and Research Leads can work together.
Based at the University of Cambridge, they have a number of projects with partner schools including Masters programmes, research projects, dissemination of research and seminars. They host inquiry group meetings of their Teacher Research Co-ordinators (their Research Leads) six times a year and provide critical friendship to schools. From the university’s point of view, the programme enables larger scale, collaborative research, a wide reach for their work, and helps to keep the university staff grounded and up to date with the realities of working in schools. The schools involved benefit from an increased research culture and staff are able to maintain a dialogue post-MEd.
We heard from various people involved in the network – both university and school representatives. Every one of them was incredibly enthusiastic about what the network had done for them and their professional status. There was a reading list from Ruth Pineda which I scribbled notes on but thankfully took a photo of too –
and there was a reminder that research and practice should inform each other equally.
The session had a workshop style answering questions in groups part which was great (but lacked tables). The focus was on bridging the gaps between theory and practice, and school/university partnerships. Whilst we aimed to answer the questions, almost every group fed back that they had accidentally answered the questions whilst having a good chat. I have to say, that’s the bit I like most about the day – just chatting about what we’re doing in our roles with other people. I don’t think it mattered if we answered everything well enough, we were there to learn from each other and debate, and that’s what we did. I have made some initial links with one of our local universities and I think I should probably look into it again.
Another thing I think the research lead role could be of benefit for in our school is our CPD. I’m being realistic with this – I don’t plan on hurling academia at everyone and expecting to get my own way, but the way things seem to be going, I think if I make suggestions they’re at least likely to be listened to. I think useful CPD with research flavour is a good way to get it in there as a natural way of working rather than heavy handed.
Daniel Harvey had CPD at the centre of his session. He outlined how he is changing the way his school, John Henry Newman Catholic College, is transforming their CPD by introducing a programme of action research, and the up and down process he has gone through to make it a success. In small groups we were asked to answer several questions about the relationship between evidence and CPD in our own settings, including the use of ‘research partners’. I have to say, I don’t think our school is ready for this, but whether schools scout out their own partners as Daniel Harvey has, or are part of an organisation like the SUPER Network, opportunities for schools and universities to work together are good thing.
As far as using action research goes, I have mixed feelings. I quite like the idea of action research as part of being a reflective practitioner or even for trying things out in a setting in a controlled, evidenced based way, but I understand the reluctance to call it ‘research’ as there’s very little that will be transferable to other settings apart from providing catalysts of ideas. The cycle of trying out, changing, trying out, is better than doing everything at one as far as I’m concerned. I do wonder if introducing something like lesson study might be a more gentle way of getting staff involved in using evidence to change their practice that could lead to more rigorous research projects in due course. It’s easy to get carried away with ideas at a ResearchEd event as everyone there is enthusiastic and opting to spend their free time with the converted but of course not everyone in school will have research as a priority.
Actually, through all the talk of how the whole-school CDP action research programme had developed – the recognition of bad research questions, levels of participation and group dynamics; I rather thought that the most interesting and relevant piece of action research they are doing is in fact their action research. It’ll be good to see how they ingrain it into their school culture.
After all that, what am I taking away from the Leads Network? Well I could probably write another four posts on the day. The whole spirit of ResearchEd is bringing people together to find out what there is to find out and the first Leads Network was a brilliant extension of the more general conferences. I really like the idea of smaller, more focussed groups and even though the groups here ended up quite large, there were opportunities for discussion. I had wondered if having some sessions on more than once, to allow for everyone to attend but in smaller numbers might work? Maybe with tables next time though…
I think I seem to be on the right track with the Research Lead thing. I’m not quite on the scale of Skyping Harvard, but a handful of staff in my little learning pod is all coming from the same point. I might investigate the partnership thing a bit more next year but my main concern is not to rush anything. Professor Rob Coe started the day off by reminding us that there’s no evidence Research Leads work – a reminder to challenge our thinking, but also that we’re the first lot doing this on a wide scale and we’re making it up as we go along. At one point in the day I was told I was being a librarian for hunting down and saving articles for people to use. I’m quite happy for that to be part of my role at the moment. If we get to a point where access to research becomes a budget priority then that would be a wonderful thing. Maybe it will take some time, but whilst we’re getting there I think there are a lot worse things than getting together from time to time and learning from each other.