A theory I’ve had at the back of my mind for a while now is that there’s an emerging ‘2nd Generation’ of researchED goers. I’ve increasingly found that discussing the day with people I’ve now spent time with (both during conference and in pub afterwards) at several events is quite different from some of the conversations I’ve had throughout the day with people who were just starting to engage with researchED.
When researchED began in 2013, no one knew quite what it would be like but it looked like it’d be a good day out. I’d had a year without studying and I was eager to see how I could keep my foot in with all the research stuff I’d slaved over for three years. On the day there were people you recognised, a wide variety of sessions to attend, and there was nothing to lose. It was grass-roots – but not yet a movement. I felt the same way I did after my first MEd tutorial – there were all these people interested in the same things and I wanted to do it again. I scribbled notes for my first blog post as we drove back up the M1 towards home, and so did other people. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to do it again – there was a hunger for more. We all took different things away from the day but we’d gone along to take part and be part of that day.
There was a rhetoric at the first couple of Research Leads events that centered on the need for head teachers and leaders to have a ‘vision’. The vision to drive their institution forward and properly engage with research on a whole-school level or it ‘wouldn’t work’. The message seemed to have shifted from engaging individuals, to ‘how do we familiarise people with research’, to the requirement for a ‘whole school vision’. I don’t think anything is wrong with this. I agree leadership need to be on board of course, but I think there is now a group of people who have skipped the first bit and are aiming for the last. They may have been sent to a researchED event by their Head in order to bring back the magic bullet, or be that Head looking for ideas. They want to know how it’s all supposed to work in practice; where the common ground lies between schools and what the bigger picture is; what the point is. The theory sounds great but it’s turning into a big job.
At one of the events Tom Bennett made a comment about whether researchED was the new Brain Gym yet. There does seem to be a reflexive reaction to the growing interest in research in schools, “that looks good, we’ll try that, Ofsted will love it”, throwing everything into ‘research’ without stopping to think about what it means and what will work for your individual setting – perhaps heightened by Research and Development as one of the ‘Big Six’ key areas of focus for Teaching Schools. I’m part of it myself I suppose. I asked for the Research Lead role because I didn’t want anyone else to get it. I’m still happily moving along, picking up ideas and things to try out. I’m in a different situation to a lot of people though; our school is small and think there are quite a few things that aren’t suited to us so I’m not so worried about figuring out how we’ll fit it in. I’m happy to cherry pick and try to work out what we can try whilst I continue to meet with interesting people and build connections for us.
Jude Enright used Pasteur’s Quadrant model of scientific research in her session in Cambridge. Our group discussion about where the Research Lead lies within the quadrant was interesting. We pretty much decided that we can flit from place to place depending on what we are engaging with. I like to think that even though I’ve got a responsibility as Research Lead to consider how research is relevant and used, I can also delve into research for the sake of it; it’s like the indulgent me-time of research. As Research Leads I think a lot of our work is helping others find their quadrant and supporting them. Be that individually, as a whole school or perhaps as part of a TSA. I understand that schools don’t want to be left behind, and I really understand the need to be part of this – it doesn’t mean it has to be about finding ‘the answer’ all the time though. People can be nominated to do the role but there needs to be an element of personal interest.
I know the Leads events are more focused on what we can actually bring back to do in schools, the national conference has a broader scope and I’m glad it has continued to be that way. One of the best things about researchED is that it’s a hobby; I’ve seen people at teachmeets getting a bit haughty about research – feeling like they’ve got to question things for the sake of it. It turns people off and spoils it. A speech from Tom Bennett is never complete without astonishment that so many people are giving up their Saturday to attend. We’re doing it for fun, it’s enriching but it doesn’t feel like we’re at work. At least that’s how I see it.
My advice to the 2nd Generation, for what it’s worth, is you don’t need to worry about rushing to find the answers. Take the opportunity to see what other people are achieving and think about how you can adapt it to fit. That’s part of working our what works, right?
I’m annoyed by how long it’s taken me to write about researchED 2016 this year. After a weekend spent absorbing so many ideas and then hurtling back into the working week, I think it’s taken me longer to process. I want to write about it properly but I’m still buzzing from it all and can’t quite order my thoughts so apologies if it’s all over the place.
This year looks like it’s going to be an interesting one for me researchED wise and this was a brilliant way to kick it off. The national conference is now firmly in the education calendar – with all the advantages of securing brilliant speakers and having a press presence. It’s also great to have the buzz of the run up and see so many people again (if not nearly for long enough in so many cases). The flip-side of this of course is that there is a core of familiar faces and we need to be careful not to become too cliquey; it’s easy to forget that not everyone knows what’s going on. I also had a couple of conversations where people seemed a bit disappointed with the session they went to and I think it’s really important to remember that at the heart of researchED is an ethos of everyone being able to share with each other. That means polished speakers that forgo their usual fee and it means nervous teachers quite prepared for 30 Year 9s but terrified of 15 adults. Not everyone will be polished but it’s amazing that everyone wants to share and connect.
I had no particular method of picking my sessions this year and part of me wishes I hadn’t looked through the rED16 feed afterwards because I saw tweets about sessions I hadn’t even spotted in the programme. This is what I saw this time:
- Laura McInerney – Perfectionism
- Becky Allen et al – How to win the argument against opening new grammar schools
- Stuart Kime – Assessment: the unclaimed prize of learning
- Pedro de Bruckyere – Some basic ingredients for an effective education
- Sean Harford interviewed by Andrew Old
- Tim Leunig – How ministers make decisions when evidence matters
- Paul Kirschner – Urban legends in education: What does the research say?
I’m not going to go through each of them, but it’s worth highlighting a few bits from the day.
The first session with Laura McInerney (when I found it) was probably the one that was most personal to me. Laura explored the relationship between perfectionism and performance anxiety in teachers and how that impacts on retention. Looking at the links between type of person who becomes a teacher alongside how people act when under pressure, Laura focused on seeking approval and worrying about mistakes – connecting to this idea of ‘teaching fright’. She suggested that one of the reasons other roles that require dealing with people or performing don’t have the same issues with staff retention is that they are not asked to ‘perform’ for so many people, for such a length of time and repeatedly. It certainly hit the nail on the head as to why I don’t want to teach (and probably why I like working in a small school). The important things to take from this are that we need to work out who is likely to suffer from this anxiety, when, and how we can prevent it. Whilst it’s not going to be the only reason people leave the profession, it might go some way to helping those who do.
Understandably there was a noticeable undercurrent around the topic of grammar schools throughout the day and the session led by Becky Allen was all about this. I have never seen so many of the voices in education be so united against something as they are with the grammar schools proposal. Having spent so long pushing the message of evidence based/informed/led practice in education, for something that flies in the face of available evidence it’s understandable that people are cross (particularly as part of researchED). There are a lot of differences of opinion in education – probably magnified by Twitter, but the atmosphere was infectious.
On a similar note, Tim Leunig’s session on ‘How ministers make decisions when evidence matters’ was fabulous. I could listen to him all day I think. Not saying I was agreeing with everything he said, but definitely one worth looking at the video of. All the available videos and presentations are on the researchED website.
So now I need to use all this to get some stuff done. I’ve spent the past few rEDs with getting ideas for Relay in the back of my mind and wasn’t quite so worried about that this time. However there are a few bits I’ll write about and, for me, the evidence is clear that grammar schools are not the answer to our problems with education and the best way to stop this happening is to let people know. I’ve realised that surely one of the reasons for school to have me as Research Lead is that I can collate and translate all the information on this and encourage staff to respond to the consultation. I was going to do something in the next issue of Relay but I think there might be a bit too much information so I’ll see if I need to think of something else too. I’ve never written directly about researchED in Relay. Not sure whether that’s because I want to avoid bias towards my own interests or, as I remembered this week, it’s really tricky to talk about without sounding like you’re name-dropping! Mulling the idea of a ‘Research Special’ so who knows.
Finally, Howard seemed to have a good rED16 too and entertained himself by creating all sorts of interactive statistical analyses of the #rED16 hashtag. You can find these here: http://benchheaven.co.uk/rED16/
Next stop Washington…