It’s not going to surprise anyone that I’m pro-researchED. It’s genuinely changed my life – places I‘ve been, friends I’ve made, the job I do, hangovers I’ve suffered… For me it came along as I was finishing my MEd and offered a place for me to continue engaging with education research in a way I thought I wouldn’t be doing anymore.
Conferences are popping up all over the place now (researchED and others) and I don’t actually go to that many but I do follow what’s going on and as it happens I’ve got two in a row: researchED Birmingham yesterday and off to researchED Haninge next weekend. After a while following from the side-lines it was really great yesterday to be amongst it and maybe this is why it particularly niggled me when I caught up with Twitter last night and the usual voices were there just to sling insults at it all.
No-one is going to agree with everything and nor should they, but the constant snark and spiteful rhetoric is draining to watch and unhealthy to be involved in. I’ve gone from someone who debates ideas to someone who just keeps quiet to avoid the sniping; someone who follows a range of voices to someone who mutes and blocks just to be happier.
Anyway, questioning ideas and voices is healthy and hating based on assumptions and prejudice is not, so for what it’s worth I’ve decided to address some of the criticisms and write about my own experiences of education conferences – naturally, mostly researchED but I’ve been to several others so I’m thinking about those too.
Forcing an Ideology
People seem to believe that there’s one message being peddled and the hoards are being brainwashed. I would hope that a look at a programme for one of these events would allay some fears of this. My experience is of a broad range of speakers and ideas but of course there are going to be topics that people are more interested in and this has evolved with the education landscape. I think it’s a good thing that something like researchED has fed into the landscape but I truly believe that far from forcing an ideology at the expense of blocking others, this has happened because of the space given to debate and different voices.
I’ve heard MPs promoting their own well-honed propaganda and I’ve disagreed with them. I’ve been sat in a presentation when several audience members start debating the ideas with the speaker. I’ve seen people I’d never have thought I’d agree with but have and people I thought I’d love that have made me cringe.
I know what it feels like to be on the opposing side of the current vibe but that’s not a reason to shut down valid experience. There’s space for everyone and they need to be able to decide. I’m a grown up and capable of doing that.
All about Bennett
He’s put his everything into researchED. He’s the face in the programme and bats off the constant flack, but crediting Tom with every researchED event does a disservice to all the people who are organising conferences across the world in their own time for free. People put all their spare time into these things and what they don’t need is ridiculous assertions that they’re part of some sort of conspiracy. If that’s what people genuinely think then it’s a real shame but it’s not going to stop people engaging with what is an amazing, international community of educators.
I’ve seen sessions that are like a masters crash course and sessions that just have a nod to the research they’ve looked at. Personally I prefer the heavy ones, but I know others aren’t so ready to engage that way. I wrote a while ago about ‘rED the next generation’ and this still holds true. It’s easy to have the curse of the expert (broadest sense) and there are novices just getting into it. Of course there’s the risk of mega Dunning-Kruger effect but that’s not unique to education conferences – it’s a bias with its own special name! We just have to be aware of it.
Same people, same themes
I understand it might seem like researchED peddles the same stuff at each conference but there are several things to bear in mind here:
- Everyone does it for free. If you can get a popular speaker to come and do your event for free then you’d be stupid to say no. The presence of a big hitter means people will come and see the unknowns.
- There are loads of speakers and not many slots. Having the same people at different events means you get another chance to see something you missed. I’m always surprised I still get asked to talk about journal clubs and equally surprised people turn up.
- The timetablers are good at getting it right but I’ve been to lots of these things and there’s always a surprise room with people spilling out. Almost like people can choose who they want to see rather than being told who’s going to be popular…
- ‘Ah, but if everyone was an unknown then you wouldn’t have that problem’. Yes. New Voices does that. It’s ace and I’ve also seen how going for it and speaking at that has given some people the confidence to do other conferences. Double aces.
This is woo-woo. We’ve had a Tory led government for 10 years and this spans the whole of the boom in education social media-led stuff so there’s nothing to compare it to. For what it’s worth, and I know it won’t be worth anything to those who’ve made their minds up, I don’t think the government would be too chuffed with some of the stuff speakers at edu-conferences level at them.
So, my own experience
I’ve done the rounds. I’ve seen some big hitters who are shit – don’t prep, use old, 90 minute presentations in a 40 minute slot and despite being a disaster, have people nodding along because they love their book. I’ve even been disappointed by a presentation and then had the misfortune to have to sit through it again as the keynote at another thing.
BUT. I’ve also seen people I’d never get the chance to see for £20, big names in the audience of a classroom-teacher sharing their passion and awesome first time speakers who’ve prepped beyond perfection because it means the world to share their ideas. And then seen them speak to their heroes at the pub afterwards and get involved in a new project.
My experiences are of events where you can choose to play it safe and go to see your friends and a twitter celebrity or embrace new ideas. Or do both all in the same day. There’s more criticism of ‘dogma’ within researchED presentations than people perhaps think. Some people were well known before they started going to education conferences, others have become more well known as events like researchED have been part of their career journey and they’ve met people and made connections.
There will be a ton of reasons people are wary of or don’t like things like researchED. I understand that to some extent everyone is a gatekeeper of knowledge and it can make people uneasy to see new faces rising. It does nothing for my imposter syndrome to suddenly see all these enthusiastic new teachers hit the scene, I can tell you! The thing is though, this is an evolving landscape and I’d rather be part of that and call it out from within if I can than poke at it from outside.
We keep being told how the majority of teachers don’t use Twitter or know what researchED is. Don’t use that fact as a stick to beat rED with at the same time you’re accusing it of infiltrating the whole of the education sector. Makes you look silly.
Last weekend saw the annual behemoth that is the researchED national conference come to Harris Academy St John’s Wood in London. Despite some navigational challenges it was rammed with people enjoying themselves speaking and listening and questionning in the way these things should be and I’ve seen various accounts blogged over the past week.
My role at work has changed this year as I start working for our trust on various bits including CPD so I had a mixed focus on the sessions I attended which included:
- Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby on Dyslexia
- Becky Allen on Pupil Premium (OMG, if you weren’t there, or even if you were, read the blog version here)
- Rob Coe, Steve Higgins, Philippa Cordingley & Greg Ashman on Meta Anaylsis
- Daniel Muijs on Research at Ofsted
Sam Sims, Steve Farndon and Emily Henderson on Instructional Coaching
Christine Counsell charing a panel on 21st Century Curriculum
It was a guddun.
This year was also a bit different for me as I took a step out of my Journal Club comfort zone and gave a presentation on my experiences developing the research lead role in a special school (don’t worry JC fans, I’m already booked in to give those a good plug, with biscuits, at rEDBrum and the Habs Girls conference next year). I debated whether to include the term ‘Special School’ in the title of my talk as on one hand it provides a level of SEND visibility to rED, but on the other hand I worried about people dismissing my presentation as not for them. I do think visibility is important so I went for it and as it turned out I was up against Gibb and at least three other keynote-worthy sessions so I don’t think I needed to over-think the attendance too much.
One of the things I focussed on, aside from the logistical bits of being a research lead, was the element of ‘oh no, not you of course’ that I seem to come up against. I think SEMH is an interesting sort of SEND when it comes to research as our pupils can follow a reasonably mainstream curriculum and don’t generally have the needs people associate as ‘special’ so we find ourselves in the middle where if I point out something doesn’t quite fit us in either the mainstream or SEND I get the ‘ oh no, not you of course’ response. This seemed familiar to some of the people who came to my presentation too and is perhaps something for me to explore a little further.
Criticism of researchED is healthy and there have been some interesting reflections following Saturday, including a continuation of a conversation started by a comment on the amount of SEND representation on the line-up which Karen Wespieser and Jules Daulby have pretty much reflected my thoughts on already in their post ‘ResearchED 2018: Everyone’s a teacher of SEND’. I want to pick up on their point about an ‘us and them’ position because I keep coming back to it as I think about the day. I have spoken at lots of events, mostly about journal clubs, and for researchED this includes at least three national conferences, Washington DC, Sweden and Ontario. In addition to this I have attended many more and at each of these events, speaking or not, I was SEND representation. I am a teaching assistant, in an SEMH special school, and also happen to be the research lead – everything I take part in is framed in my context.
My presentation hit on some of the challenges I have faced as a special school research lead because there are differences and barriers. I completely agree that we have a responsibility to include SEND pupils and issues in our questions and reflections on any form of professional development, conference or otherwise. What ‘counts’ as SEND will differ between people but I know that researchED events are attended by the whole spectrum of educators including those from special schools, AP, PRUs, SENCOs and teaching assistants. I think presentations addressing some specific issues will be welcomed but I don’t want there to be tokenistic SEND presence to ward off criticism either. The thing is, we don’t know why everyone is there or what their motives are, and I think if we truly recognise that everyone is a teacher of SEND, then we must recognise that everyone is also a representative of SEND.
As always the researchED national conference has given me food for thought to start the new year. There are already exciting things coming up and I’ve got plenty of ideas to keep me going (in my SEND setting) and hopefully there are plenty more to come!
I’ve been spending some time reflecting on journal clubs and their use in schools recently. I’ve been fortunate enough to speak at events about journal clubs in education for a while now, and whilst I’ve tweaked my presentation a few times and always use a new paper for discussion, it’s still pretty much the same thing and I think it’s been good for me to go through this process of reflection so that it doesn’t become something I churn out for the sake of it.
This Easter I’m lucky enough to be going to Toronto for rEDOnt. Whist I’ve presented at events for other organisations, the majority of my presentations have been for researchED and as this is how I started out doing it it’s quite nice to have been able to develop and explore the promotion of journal clubs with them. There is always a treasure trove of speakers at researchED events – all giving their time for free – and it always seems like they’ve got a PhD and books and a gajillion followers on Twitter and they talk about hardcore research and RCTs they’ve done and theories of how research should be applied in schools. I experience quite a bit of imposter syndrome, doubting the legitimacy of my presenting at these events (although I’ve seen ‘names’ doing the same thing a few times so don’t feel too bad) but it’s important I remember the number of new people who come and tell me about their clubs. There are journal clubs across the UK, in Sweden, the US, Canada all because of me and if I allow myself to be honest, that feels pretty awesome.
People talk about research projects they’ve been involved in or opportunities for schools to take part. There is a wealth of stuff going on and I love it. I think it’s increasingly important that people come away from researchED, or other events, with something practical they can do in school or with colleagues and even better if that is something that doesn’t need huge amounts of planning or money and can be done by any group. After a few researchED conferences, and when I’d taken part in (and tried to take part in) some research projects within school I found that for us particularly as a small school it was difficult to take part. Our cohort was too small or didn’t fit trial recruitment criteria. In the one RCT we were part of our pupils found it hard to access the pre- and post-test materials so we ended up as an additional case-study. I’m sure there will be things we can take part in more successfully but I’m aware that we won’t be the only school in this position and for those who come to researchED and want to take back and share something solid that can get their schools engaging with research I truly believe journal clubs are the way they can do it.
There is understandably a significant focus at conferences on how research can be applied in the classroom and how to measure impact on pupil outcomes, or how policy makers at different levels can make research-informed decisions, and I think this risks narrowing the research we look at in schools. I think it also risks an over-reliance on research summaries and meta analyses which whilst they definitely have their place and I’m not saying we need to stop this, it’s healthy for teachers and leaders to be critical of the research they’re presented with and face their biases. Teachers also need to be aware that a lot of research isn’t ready for use in the classroom and I think it’s just as important that this is looked at too.
Implementation science and knowledge translation expert, Melanie Barwick, put my thoughts into a more concrete form recently in a blog post about ‘Why Knowledge Translation and Implementation Science are not Synonymous‘, particularly when she said ‘Not all evidence shared for building awareness or informing is ready for application, but this does not make it less beneficial to the knowledge user’. It’s just as important that teachers become aware of ideas, different perspectives or potential developments in research as it is they find out about something new to try. Journal clubs are a space for teachers at any level to read and discuss research with colleagues without the expectation that they put any of it into practice. It’s great if it means coming across something new to try and explore it further, but it should be equally valid to have an awareness of the research that’s out there and be critical of it and make links and connections and prompt reflection on practice.
It’s amazing to be part of the charge of schools becoming more research savvy and the increasing awareness of the big ideas in education, and despite my occasional doubts over whether I belong, I want to be there to give people something to take back and share something concrete and doable in the hope that it prompts a wider discussion and participation.
I really hope those coming to rEDOnt find something in journal clubs that they feel they can do, starting clubs and starting a conversation. I’ll bring the biscuits 😉
What if using education to prepare students for the 21st century is actually just giving them more education?
We caught up with Endeavour last night – it was set in a 1960s private school and started me thinking about the whole ’21st Century Skills’ thing (what we should be teaching kids and how we prepare them for this new world we’ve already had nearly 20% of). I was wondering what people would say a 20th Century Skill looked like if you had to pin it down – given the changes that occurred over that 100 years, and I thought about how the pupils on the screen were older and in non-compulsory education for the time – privileged whilst their contemporaries were out at work. But I was mostly watching Endeavour.
This morning there were some tweets about from people at the Global Education & Skills Forum debate on 21st Century Skills including this one from Laura McInerney that included this picture:
The view at #GESF is that we are in a 4th industrial revolution & this means schools must change. But I keep looking at this graphic. Genuine question: with hindsight, how should we have changed school in the 60s to prep for the 3rd revolution? pic.twitter.com/00E8BliJxi
— Laura McInerney (@miss_mcinerney) March 18, 2018
I thought I’d take my idea further and have a look. I’ve only used Wikipedia for this and there are many with the knowledge to sweep my nugget of an idea away but my thoughts are that with each ‘industrial revolution’, instead of narrowing a curriculum to prepare children and teach them a new skill-set, the answer is to lengthen their education and broaden their skill sets.
So how do the various revolutions so far fit in with this? Despite the fact there are gradual changes in-between the dates on the image Laura tweeted, I was quite impressed when I had a look.
1784 – 1780’s saw the start of the Sunday school movement. Educating children (boys to start with) on Sunday because they’re at work in factories for the other 6 days a week.
1870 – The Forster Act of 1870, leading to introduction of compulsory education of children ages 5 and 10 in 1880
1969 – Raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16 enforced from 1 September 1973 (but Wikipedia says they were preparing for this from 1964 so it all includes 1969 quite nicely)
Now – the Education and Skills Act 2008 said that by 2013, all young people in England have to stay on in education or training at least part-time until they are 17 years old, and that by 2015, all young people will have to stay on in education or training at least part-time, until they are 18 years old.
Not implying correlation or causation or anything like that, it was just interesting to look at. Of course increasing access to education will have added to the likelihood of each new ‘industrial revolution’ and I’m fairly certain that the dates of each ‘revolution’ will happily match up with a wealth of other changes – let’s face it, I’ve just selected some dates off a Wikipedia article and that’s not going to stand up to super scrutiny, but I was pretty happy to see there were things that matched up.
The paper I used for the researchED Haninge Journal Club last week was about enjoyment and aspiration of middle grade students and there was a small bit that caught my attention regarding boys’ aspiration and the assumption that they’ll be able to get a job in an industry without good grades – something that’s increasingly less likely. Their 21st Century is less likely to involve simply falling into an industry and I think education is the answer.
The other thing if course is that even if the answer to education for the 21st Century is ‘more education’, it doesn’t give an answer as to what that education should be about and doing more of the wrong thing for the sake of doing more isn’t particularly useful. I’ll leave it there until next year when there’s a new series of Endeavour and I hope it gives me an idea about the rest.
All researchED events kick off well and whilst I’ve sat through a fair few ‘we aren’t expecting a fire alarm test today so if you hear a continuous bell…’ housekeeping announcements in my time, never before has this included instructions of what todo in the event of a lock-down. This made for a very exciting start to rEDBrum (and a silent wonder if each of the change-over bells would run to a count of 5 and we’d (very sensibly and in an orderly fashion) be required to dive under the tables). It didn’t happen (for the best really). It was also the most purplest school I’ve ever been to and if the TES do an award for having a theme and running with it, Dame Elizabeth Cadbury School wins hands down. The announcements and introductions were swiftly followed by a mini-keynote from Daisy Christodoulou on why we need to improve assessment and this ended up an unintentional but welcome theme threaded though my day.This event was also the first time I brought someone else from school to a researchED conference; a surprisingly big thing for me. I’m conscious that I hold researchED dear as my ‘thing’ – there are people I know, ideas I’m familiar with and challenged by, and despite the day-to-day stresses of work I can rely on something like this to put me back on track with why I love it. Of course I share what I learn back at school but bringing someone from one work-world into my other work-world was strange but positive. Anyway, at 7:45 on a Saturday morning our school principal Marcus hopped into our car with his copy of Daisy’s ‘Making Good Progress’ to read along the way.
Introducing a ‘novice’ to all this was a refreshing way to view researchED. Aside from the general what-is-researchED-who-is-Tom-Bennett-yes-everyone-really-does-do-it-for-free stuff there were a lot of things I found myself giving an overview of that I pretty much take for granted now and think lots of other people do. A couple of speakers openly glosssed over who Dylan Wiliam or Daniel Willingham are because researchED is pretty much taken as an environment where that’s basic knowledge – a solid case of David Weston’s point on Fundamental Attribution Error. There were a lot of hands up when Tom asked whose first rED it was in his introduction and whist some may be of the opinion that it’s unthinkable for a teacher of 30 years to not know about ‘Inside the Black Box’ I reckon there’s more out there that don’t know than do.
Marcus reading ‘Making Good Progress’ was actually a happy coincidence. I’d popped into his office to arrange our travel arrangements for the weekend and rattled of a few of the people who were going to be speaking, including Daisy’s keynote, and whilst I explained some of her work he produced the book from under a pile of incident sheets and exclaimed that he knew the name was familiar (promptly writing his name in the front when I asked if it was the copy I’d leant to another colleague). He’d not started it yet but when I popped in again on Friday it’s pretty safe to say it was blowing his mind even from Wiliam’s foreword.
My own day was perhaps subconsciously threaded with assessment/feedback/progress. I’ve spent a week cramming in baselines for new pupils and using a new system for the first time (GL Assessments in English, Maths and Science alongside Hodder Reading and Spelling tests for those who are interested). Ben Newmark’s talk on the mess that is target grades and Tom Sherrington’s take down of ‘Can-do’ statements make complete sense to me and it’s confirmation that what I assumed for a long time was naivety on my part – that the reason for all these non-sensical things must have been explained on everyone’s PGCE courses and it was all a ‘teacher’ thing – is actually based on a snowballing of decisions that nobody is certain of why it’s done; it just is. I’m still moving thoughts on this round in my head so I might consolidate those more clearly at some point. I have to say though, my take-home feeling is it’s no longer just theories of better ways to approach things, there are researched models out there, Ofsted are pumping out the message that they aren’t looking for specific things and school leaders have to be really brave to leap and make these changes. The fear of change is very real for many reasons and not all leaders have the autonomy they need to really go for some of these things. I’m not sure what it’ll take to get going but I sense that as some are starting to jump off the cliff edge it won’t be as hard for others to follow.
As always I left yesterday feeling positive and full of ideas. We’ve still got a week before half term and I’m desperately trying to finish off Relay before Friday so positivity is welcome. It was great to see people I’ve not seen since September and for my fox shoes to make friends with Cat Scutt’s. I’m still rubbish at talking to people at these things and shall endeavour to do better next time. I think Marcus got a lot out of it too. I know it’s consolidated some ideas for him and given food for thought in other areas. I also know that whilst most of us on-line buddies are introverts and ignore each other IRL, he’s 100% extrovert and turns out he spoke to loads of interesting people! We’re in a big period of change at school now and I’m hopeful that there can be increase in evidence informed decision-making. At the very least I’m hoping that when I enquire nicely for time off to do yet another international conference or plant the seeds of hosting a rED event the boss’ll at least know what I’m banging on about.
I wrote a 2016 post last year and thought it might be nice to do the same again this year. I’ve been sitting on the vague headings of ‘personal’, ‘travel’ and ‘work’ for a couple of hours now and my frame of mind appears to be one of mild gloom which is making it bit more difficult. I’ll start with travel this time…
We’ve done a bit more travel than we meant to this year. It started with the planned trip to Stockholm for researchED in February – I got a new coat and everything. I love Sweden but have until now stuck to the south and my friend Cecilia. It was lovely and snowed (a teeny bit) and some good funtimes until Howard was poorly and I didn’t get a bus tour. Put a bit of a dampener on things but was still a nice trip and we’ll give it another go next year.
Last year we did big holidays in April and October and, whilst they were brilliant, I kind of missed having a summer trip so our plan this year was to have a week away at Easter and one in August. The first was our cheap package holiday to Mallorca (lots of reading by a pool and working through the all inclusive cocktail menu) and the second was a week in Lisbon (industrial tourism with some amazing art and sea otters). With the odd weekend away here and there, that was the whole plan. Then for various reasons we ended up in Cape Town in October. Still not quite sure how we ended up there (Expedia and Emerites had a hand in it but there was a slight element of ‘whim’)… We did so much in under two weeks but my favourite bits were a duck parade and cuddling penguins in actual real life.
Next year we really do think we’ll rein it in a bit. Long haul flights have turned into the only way we see recent films.
Plodded along this year really. We did some Ikea hacks for the living room and the decking in the back garden that we’re chuffed about.
We saw some awesome art this year including two of my favourites, Anselm Kiefer at White Cube and Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain. I squealed at all of it.
I embraced my inner Hufflepuff (official sorting off of the Pottermore website quiz) and I committed to a favourite post-One Direction member of One Direction (Niall).
As I predicted the academy conversion (and MAT formation) has meant extra website work and, not quite as predicted, this has meant a few things have been put on hold for the start of this academic year. Hopefully I’ll be done with setting things up in the new year and can get some other bits done. There have been moments where I feel that I’ve stalled with a lot of things but as a wise Creaby once told me ‘You’ve just got to keep plugging away at it’. I’m trying, honest, and Relay is on issue 17 now – I’m not even sure it gets read but I’m plugging.
Another thing that’s stalled for various reasons is What Matters (the thing with the University of Nottingham). My enthusiasm knows no bounds however and I’ll see if we can revive it in some way next year (I’m still using it in conference bios, I’ve got to try something).
My focus for next year involves some professional development bits, some writing bits and some researchED bits so far. I may be picking brains.
Who knows. There have been moments when I wasn’t sure we’d get to 2018 this year but unless the next few hours goes to pot we will. With all the shifting round at work I’ve no idea what route that’ll be taking so I’m going to make a conscious decision to keep going with the work things outside of work. I’ve met so many fabulous people this year and my brain has ideas.
We don’t have particularly crazy travel plans for next year either. As long as there’s a bus tour or 6 I’ll be dandy. It’s been an interesting year but it looks like we’ve made it. Here’s to the next one.
I’m going to say it. rED17 was the best one yet. There have been researchED conferences that rival of course, and the light-up pens have reached legendary status, but the atmosphere at this one was something different. Whether it was the venue, Chobham Academy, with its circular building that forced delegates to cross paths and talk as they found their next session, or whether on a more personal level I felt like I knew more people there, there was a buzz I’ve not sensed in the same way before.
Despite recent naysaying (and outright attacks) around researchED there appeared to be lots of people who put their hand up to say it was their first time so the great conspiracy doesn’t seem to have put them off. A noticeable feature was the conversations going on. In previous years dining room chatter was filled with overhearing people talk about the speakers they’d seen, in awe at who they were, and this year people seemed to be discussing the session and the ideas. Instead of the queue in the loos being all “I saw X, I love him. I’ve read all his books.” there was a definite vibe of “I went to see X talk about Y. That really fits in with what we’re trying to do with year 9”.
That’s not to say there weren’t ‘big hitters’ – 2017 attracted speakers such as Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb and Ofsted Chief Inspector, Amanda Spielman; but I wonder if one of the achievements, and I really mean achievements, of researchED over the past few years is to make it normal to see and hear these people in person and it’s taken away some of that awe – allowing the debate to take hold. Nick Gibb tried (I think. I’ll be generous for a moment) to stick up for researchED and its contributors by talking about those academics who hadn’t engaged as being stuck in their ‘ivory towers’. I have to say, I think a considerable amount of ivory-tower-placing comes from us, not them, and the more we do engage and interact the further down the tower they come. It works both ways.
I did go and see Nick Gibb’s session. To be honest I wasn’t impressed. I wasn’t outraged either though and used it as a good opportunity to catch up on Twitter. I can be a crazy note-taker during these things but my word-for-word notes from this one read:
- Telling us about rED
- Embrace challenge and debate
- Answering the h8ters
- Ebacc, reading
- Reporting G4+
Tell me what’s new with that? The most impassioned bit was the first bit and that was pretty much reading Tom’s blog out loud (we’re at rED, and whether we agree or not, we’ve probably read Tom’s blog haven’t we?). The Schools Week article made it all sound punchy – you can view it here and decide for yourself.
So. To the good stuff!
My second session was Sam Sims with Katie Magee and Dhana Gorasia talking about Journal Clubs. Now, I do like a journal club and this was brilliant to go to as it was Sam’s 2014 session that boosted my explorations into journal clubs to what I’m doing now. The session explored a pilot study of journal clubs as a way to break behavioural habits around teaching and the theory behind this. The second half featured examples of how it had worked at Canons High School. I always make a point to stress that journal clubs aren’t a policy meeting and to avoid getting bogged down in how one paper could be used in school; Katie and Dhana showed how the two can work together with requests for papers on specific strategies and discussions that lead to implementation in practice. I liked the advice that journal clubs can be used to spot positive strategies and behaviours that are already happening in schools and enable these to be shared more widely. There seems to be a few exciting journal clubby things on the horizon, particularly with the Chartered College of Teaching, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and getting involved where I can.
Session 3 found me in the Britney-infused sardine can* that was David Weston’s session on Toxic schools. David explored how the school environment impacts on outcomes, looking a lot of things that Kev Bartle had talked about in York last summer. Coming from a school that has historically had a small number of staff with close relationships that is now expanding hugely, I’ve thought about this idea of trust and leadership a lot recently as the dynamics are being forced to shift. David took us through various biases to recognise and avoid (aided by occasional Britney) with some pointers to take back. His presentation’s here if you fancy it and I’m looking forward to any follow up sessions involving late nineties/early noughties classics with a dance routine.
It was me after lunch – good turn out, Journal Club info here – www.edujournalclub.com
I always find that once my own session is done I can sort of float through the rest of the day without the weight of it (literally, lugging biscuits is HARD) but it does make my notes a bit more relaxed. I went to see Martin Robinson give a warning about Growth Mindset. It does concern me that this is a bit of a bandwagon that looks fancy and evidence informed so it was good to pick up some ammunition for the time it descends on us here (and Martin was lovely, obvs). I went to an Institute of Ideas conversation about Mental Health in schools that was interesting. I agree with points that if we are over-cautious we risk medicalising ‘normal’ responses from pupils and found this idea that we have a ‘cultural script of fragility’ hit a point too. However I’m in a school where our pupils have (by definition) a range of mental health issues and I can see the problems of under-diagnosis and lack of intervention too. A teacher’s job is to teach but they’re with us a considerable amount of time – quite often the only stable time they have, and we have a role in safeguarding them too.
As has become normal at these things one of the best sessions was hosted by a local boozer (and a proper boozer it was too) where I had some great conversations with lovely people. Some about education, some about shoes, some about the Midsomer Murders Tour… I’ve stepped in to defend researchED a couple of times recently and I think we all know there are people who aren’t going to be swayed either way. It was, as always, a diverse day with rushing round behind the scenes that looked ripple-free from the outside. The familiar company was great, the new faces were also great, and I was left feeling overwhelmingly positive (even after the karaoke) about all the opportunities we have to do great things. If people choose not to engage with researchED then I really hope they find something they do like because it’s a shame to miss out.
Some people have noticed there have been some less than satisfactory bits to 2016 and it’s likely that it will be a year that gets a mention in the history books (hardcopy or digital) of the future, but I rather suspect that 2017 is queueing up to, um, trump it and we’ll look back on this one as a dream. Every year we send out our Christmas cards (tree decorations) with a sheet of photos showing some of the things we’ve been up to; it saves writing about everything in detail and seems to get positive reviews so we stick with it. I’m always surprised at how much we’ve done throughout the year and despite worrying we’ll struggle to fill the sheet there’s always things we miss out. This year was no different and trawling through all our pictures from 2016 has served to remind me that we’ve done some brilliant things this year and maybe it wasn’t quite the shit-show I’m remembering it as.
Mixed bag but nothing too tricksy here. I turned into a 35 year old and I won’t lie, I was grumpy about that. New box to tick on surveys, increased likelihood of diseases, sure I should feel more like a grown up etc. But hey, who wants to be a grown up anyway?
Rather fabulously it was our 10th wedding anniversary this year. It means we’ve spent a lot of time looking at things we got as wedding presents and saying ‘That’s 10 years old now’ and thinking of people and saying ‘We’ve not seen them for 10 years now’. It also means I was particularly shocked when I was off to do the Christmas shop and Howard asked, for the first time ever, for Twiglets. How can you be married to someone for 10 years and not know they like TWIGLETS?! Clearly keeping some air of mystique.
We said goodbye to Jemima Destroyer of Worlds – the little white rabbit with blue eyes and a propensity to nap. Bert’s still here though and flourishing. We said hello to two new nephews, Frank and Thomas, born a couple of weeks apart. Meant a lot of travelling up and down the M1 but they seem like groovy enough chaps.
Finally, I’m pretty sure I made these happen:
So @CadburyUK, Wispa Bites are great, Twirl bites are amazing, but my thought for this morning is… Double Decker Bites. Please.
— Beth G-G (@bethgg) April 6, 2014
Not had any confirmation or freebies yet, but it was me, wasn’t it?
We ended up doing rather more exotic travel than we were planning this year. Our honeymoon had been a trip to Japan and we’d always fancied going back – particularly to see the cherry blossom – so we thought the whole ’10 years’ thing was a good enough excuse and went to Tokyo at Easter. We did lots of fabulous things including bus tours (obvs), art, blossom watching, cultural stuff, and most amazingly, cuddling hedgehogs at the hedgehog cafe. I love hedgehogs and Tokyo.
Our plan was a small UK get-away in the summer and perhaps a cheap package deal for some October sunshine, but I put a stop to that by putting myself forward for researchED Washington DC. Our cheap holiday turned into a trip to New York and Washington DC during which we did industrial strength tourism (mostly via bus tours, I have so many ponchos now) and witnessed pre-election America. We really did pack an extraordinary amount of stuff in, but if we could recommend one thing, both of us would go for the nighttime bus tour of Washington DC (part bus, part guided walking tour) where the monuments and memorials take on a whole new feeling.
Arguably the best thing we did during this trip was our tour of The (actual real-life) White House organised by researchED. Didn’t think that would be happening this time last year. Now we can look at it on the telly (it’s been on a bit) and say ‘We’ve been in that room’. Next year we’ll be able to look at it on the telly and say ‘We’ve been in that room before it was gold’.
Obviously some of the travel stuff is also a bit work-y so I’ll start there. I hadn’t really planned on doing any researchED presenting this year and I attended a couple of events just to participate – the usual eye-opening presentations and sharing of amazing projects, with good pub-chat afterwards. The opportunity to go to America was one that I couldn’t (Howard wouldn’t let me) turn down and I’ve met some brilliant people – all quite surreal.
This kicked me into action with Journal Clubs and I got myself sorted with a website to bring together all the Journal Club-y bits I’ve got (mostly on here) and add some more detailed bits of information, templates and helpsheets. It’s here if you’re interested EduJournalClub.com
Slightly connected to this is the launch of ‘What Matters’, an initiative led by the University of Nottingham School of Education to bring together schools, University and interested parties in Nottingham. I’ve spent some time this year working through ideas for activities and events with Howard Stevenson (another Howard) and the project was officially launched in November with a lot of initial interest.
At school we had another year of good Art GCSE results that make us increasingly confident in what we’re doing and proud of our boys. I also organised another ‘Blind Date With A Book’ event alongside organising the creation and publishing of a ‘We Are Writers’ book with work from every pupil in school. I’ve managed to keep going with Relay. Still not sure how many people read it but there are occasional mentions of something I’ve written about so I shall keep going with it. This year I’ve said goodbye to my two best work-mates, Courtney and Alison. One to go and have a baby, the other to relocate down south. I do have my lovely new room-mate Neihal now who is suitably nuts and a perfect addition to the team.
Onwards to 2017…
Despite impending global doom (I am a very good worrier, I’m trying not to think about it all too much) there is a good little line up of things happening next year. ‘What Matters’ is set to really get going with a series of special interest groups and bigger events on the horizon. I’m all signed up for researchED Sweden, had to decline the offer of Oslo as it’s our wedding anniversary, and I shall attempt to update the Journal Club website with some more factsheets and ideas.
School is ready to academise in March. We’re setting up our own MAT so hopefully it’ll be fairly smooth. As the person doing the school websites it’ll add to some challenges I’m sure. On top of the academy thing we’re also expanding both pupil-wise and building-wise. This will add a few more challenges but I’m trying to look at it as opportunity rather than impending chaos.
In amongst all this we will hopefully have a think about doing something with the back garden and I’ve started looking for some new living room curtains (who said I wasn’t a grown up?). Also thinking it might be good to get that cheap package holiday with a swimming pool and reading time in too – if Tom fancies #rEDAlgarve, we’re there!
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?