#rEDLead meeting- the role of a research lead within a school

On Saturday I went to the ResearchED Lead practitioner meeting/conference in London.  I was pleased to go personally as I’m very much interested in meeting other colleagues and finding out how research has developed within the schools in which they work.  I was also looking at it as a Deputy Head teacher from @BiltonSchool in Rugby and the member of staff who has responsibility for CPD and @BiltonProfLearn within it.

As a school we’re looking at the development of professional learning within schools and a chance to see what this looked like in other contexts was a fabulous one. What was particularly interesting about this opportunity is that the role is very much one which is in its infancy- and although we were able to hear from some great people (@Super_network, @HuntingEnglish, @C_Hendrick, @DanielHarvey9) what became clear was that there were differences in approach to the role and that was interesting.

But so what?  In education the contexts from classroom to classroom, school to school are hugely variable. As a result I didn’t think that the manner with which a Research Lead leads could be competely uniform. However, there were some non-negotiable elements that appeared to me out of the day and it’s these that I wanted to mention.

The first and most recurring element to me was the importance of professional learning- continuous professional learning. As a result I really hope that a focus on being the Professional within the profession has more prominence within the psyche of parents, teachers, students, governors, politicians… and whoever.  All teachers have been through the academic process, whether it’s at degree, MA, PHD and therefore enter the profession with that as part of their professional identity, however it has and can then be lost within the culture of the profession. I think the meeting on Saturday really shows that there is a momentum to change that and that is one that I am really on board with.

I think the development of the idea of ‘expertise’ is also a really interesting one. A really interesting conversation made me think about just how much the focus has been on judging the competency of a teacher and how little has been put into the development of them. Why is the follow up to a lesson a conversation about what was seen in the lesson and not the principles behind their teaching and how that manifests itself within practice?  I have a particular interest in assessment and curriculum and the more I look into that, the more it appears to me that developing discussion around these areas through professional learning, is the crucial element to deepening them in practice. I really believe that in terms of impact, this would be realised in the way these areas  contibute to continually positive learning outcomes for our learners. An outcome of this meeting, is that I am even more convinced that the development of research within the profession, is a means to effect this development of expertise in practice.

To support that- leadership is key. Head teachers, SLT, Governors- they need to be on board. Being frank I got disappointed when I was hearing comments from some colleagues that SLT can’t be involved as they aren’t credible as they don’t teach enough, or when the priorities in a school improvement plan would have no place within research foci.  What is the point in a school’s improvement plan if it isn’t based on evidence about the professional learning needs within a school? Equally if a teacher doesn’t see how they can contribute to their school’s improvement plan through their practice then there’s an issue there too? Isn’t there?  When research was really working there was no confusion that it being supported by the school leadership played a large part in this. Equally if they don’t it’s going to be very difficult to work to embed it as part of a school’s learning culture.  It was interesting to hear where the role lies within various school structures; one colleague had it as a 2b post (like a 2nd in Maths), others as a member of staff who sits just outside of the SLT. However their role as a ‘broker’ to develop the opportunities for professional learning was agreed upon by everyone that I spoke to. Again, how those conditions are being developed varied- and I think they should based on school contexts- but the fact that the role exists shows that (perhaps) there are members of SMT/SLT across the country who have the same interest in teaching and learning that they did when they weren’t? Just a thought.

We need to be able to access the evidence. Some schools have links with Universities, others don’t. Some schools are part of alliances, others are not. Some schools are teaching schools or have great relationships with teaching schools, others have a teaching school that exists in the locality but the teaching school sees it’s role in selling its services to them. What is clear that there isn’t a uniformity of access to the evidence and the outcomes of research.  The discussion that took place as a result of @ProfCoe sharing his findings on what makes a good teacher shows just how powerful the outcomes of research can be in developing professional discussion. Even the idea of subject knowledge proved contentious (I tried to make the point that I think it’s a matter of curriculum knowledge, seeing as the end assessment that students sit is predicated on the curriculum taught, rather than their mastery of the entirity of a subject- I think I’ll write on that another time). Therefore I feel that there needs to be a push to find a forum for the collation of research so that it can be accessed on a regional/national basis. (College of Teaching anyone?)  What if in a future OFSTED framework findings from professional learning were one of those non-negotiable elements that had to be able to be found on a website? It would certainly help schools to think about the extent to which the professional learning was part of the school’s identity.

A striking comment that really resonated was that the evidence should be the start of the research conversation,  I feel that what has come out of this Saturday really is part of the start of these conversations and therefore colleagues need to have the evidence made available to them. I hope to attend the next meeting in March and bring some interested practitioners from Bilton with me.  I really valued the opporturnity to discuss teaching in such a collegiate environment and look forward to trying to develop similar opportunities for colleagues at Bilton and also within the local area.