This edition considers the part that research and reflective practice have to play in school and professional development
Progress is being made towards teaching becoming a master’s level profession. For two years now, many trainee teachers on the Graduate Teaching Programme (GTP) and School-Centred Initial Teacher Training (SCITT) courses, for example, have had the option of submitting written assignments for up to 60 master’s credits.
This can be seen as part of a wider policy move in the direction of making schooling a more research-led public service and making teaching a more enquiry-led activity. The underpinning principle is that educational provision in general, and the curriculum which pupils experience in particular, can be enhanced by a more critical and reflective workforce and leadership.
Let us look at answers to these questions:
- How can critical, reflective practice be promoted?
- What are positive signs of critical, reflective practice?
How can critical, reflective practice be promoted?
One way of promoting a questioning and evidence-based approach to teaching and learning is to give formal status to theory-in-practice via master’s qualifications. But such formality is not essential. Teachers can be motivated to probe their experience and innovate without having to be on a course or writing about it. Some teachers prefer to examine their own work and collaborate with colleagues in improving their teaching for the intrinsic satisfaction such activities bring.
Some teachers believe reflecting on practice is a natural part of their work and job satisfaction. The question is how critical thinking and sharing ideas can be facilitated. A common remark is ‘We don’t get time to stand back and think about what we’re doing’. As a curriculum manager you can be proactive in this. It is one of your roles to prompt, guide and fund opportunities for colleagues to share expertise and develop their teaching. Certification, for example, via the Masters in Teaching and Learning (MTL), is just one possibility.
The MTL is available to newly appointed Special Educational Needs Co-ordinators (SENCos). And this year newly qualified teachers and heads of department in National Challenge schools have the opportunity to enrol and be mentored and tutored on the MTL. It is already relatively common for senior leaders in schools to have academic qualifications beyond their first degree and beyond National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services Leadership certification.
One approach used by many schools committed to continuing professional development (CPD) is to facilitate meetings of interested staff members. They agree a focus, which may be assessment, ways of involving and motivating students, differentiation, paired and group work, use of new technology… They share plans and experiences. They may visit one another’s lessons, perhaps pairing up to observe and be observed. They often go on to plan and lead training sessions for the whole staff.
Some schools give this kind of cooperative and shared action research a structure, such as the one developed by Patricia Ashton and others (1980). This involves each participating teacher arranging every week to step back from the action of what is happening in a lesson in order to notice and note:
- What are the pupils actually doing?
- What are they learning?
- How worthwhile is it?
- What was I doing before I stopped to reflect?
- What was I learning?
- What do I intend to do now?
Monthly meetings, say, enable colleagues to share their observations and pursue implications for teaching and learning. Those who have this kind of experience report that it makes a very significant difference to their work, their morale and their approach to professional and whole-school development.
Another obvious facility is the in-school physical and electronic storing of resources: intranet and library. Colleagues need access to up-to-date surveys of research, case studies and reports of projects. A very useful starting place is Andrew Pollard and the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP: go to www.tlrp.org).
Training schools and schools contributing to initial teacher training (via PGCE, GTP or SCITT) are well placed to open up and extend materials and forms of communication to guide and support colleagues in carrying out enquiries and sharing their ideas.
An obvious follow-on from colleagues’ having encouragement and opportunity to question and explore their work is students having comparable experience. Some of the most exciting work currently being done in imaginative schools is students’ research into many aspects of school life (eg see Michael Fielding and Sara Bragg, 2003).
The key is to be clear and determined about using collaborative action research to motivate, focus and reward colleagues and students as learners.
What are positive signs of critical, reflective practice?
You know your school is on a path to highly effective professional and whole-school development when:
- many colleagues are engaged in some kind of action research
- students are also involved (through school council and other forums and projects) in investigating and contributing to what happens in lessons and across the life of the school
- your CPD coordinator gives prominence to research and enquiry
- senior and middle leaders give prominence to research and enquiry in performance management and in whole-school improvement
- development plans and self evaluation forms refer to enquiry, research and accredited studies, and show that research (whether accredited or not) is helping improve outcomes for students
- conventional library and e-library facilities are often accessed by colleagues
- your SENCo has, or is signed up for, master’s level credits
- if possible, GTP and SCITT trainees and NQTs are signed up for master’s level credits, and a high percentage of those starting complete
- partnerships and projects you engage with consistently highlight research by local colleagues as well as nationally and internationally significant work
- you have well-used ways of disseminating your successful in-house research across your schools’ partnership, local authority, specialist or denominational foundation or trust, and beyond.
- Ashton, P., Hunt, P., Jones, S. and Watson, G. (1980) Curriculum in action: an approach to evaluation Open University.
- Fielding, M. and Bragg, S. (2003) Students as researchers: making a difference London: Routledge/Falmer.
- Pollard, A. and others (2002, 2005) Reflective Teaching: Evidence-informed Professional Practice London: Continuum.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in June 2010
About the author: Dr John Blanchard is an independent consultant and author of Teaching, Learning and Assessment (Open University press, 2009)