“Seeking out people with different views, different perspectives, different ideas is often challenging, because it requires us to set aside judgment and open our minds. But we have to remind ourselves that to get beyond where we are, where I believe most of us are, we would all be be well served to choose our music carefully, to stop talking and listen to one another.”
― Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst "Best" Practices of Business Today
How often do you get to engage in research and conversations about what you have read in research with colleagues?
I have engaged ain and heard many conversations in staff rooms and classrooms across NSW. Many of them, most of them if am being honest, are about anything but pedagogy or education research. I peppered a colleague with questions about L3 when they were being trained in that, and learned a lot about it, and I have had sporadic conversations but there has never been a sustained focus.
Recently I was visiting schools in regional NSW as part of my role with ClickView and happened to be able to tee up a time to catch up with Pete van Whiting and John Catterson. I was expecting to catch up for dinner and a few drinks at a pub; but they had other ideas and roped me into joining them as they recorded an episode of their podcast, Teachers Talking Teaching.
I had only started listening to the podcast recently, but had managed to catch up and I thoroughly enjoy it. The banter is amusing, however, I enjoy listening to the conversations about educational research, or about articles that have been published about education. It is my experience that learningful conversations are not very common and so to be able to engage with the podcast is actually quite mentally stimulating. It also is interesting hearing two high school science teachers' thoughts on other sectors of education.
In this particularly episode, John was reviewing a book chapter which discussed the problems around having specific teaching standards and curriculum, while Pete was discussing an article about violence towards teachers.
It was a late night by the time I left, however, it was actually thoroughly enjoyable. The opportunity to engage in discussions around education theory, pedagogy, issues etc. is not one that comes up very often, and when it does, it has usually been with other primary teachers. So to be able to do so with two secondary teachers, who have a very different experience and perspective on teaching, was great.
If you have not listened to the podcast before, I do recommend it, as Pete and John are both quite articulate when they decide to be, and also hold some differing views in some areas which makes for great conversation. To be able to discuss education from a more theoretical-practical perspective based on the articles was thoroughly enjoyable from a professional level and a nice change from the typical conversations that I hear in staff rooms revolving around whether or not assessment tasks have been written, or around the activities of certain students, or what was on television the previous night.
Do you engage in pedagogy-based conversations at all? Occasionally? Sometimes but not as an instigator? I would be curious to understand why you do or do not. Leave a comment here or over on twitter.
"We carry with us habits of thought and taste fostered in some nearly forgotten classroom by a certain teacher."
- Jerome Bruner, The Culture of Education, p. 24
I have written on occasion in the past, including last week, about the importance of relationships in the classroom. After hearing it mentioned a few times on the Teachers Talking Teaching podcast, I have dived into listening to the EduChange podcast. Each episode has been an interview with someone involved in the education space in some way, usually as an educator, talking about what they have changed in their context and the impact that it has had. There have been some striking consistencies across the episodes that I have listened to thus far.
Initially, each guest is asked to outline a brief synopsis of their life in education and how they have ended up where they are, and at the end are asked to share a takeaway message with the listeners. In between is the really interesting conversation.Strikingly, relationships have been coming up a lot in the episodes that I have listened to. I do not know if that is a specific focus or if it is just how the interviews have played out, however, so far relationships with students has been a strong component of the change being affected in the interviews with Shane Hancock, Brett Wood, Peter Hutton, Matt Noffs, and Ashanti Branch.
The five educators whom I have listened to thus far are from very disparate ares, the UK, North America, and various parts of Australia. But for all of them, relationships with students came through. One of the educators made a remark that for some students, they are confused when a teacher shows them care outside of where a teacher should care because they are not used to being cared for.
“If you care more about the subject you are teaching than the subjects WHO you are teaching, there will probably be a disconnect.”
- Ashanti Branch
We do not necessarily know what is going on at home, students, just as much a teachers, wear masks to hide things from those around them. Ashanti Branch is working in his community, through the Ever Forward Club, to break down those masks, to help students see that students' challenges are not there's alone, but are being borne by others as well.
Brett Wood, co-founder of Music Industry College, has used embedded relationships into the school. The size of the school has deliberately been kept small so that all staff know all students. The power behind that is incredible. To be able to know the names of all the students in a school has the power to change your relationship with them immensely, and their relationship with you, and with their learning.
There are a range of available resources to help you learn how to build and strengthen the relationships with your students, from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) (here), to the National Education Association (NEA - North America) (here), and the Victorian Education Department (here), and the American Psychological Association (APA) (here).
Hattie's work in Visible Learning indicated that student-teacher relationships had an effect size of 0.72 on learning outcomes in both his 2009 and 2011 reports, which is quite a significant impact. Relationships play such an important role in the classroom.
What are you going to do to help strengthen yours?
"Research is to see what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought."
- Attributed to Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
The penultimate unit in the Flipped Learning Level II Certification program was focused on understanding how to find and engage with research, and was with Dr. Robert Talbert of Grand Valley State University (MI). This unit I think was one that was extremely accessible for everyone and that all teachers should work through.
Given the rhetoric that is often present in the media and from politicians around the need for research-based teaching practice, this segment provided some very practical strategies for engaging with research. Robert acknowledged the challenge that paywalls present in preventing easy access to research, however, Google Scholar is a very good tool to utilise to help with that. It may be worth approaching a nearby university campus to see if you can arrange access to their library and therefore their databases and access research that way.
Anyone who has been required to read research will know that journal articles are often dense, long, heavy on statistics, and use overly-complicated language. One strategy, as obvious as it is, to help determine whether it is going to be worth reading an article or not, is to read through the abstract, which provides a summary of the article. I discarded a number of articles in my research after reading the abstract, however, I still found myself reading articles that I would decide partway through were not actually going to be useful for me.
Robert's advice was to skip straight to end and read the sections labelled discussion and conclusion. Robert pointed out that if these two sections, typically only a few paragraphs each in length, end up not yielding useful information then diving into the remainder of the article is not going to be worth the investment of time. It is such an obvious thing to do that I am disappointed in myself for not realising it while doing my own research.
Robert also spoke about some strategies to help determine if the research was quality, well-conducted research or not. Initially, this revolved around the clarity of the questions that the research was investigating. If the question being asked is not clearly defined or not explicitly stated that should raise some potential alarm bells. As part of this, any variables, or restrictions that relate to the research need to be stated, including any survey instruments such as questionnaires. Critically, the methodology needs to be laid out clearly in order to allow for replication. Good research should be able to be replicated and achieve the same or very similar results.
There does often seem to be a disconnect between research and the classroom, however, there does not need to be. Google Scholar allows you to set alerts so that you receive an email with the titles of a number of articles that meet search criteria that you set. This allows you to simply scan through and perhaps identify one or two articles each week that you want to invest the time into reading.
Another way of engaging with the research is to listen to podcasts where they explore research. Two very good podcasts that I listen to and recommend you listen to are The Education Review by Cameron Malcher, and Teachers Talking Teaching by John Catterson and Pete Whiting. Teachers talking Teaching is the less reverent podcast, however, both podcasts tackle education research and policy, and its implications for classroom and are worth listening to.
As always, thank you for reading.