Teachers often feel that they don’t have time to research; the pressures on the teaching profession are immense and the last thing a leader needs to do is add more work to an overburdened workforce. However, I felt that the value of research to inform teaching practices was so important that I made the decision to include a research-based performance management target for all teachers, including myself.
Our performance management targets include aspects that are familiar to many schools, but one target was purely about researching an area of personal interest. The key aim was to allow teachers the freedom to think differently, to take calculated risks, to be allowed to try new approaches and to reflect upon their own practice.
During the autumn term performance management discussion, the initial direction I gave each teacher was to consider an area they would be interested in and then form a research question. The range of ideas coming from the teachers in such a small school was certainly varied and ultimately came from the participants themselves, so there was a positivity towards what they were going to be asked to do.
As is usually the case when implementing any new initiative, teachers appreciate time. Time is a commodity that is highly valued in the teaching profession, and to ensure that the teaching staff fully adopted this research approach, time was duly provided. All teachers were given a professional development day to read through journals, books and online sources; plan a list of actions to take in the forthcoming terms; consider how the impact could be measured; and summarise this in a succinct abstract and methodology. During the summer term, time was dedicated to review the research project, with a short summary report of the outcomes of their project and suggestions for the future.
And my involvement? I was determined to be not just a facilitator but also a participant. I was influenced by a copy of Impact that focused upon formative assessment to form the research question: ‘How can we improve formative assessment methods to maximise pupil outcomes?’ In addition to this publication, I read work by Shirley Clarke (2005) and Dylan Wiliam (2016) and searched the journals contained within the Chartered College archives, including studies by Wiggins (2012), Hargreaves (2012) and Yuan and Kim (2015). This reading influenced an approach I firstly used with a small group of Year 2 children that I was supporting. Trialling different methods – pupil conferences, electronic observation tools and pupil involvement – has now been rolled out across the school, primarily for science, but other subject leaders are considering using it for reading, art, PE and music. This has therefore fed into our current school development plan as a key target – developing assessment of the broader curriculum.
There could have been scepticism about the whole research approach. Careful mutual agreement during performance management discussions with some forethought beforehand was essential. Tapping into the individual subject enthusiasms and interests of each teacher enabled a partnership to create visions for research. In fact, during the mid-year performance management discussions, the teachers were already considering the questions to investigate in the next academic year. This to me was the most exciting outcome: teachers enjoying the freedom and ability to extend their knowledge and understanding and having autonomy over their own personal development.
Questions could have been asked about how we ensured good use of the professional development day or the consequences if the staff didn’t apply themselves to the research process. The issue is addressed using one word: trust. If leaders trust their staff and give them the tools, time and techniques to develop themselves, then surely they will have pride in their own development? The teachers had to produce a methodology and abstract as evidence of research but, regardless, I trusted my staff. By trusting staff to complete research on an area that intrigues them, the improved knowledge and understanding should ultimately impact upon pupil progress. The rewards could be exceptional.
We didn’t always get it right, but just as we teach the children in our school the key elements of Dr Carol Dweck’s ‘growth mindset’(2012), we lead by example and reflect on how to improve ourselves. During my university years, Pollard and Tann’s Reflective Teaching in the Primary School (1993) was my inspiration and helped mould my own style of teaching and learning, with the upmost importance placed upon reflectiveness.
Reflectiveness is incredibly important, but so is seeing methodology in practice. This academic year sees the inclusionAn approach where a school aims to ensure that all children ... More of a school visit for teachers as part of our research process. Supply cover and travel expenses will be provided for teachers to visit other schools, to learn from and bring back good practice related to their research project. In particular, we will promote visiting schools that are not in our county. Looking wider is a key aspect of being reflective, taking on board new ideas and evaluating them for our own setting and our own children.
When reporting back to the governors, they stated that they would also like to be involved. They were very interested in the process and knowing more about what the teachers had been implementing. Building upon what has been established, and after reflection, staff will now also present their findings to the full governing body in July. This will promote the whole-school approach of valuing research but will not impact upon teacher well-being, as the meeting is held in the morning.
The key learning for me as a leader was to ensure that adequate time was provided, to trust my staff to use the time wisely, to provide access to resources such as journals or articles and to monitor the progression of the projects. We are still on a journey; we will reflect upon the previous outcomes and adapt every year, but the use of individualised learning and research projects has ultimately been a success and will be embedded within our performance management processes for the forthcoming future.
Clarke S (2005) Using Formative Assessment. London: Hodder Education.
Dweck CS (2012) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. London: Robinson.
Hargreaves E (2012) Teacher’s classroom feedback: Still trying to get it right. Pedagogies: An International Journal 7(1): 1–15.
Pollard A and Tann S (1993) Reflective Teaching in the Primary School. London: Cassell.
Wiggins G (2012) 7 keys to effective feedback. Educational Leadership – Articles, Resources for Educators. 70(1): 10–16.
Wiliam D (2016) The secret of effective feedback. Educational Leadership – Articles, Resources for Educators. 73(7): 10–15.
Yuan J and Kim CM (2015) Effective feedback design using free technologies. Journal of Educational Computing Research 52(3): 408–434.