This guest post was written by Jon Tait @TeamTait.
What makes an expert? If you went back 10 years or so ago, you’d have probably cited the fact that an expert was a professor or a published author on a specialised topic. The fact that they’d had their work published gave them a halo of credibility and authenticity above the rest of us working at the chalk face. But move forward 10 years to the present day and we find something quite different. With the boom of the internet and the emergence of social media and blogging, millions of teachers across the globe are now able to publish their own work via these mediums to a global audience, giving them the confidence, credibility and authenticity that they never had before. Suddenly we have an explosion of experts in our schools talking about their work in classrooms with a core aim of sharing this outstanding practice with others in the hope that they too will learn from fellow ‘experts’. And the best part about these new breed of experts? They are accessible. They are contactable via social media channels, they appear and speak at teachmeets and more important than anything else……they still teach in our schools. We are not trying to learn from the so called ‘experts’ of the past who stopped practicing what they preached and forgot what it was like to do the things they were preaching. More and more we are learning from experts who are living and breathing it with us.
The impact of this over the past five to 10 years in education has been simply staggering. Education had never before been such an open community of professionals sharing what works and doesn’t work in their classrooms. This has opened up the opportunity to share best practice just as easy with the teacher on the other side of the town as it is with the teacher on the other side of the world. Teachers are now far more open to talking about their triumphs, trials and their tribulations. True reflective practice is now far more common place in our schools because of the access to these professional thoughts and discussions. I believe that this has been key to raising standards in our schools and has been one of the key drivers to the development of pedagogy throughout the last decade.
But what is more interesting is the ‘renaissance of research’ that we now found in our schools today. Due to the credibility and authenticity built up by their ability to blog and publish their work to a global audience, teachers are now growing in confidence in the role of the classroom expert. Having read international research on what works with children in Finland, Shanghai and various parts of the world, teachers are now starting to conduct their own research projects on what works with their students. Yes we probably all agree that international research conducted on hundreds of thousands of students is far more statistically significant, but what can be more powerful to an individual school or classroom teacher than to find out what really makes their kids tick and what ultimately raises achievement in their school? This type of research is at the cutting edge of pedagogical development today and is starting to shape education across the world.
Getting teachers interested in conducting their own research projects is one thing, but creating the environment in which it can flourish is another. If we really want teachers to be researching and trialling new strategies and pedagogies, then we need to create an environment of support and trust where our highly skilled teachers feel that they can take risks in order to push the boundaries. They need to feel supported if something does not quite work, and celebrated when it does. Putting research back in the hands of our teachers is a significant step in educations’ journey towards mastery.
Once we create the environment we need to give teachers autonomy. When we give our teachers the autonomy to research what they want and trial it in their classrooms, great things start to happen. You can’t simply instruct two people to research a project that you want them to do, it needs to be an area that they are interested and passionate about. We all know from personal experience that we put far more time and effort into projects that we take interest in than others. This is key to the success of any project. Irrespective of what the research is about, if you have a teacher putting time, effort and enthusiasm into it, it will almost certainly have a significant impact in the classroom.
Imagine a school where there are research projects happening across classrooms and faculties throughout the year. A school where teachers from different subjects are collaborating on joint research projects to see if there are any correlations between different subjects. A school where the findings of these projects are constantly shared with the teaching staff so that others can learn from the mastery and the mistakes. A school where the teachers are engrossed and engaged in finding the best ideas from around the world and testing them to see if they have a significant impact on the learning outcomes of their students. And imagine a school where the major policies and direction of the school is informed by the constant high quality evidence based research that the teachers at the chalk face are conducting, so that the big decisions at the school are founded on what works with their students, not what works with someone else’s.