Research Aware and Me

Education: defining both a meaning and purpose of education that embraces a consensus is arguably difficult enough. Add the word research into the mix and we widen reflection to the many different and divergent beliefs, attitudes, and ideological perspectives around what really “matters” in UK and International Education.

So how comfortable do the terms education and research sit beside each other? Is it dependent on syntax? For example, does the term “Teacher Researchers” sound more abstract and less real than the term “Educational Researchers”? In a world of ever increasing layers of ‘teachers need to’, why is a research aware teaching profession a phrase that seems to be growing in traction and popularity?

As ever in teaching, are ‘my needs’ the same as ‘your needs’? Blanket and school wide CPD is rightly under a microscope of gain and benefit but beyond this, when we not only inquire around terms and constructs such as ‘research literate and research engaged’, do these terms partly inform and construct teacher standards, teacher performance management processes and the overarching schema of what being a professional has come to mean?

Do we fight the distorting ‘war of the ghosts’ between those who advocate a research aware profession and how these wishes are interpreted and translated? Through a law of unintended consequences, can being ‘research illiterate and unaware’ be used as an esoteric, in-group stick to beat those who do not endorse the value? or does ‘research aware’ represent an emancipatory advance, empowering teachers to question previously unchallenged prescription and orthodoxy?

Isolating the term research itself may only help to a point. It’s a process of inquiry and investigation that exists across many diverse academic fields. Enter the world of biases and world views, and we may be exposed to the following: Often considered the gold standard of clinical trials, are Randomized Control Trials (RCTs) a necessary starting point in education, and should they act as a stage 1 process of inquiry, with other methods and methodologies only being used thereafter? How valid and rich is Action Research as a process of inquiry that teachers embark upon to better understand the immediacy of their own classrooms, own schools and own contexts?

The point in asking these provocations is that research is not a GPS that will automatically carry a teaching profession towards a final destination that represents an end point in teacher development. This is perhaps well illustrated in the publication by TNTP, “The Mirage: Confronting the Hard Truth About our Quest for Teacher Development” which reports that a large proportion of teacher professional development is largely a waste of time and money.

As unpalatable as that may be to digest, it does help illustrate the need to critically engage not only with research itself, but to critically engage and reflect on my own practice, in my own classroom, after all my lessons, throughout the whole year. After 25 years in the classroom, I think I am a reasonably skilled and knowledgeable classroom teacher (with the customary, yet zero degree of humility) If colleagues want to observe my teaching, no problem, the door lies always ajar with a metaphorical welcome mat to tread over. But.

I think over the last 5 years, when I have engaged more with Biesta and Priestley and curriculum design, when I have engaged more with Willingham, Bjork, Smith and Firth on memory for learning, when I have engaged more with White and Young on the purposes and whys of education, when I have engaged more with William and assessment and classroom practice, when I have engaged more with the Trivium and Robinson, when I have engaged more with Giroux, Delgado and Halliwell and Identity and Critical Race Theory, when I have engaged with Nueuroscience and Bishop and Walsh, when I have engaged more with Ritchie and Sabisky and the construct of intelligence, and when I have engaged more with Tomsett and the care and empathy of being a leader, when I have engaged more….

For me, I am a better teacher, a richer person, who reflects more, knows more and crucially understands that the more I know, the more I know I don’t. This ‘me’ isn’t to traduce those who do not wish to engage more with the ‘whoevers’. Rather, and in the words of Mr. Tierney, “better never stops” and if better can be achieved down avenues of professional reading, reflection and cultivating a research aware and literate teaching persona, why would we not wish to scaffold support for this at a systems level?

I know I can be a better teacher and senior leader in all of the tomorrows- some days will look better than others, and in these days, I will also be a better teacher and leader than other days. That’s ok when I can accept this and seek to reduce the number of such days. When I leave school, pass my day through my values filters and honestly ask myself, ‘did you do your best today’ and I respond ‘yes’ with honesty, I’ll still be happy. And. What more can someone ask?

This therefore becomes a key merit of a research aware profession to me; that defining both what improvement may look like, and how I can self reflect and evaluate my practices to engender change becomes largely within my own locus of control, within my own disposition and motivation to want to get better, both for me as a professional and for the pupils I teach.

Engaging with concentric circles of research aware, research literate and research engaged, where we can critically evaluate the claims of research and what they mean to my classroom practices and my previously held contentions around effective approaches to learning and teaching, is an emancipatory knowledge and skills base for me.

This by definition may help…

Go beyond the futile and perfunctory culture of top down, and imposed Performance Management targets that merely act as a mirror of SDP priorities, without allowing more esoteric development to occur…

Traduce the nonsense of pseudoscience that is still being peddled as key ‘scientific literature’ which can help promote growth and development. Perhaps its is simply and scientifically uninteresting and we have an ethical responsibility to engage and highlight such nonsense…

Develop a counter story and world view that frames the teaching profession not as a passive that accepts research and inquiry as a ‘done to’ model…

Develop a sense of professionalisation and direction within our locus of self control that views research and inquiry as a ‘done with’ model, engaging with a reciprocity and appreciation of talents, knowledge and skills between Teachers and Higher Education…

In short, help reframe our own tomorrows in schools in ways we want them to look like without defining those tomorrows within the ethnocentricism of an in-group elite and out-group of less able, who know less. Maybe we all just know different, encompassing common threads and the more discreet and individual, so how do we capture this ensemble without disenfranchising?










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Through A Looking Glass

However we might define teacher professionalism and agency, being able to shape and construct aspects of our own strategic and operational world is surely appealing to teachers? Framing the daily lives of teachers beyond prescription and orthodoxy, towards sane accountability and trust perhaps still lives in our tomorrows. A meeting of top down and bottom up worlds that completely respect, trust and value each other does not instantly capture my views on policy, assessment and curriculum structure.

However, the popularity and growth of Pedagoo, Research Ed and Northern Rocks to name but a few, helps highlight that leadership roles exist in the formal and informal, in the organic and the hieirarchy and beyond the the possibly outdated of senior and middle leader designations. What such teacher movements perhaps illuminate is that a culture of trust  and collaboration is vital to the health of our profession. Friction and debate is warmly hugged in this world view, as is the right to speak and be heard. Consensus may never occur, but at the very least, an introspection into our values, our practices and our roles as professionals is required.

I wanted to get a flavour of just how diverse our views can be, yet still offer a sum of the whole that is infinitely more valuable than the merits of even the most talented individual teacher. So, I posed the following on Twitter recently:

“If I could recommend one book that all NQTs should read, it would be…” and complete the statement.

Please take time to read the responses, they may offer invaluable information to future generations of teachers, they may sit wonderfully at odds with your own thoughts, or they may even represent words and thoughts we never knew even existed. However, as a collective, they represent the diverse ‘world views’ of colleagues. If we don’t happen to endorse some choices, perhaps put a lens on what our own choices would be and why?

Dissonance is easy to find in teaching, whether it exists between senior, middle and classroom teachers, civil servants and top down policy makers. What is perhaps more beneficial is to ponder areas of consonance. Perhaps we all- Teachers, Head Teachers, Civil Servants, Consultants, ITE Providers, Journalists, Professors and Lecturers- may have something to contribute that might just make ‘me a better teacher’ and afford better life chances to those I teach. But how will I know if I don’t even listen?


Phil Stock ‏@joeybagstock  Nov 22

Teach like a champion because it is specific, helpful and focused on what it means to set up successful classrooms for learning

jo pearson ‏@jopearson3  Nov 22

Chris Day’s a passion for teaching because it sustains you throughout your career & reminds me why I became one

jl ‏@dutaut  Nov 22

The Name Of The Rose. Because life isn’t all about Education.

Damian Ainscough ‏@damianainscough  Nov 22

One is difficult. But probably this:

Embedded Formative Assessment- Dylan William

Got to be @TeacherToolkit bought this for all NQTs & RQTs. Current and wish I had this book starting out: The Virvituian Teacher

‘How to Teach’ by @PhilBeadle. Because it’s practical, engaging and deals with what really matters at that stage in career.

Charlaine ‏@GTCS_Charlaine  Nov 22

If would recommend this because the advice is practical and provokes thought – Full On Learning, Zoe Elder

Tom Bennett ‏@tombennett71  Nov 22

@DTWillingham Why Don’t Students Like School? Great learning points that are easily applied to a classroom

Ana Martinez ‏@anacastillo333  Nov 22

‘Making every lesson count’ because it’s full of practical strategies based on research @shaun­­_allison @atharby

James Theobald ‏@JamesTheo  Nov 22

@tombennett71 @cijane02 @DTWillingham Although I also think it would be important to tell them to avoid certain books too.

Rachel Rossiter ‏@rachelrossiter  Nov 22

Nuthall’s Hidden Lives of Learners; it provides powerful insight into what goes on in classrooms from learners’ perspective

Tim Taylor ‏@imagineinquiry  Nov 22

Asking Better Questions. Morgan and Saxton. Best book I’ve read on the life-blood of teaching and learning.

Ryan Lewin ‏@rlewin75   Nov 22

@PhilBeadle ‘s how to teach… Let the kids eat their crisps!

Mark Anderson ‏@ICTEvangelist  Nov 22

Hidden lives of learners because it gives you the thinking, research and empathy to be the teacher kids deserve.

also Beadles’s ‘How to teach’ because it’s ram jam packed with fab ideas in a totally accessible way

Jo Payne ‏@MrsPTeach  Nov 22

Getting the Bs 2 behave by @Sue_Cowley because behaviour is

something NQTs often get wrong & it’s SO practical with gr8 strategies

Roussel De Carvalho ‏@Roussel_Capra  Nov 22

Delusions of #gender by Cordelia Fine. Because we all need to eradicate sexism & stereotyping in schools. #HeForShe

Dave Browning ‏@davey_browning  Nov 22

@ICTEvangelist craft of the classroom. It’s a classic and deals with the realities of life in a real classroom

Helen Gourlay ‏@HGourlayUEA  Nov 22

Assessment for learning: Putting it into practice because it really is not about ‘showing progress’ in one lesson

Jo Payne ‏@MrsPTeach  Nov 22

after that, Inspirational Teachers, inspirational learners and The lazy teacher’s handbook

Ian Stuart ‏@IanStuart66  Nov 22

“If I could recommend one book that all NQTs should read, it would be….” …

Mark McShane ‏@mmcshane  Nov 22

Winnie the Pooh! because we all take this stuff far too seriously.

PAW ‏@TubePhil   Nov 22

embedded formative assessment by DW. Lots of ideas that can be adapted but are devised from research

Em ‏@EJmaths  Nov 22

@ICTEvangelist @tombennett71 ‘s Not Quite a Teacher

Kenny Pieper ‏@kennypieper  Nov 22

The Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall

Jo Cook ‏@LightbulbJo  Nov 22

Teaching Today by Geoff Petty. Awesome info on what to actually do, not just theory!

Helen Porter ‏@Helenoutside  Nov 22

how children fail by John Holt. From the 60s, but holds true today. Easy read, but transformative… In my opinion!!

Jo Cook ‏@LightbulbJo  Nov 22

Teaching Today by @GeoffreyPetty was my 1st & I loved the down to earth focus on what to do. Still have it!

Damian Ainscough ‏@damianainscough  Nov 22

@LightbulbJo That would definitely be on my list too. I thought it was too obvious and is often standard text. @GeoffreyPetty

Mark Sears ‏@Sir_Sears  Nov 22

@ICTEvangelist don’t change the lightbulb because it breaks so many areas into bitsize chunks…not just for leaders!

Marc Smith ‏@PsychologyMarc  Nov 22

Building Classroom Success by Andrew Martin – not so well known as others mentioned here but well worth a read.

Conor Heaven ‏@ConorHeaven  Nov 22

Ron Berger – Ethic of Excellence because it helped me develop young learner’s reflective skills, have I been successful? why/not?

Marc Smith ‏@PsychologyMarc  Nov 22

@LCLL_Director @Helenoutside It’s a classic and a really interesting read. Good call.

Ali Messer ‏@freereed59  Nov 22

984 Orwell of course and Noughts and Crosses Malorie Blackman to think about academic literacy (and seeing world as a teen)

Jon Andrews and Jon Paul Mason liked a Tweet you were mentioned in

Asking Better Questions. Morgan and Saxton. Best book I’ve read on the life-blood of teaching and learning.

Mark Priestley ‏@MarkRPriestley  Nov 22

@Rokewood @samtwiselton The book that made the biggest impression on me was Howard Gardner’s Unschooled Mind

Sam Twiselton ‏@samtwiselton  Nov 22

@Rokewood @MarkRPriestley The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night – loads other texts needed too -this great for eye opening

Jon Andrews ‏@jca_1975  Nov 22

Nuthall’s Hidden Lives of Learners – fascinating deep-dive into 3 worlds that shape learning: teacher/peer/self

Ezzy Moon ‏@Ezzy_Moon  Nov 22

@PsychologyMarc having read the options others have said, I’d say (intro to) Plato’s Republic to play with thinking+explore values

Rokewood ‏@Rokewood  Nov 22

@samtwiselton @MarkRPriestley mine would be Wolff-Michael Roth, Passibility: At the Limits of the Constructivist Metaphor (2011)

Kyle Marsh ‏@kylemarshesq  Nov 22

I really enjoyed @Sue_Cowley‘s “How to Survive Your First Year in Teaching.” Great advice! Was flipping through it the other day!

St.Peter’s Farnworth ‏@stpetersfarn  Nov 22

I would recommend NQTs read Bounce by @matthewsyed The myth of talent and the power of practise. All are capable of learning.

José Picardo ‏@josepicardoSHS  Nov 22

I prefer books about how children learn best. Not so much prescriptions about how to teach. So Hattie and Yates, and Willingham

Claire ‏@Aimingtobegreen  Nov 22

@johntomsett book as it makes you remember why you wanted to teach in the first place.

 José Picardo ‏@josepicardoSHS  Nov 22

oh, and any book that recommends you find your school’s best teachers and cajole them to let you observe their lessons

Roo Stenning ‏@TheRealMrRoo  Nov 22

Knud Illeris’ How We Learn: …. 20% off until Thursday:

Amanda Clegg ‏@TeacherCoach1  Nov 22

The Lazy Teachers handbook by Jim Smith. Full of useful hints and tips all easy to apply but all about pupils learning

Steph Mast-Hughes ‏@stephmasthughes  Nov 22Aylesbury, England

What’s the point of school? Guy Claxton, it helps remind you that education is more than institutionalised school systems

My own HT frequently and wisely talks around the importance of the following thoughts, as does John Tomsett. So, the last words to John, a person I respect more every time I read his thoughts:

@johntomsett  Nov 22

Veronica Weusten’s “The Talented Teacher” for reasons explained here…

“So, if we can get the relationship between teacher and student right, we might just be able encourage the students to accept Biesta’s gift of successful teaching. Veronica Weusten’s ‘The Talented Teacher’ is a little known gem of a publication in which the author outlines her view that successful teaching depends on a teacher’s character. I would implore any teacher, youthful or experienced, to read and reflect upon it.

Weusten’s book is abut the importance of personal authenticity in teaching. She says in an echo of Biesta, that whilst you may want to be a skilled teacher, it is your pupils who will determine whether in fact you are one, because ultimately pupils prefer teachers they like.”

Many thanks to everyone who completed responses. I later posted a further provocation:

If I could recommend one piece of research that all NQTs should read, it would be….”

I will post a blog collating responses to that also. Finally, if I asked a question highlighting one book for NQTs NOT to read (and many thanks to James Theobald for the ‘Call to Imagination’ on this, a fantastic blogger who frequently calls me to question deeply) am I tacitly censoring professional reading? or does this represent honesty and critical reflection that are key aspects of how we define growing ‘teacher professionalism and agency?’

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Father’s Day

It’s Father’s Day. A year to the day I wrote a blog post that detailed my relationship, or lack of, with my father. I read it again this morning. A year later, the date stamp may well just read, “first written, July 21, 2015”. Nothing has changed; the hopes, the dreams, the courage and the strength to reach across the void that is father / son loom no closer. If they exist at all, they are fleeting and evanesce behind the love and immediacy of me as a father to my own children.

This week, we said goodbye to my father in law. He was a gentleman of a man. Standing tall, proud and strong, he defined himself as a husband and a father to nine. He never knew his own father, killed like so many others in the fields of France during World War 2. We would frequently sit in the garden during my summer retreats from the oppressive heat of the UAE, and put the world to right, all in one night. He would gently nudge me towards believing in myself and never allowing anyone to traduce my own belief in me. Throughout the 23 years I knew him, something also evanesced behind love- the in law, after father.

 To John Francis Tierney, and my Fiona…

 A Proud son of John and Eleanor, and of liberty

God’s ultimate gift surrendered so we might know free

A service number 269978 and three, but

A father, A husband, doomed youth, only 30


‘XV.K19’ the ‘grave’ reference at Bayeaux,

A Celtic soul , feel privileged me and you

To give so much, tragic and humbling let it be

‘Proud beats the heart, Jane, Francis and John Tierney’


Hills of Mary and Ruch, grey, inauspicious say some

A Father, A friend, the gentleman has come

Loved by many, sons, daughters, wife and brother

Humanities gain, to find another


To the Highlands, unbreakable love began

Unfaltering, authentic, sincere, fete or plan?

God’s – metaphysical when two becomes one

Ulliam’s daughter and Michael Francis’s son


To touch, enrich, for many beyond reach

To John, Family as love ran so deep

Life a blueprint, of feelings so sincere

His wife and children in his heart, forever near


Nine began with twins, Maureen and Lorraine,

Michael, Iain, Fiona, Mark, Catherine- ease the pain

A move to a home, came also Vincent and Claire

Humanities reparation to John did bear


 A father who stands so proud and tall

Defined through family deepens a tragic fall

Eleven becomes the metaphor for all

His greatest love, immeasurable beyond all


In our minds and hearts, forever here

January 2003, enveloped all with fear

Yet, a Celtic soul unwilling to yield, now

Embracing Michael Francis at the Elysium Field.



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Behaviour Management, only?

From Piaget to Vygotsky, Working Memory to Mindset Interventions, Collaborative Inquiry models to Randomised Control Trials, the efficacy and purpose of what we were taught in ITE, through to the professional development we undertake in schools, seems to be under more intense scrutiny. Lauded by some, it may be viewed as the welcoming ripples of a research aware profession that grows more confident and secure in critically engaging with ‘outside in’ diktats & orthodoxies of “you must do this.”

For others, it may redefine their role as a teacher beyond what they want? Redefine beyond what they ‘signed up for’? But is this a legacy of learned helplessness of a profession that wants to be led more than lead? Is teacher agency (thanks to @MarkRPriestley too large a step into a new world of self determination and autonomy, that for some, we may just project a subtle disconnect between what we espouse to our pupils and how we as teachers, walk the words in our own school lives?

Through various lenses on behaviour management, perhaps we can tease out the tensions that may sit behind our perceptions of what we say we value and what we actually do in schools.

Perhaps in a cold sense of irony, the term ‘behaviour management’ itself does not help. It seems at times to project as an automaton, devoid of human attachment and empathy, reliant on compliance and obedience. Yet, there are times in schools when compliance and obedience is a must. Think ‘fire drills’, healthy and safety on busy stairwells and high tariff beahviour which puts the safety of self and others at potential harm.

Let’s be honest, conformity and the perceived social influence to follow school norms, and perhaps even wider societal norms, is not always observed by all pupils in my experience.Yet if we get behaviour for learning right, does it not give the expectations of high standards in learning and teaching a massive push in the right direction? Or, can it subtly yet be turned in attribution & be framed that poor behaviour is down to poor teaching which is the fault of poor teachers?

I have taught in SEBD units (PRUs), I have taught in residential schools, I have taught in one of the ‘top’ performing state schools in Scotland and in one of the ‘top’ performing international schools worldwide. I lay bare my credentials why? Not to highlight myself as an expert on behaviour; I am not particularly keen on the term an expert in education. The variables of complexity that underscore education are so vast that being an expert in education, a schema of entirety, seems a term of the ridiculous. I have been introduced to many experts over the last 25 years, across three continents as a teacher; I’ve walked away meeting few if any.

No. I highlight to convey that behaviour enters the world of teachers in every school they teach, in every continent across every demographic. It exists as a ubiquitous. So why is it so inconsistently addressed in ITE (Initial Teacher Education) and in life beyond qualifying as a teacher? Perhaps never greater underscored in a time when teachers are leaving the profession and less are entering the profession, do we inadvertently as a profession help sow the seeds of a serious teacher shortage?

I like to teach conformity in Psychology by asking this question to my pupils; Can conformity be helpful, a social influence for good. Can it be unhelpful, a social influence for bad? Can we cite examples in our own lives? In wider society? Other societies? Within a psychological analysis, this necessitates defining conformity and highlighting, via reference to supporting research studies, possible explanations of why people conform. If teaching is learning therefore, trying to better understand the why of implementing behaviour management strategies not just the what seems a key but missing part of the narrative. It does not matter if this results in tension between differing perspectives on behaviour, ranging from free will to a more deterministic analysis. Such discussions are a welcome addition, not an inconvenient lens on classroom practice.

For example, discussion around the work of Alfie Kohn, juxtaposed to the thoughts of Dr. Bill Rodgers, is a win/win in my opinion. Based on my personal reading of Kohn, he asserts that punishment is destructive and that sanitizing by interchanging with consequences and choices is merely a game of semantics. Equally, according to Kohn, rewards have a longer term negative impact on intrinsic motivation, as external drivers help to reinforce that we do something merely to create a tangible end point or goal of a reward.

Through my reading of Dr Rodgers on the other hand, I interpret that he advocates that consequences, via a well communicated staged intervention model, help guide and frame pupil behaviour. An additional layer of repairing and rebuilding, perhaps similar to the overarching tenets of restorative approaches, is critical for Rodgers in order to help pupils self regulate and make better behavioural choices when things don’t go to ‘plan’. Crucially, there is a premise in the Rodger’s model that intrinsic and external factors are in a constant state of flux and interaction, thus clear and structure boundaries are an imperative in the lives of many who experience random and chaos. Moreover, Rodger’s contends that pupils both need and want these boundaries to better control their own choices.

The above helps to highlight a few key ‘must haves’ when discussing behaviour in schools. Dialogue is better than monologue in the way that facilitative leadership trumps a more typical model of management leadership in schools- “do as I say as I merely due to my stripes”. Being able to create space and opportunity for dialogue however is not enough in itself. Informed dialogue, with all teachers, at all levels, is required. Reference to professional reading, case studies, research papers, evidence based practice, consistency of support and consequences are key pieces in a behaviour jigsaw puzzle. But are key pieces missing in this puzzle?

Are these ‘values pieces’? Harder to identify and locate publicly in schools when the tension between a behaviour management system that we as teachers are told to support via consistent implementation yet this consistency may not always extend to how teachers are supported? Dissonance is easy to find in any school, as readily on tap as the staffroom cup of coffee. However, working towards consonance is a valuable step forward in this by identifying key points of agreement that reflect key values that we all supposedly uphold.

Values make the ethos of the school walk, they allow words to walk into life. Behaviour management systems and staged intervention models typify ‘Walking the Words’. Why? Because what lies at the centre is how we believe we should treat other people and the values that sit behind the reasons why.

I am currently writing a blog devoted entirely to the efficacy and scalability of mindset interventions, so the purpose here is not to critique these constructs but briefly to place an inquiring lens on how mindset interventions ‘talk’ to staged interventions of behaviour management. I want to peek through a values lens and mine down to possible psychological experiences for teachers. This is not to simplify the complexity of thirty plus years of empirical research around entity and incremental views of intelligence and motivation, but rather to highlight possible areas of consonance and dissonance that may exist in what we advocate as mindset interventions and how the words of behaviour management policies ‘walk’ in the everyday life of our schools.

I have read Self Theories (Dweck et al, 1999) and then read again. Personally, it ranks much higher in my appreciation than Mindset-The New Psychology of Success. As Dweck advocates, our own self schema is in continual flux and reframing; our self beliefs, our thoughts and feelings and the reciprocally deterministic relationship to our behaviour are key ingredients in the cocktail of a broader picture of psychological school experiences. According to Dweck et al (1999), our perceived strengths, our perceived limitations and our thoughts on how others perceive us, in part influence levels of pupil motivation, self-efficacy and core beliefs, helping shape their psychological landscape of school.

Yet crucially, if teaching is learning, teachers are also susceptible to complex cognitive interactions, which shape their psychological experiences and beliefs around both themselves, colleagues and pupils- yet, it is merely implicit that they internalise the worlds of fixed / growth mindset and wider mindset interventions, and then act ‘accordingly’? Should such mindset interventions not also frame how we support colleagues who express a need for professional development around behaviour management? Does failure to support effectively, with the catch all attribute that poor behaviour is due to a poor teacher or poor teaching merely reinforce a negative sense of purpose mindset (Yeager & Bundick, 2009) in teachers?

This sense of purpose mindset- “why should I want to learn more on behaviour management and uplevel my professional knowledge and skills when it can be used as a stick to beat when poor behaviour still perists”- effectively helps shape key beliefs of our own self theories, and if we merely reinforce a deficit /blame culture around the management of inappropriate behaviour, then we are not a school that walks the words of mindsets- we are merely a school and a system that worships at the altar of cognitive and perhaps even moral dissonance.





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Part 3 – Books that Made me Think About my Teaching

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A book that begins by asking a deceptively simple question- How does the mind work? Defining mysteries that have ironically evolved into problems by the very faculty of consciousness, sentience and thought he seeks to investigate, Steven Pinker identifies theories from many disciplines synthesised into two main headlines-Computation and Evolution;

1) Human beings are information processors and our brain mechanisms are defined via computational models and algorithmic patterns. Decode and identify the what of such rules, and we can partly better understand how the mind works.

2) Investigate the why of such rules by focusing on key facets of cognition and evolutionary antecedents and we have a unity of purpose and synthesis that refutes Locke’s construct of the mind as tabula rasa.

Pinker manages, for me at least, to make the ‘geeky’ world of artificial intelligence and computational theory accessible and entertaining. This part of the book I found the most enjoyable, and this is popular science that is not ‘pop’ ‘crackle’ and ‘nonsense’. Pinker is a renowned Professor of Psychology yet by asking such questions as “why do we Laugh?” and “why do fools fall in love”, he manages to capture the thoughts of many and the answers of few. Understanding how the mind works may be a question too far, a philosophical thought experiment beyond the capabilities of that which it investigates, but this book is a purposeful, engaging and witty attempt to construct a response. If you enjoyed the Language Instinct, buy this.

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Why Children Don’t like School. Well, some children do like school but the title of this book rather captures the sentiments of popular thought very well. Take a ‘temperature dip’ into what is trending on edu-twitter, and there is no doubt that a better understanding of cognition via a cognitive level of analysis rides high on a wave of popularity. So do both Willingham and this book merit the level of attention that they enjoy? In short, a definite yes. Look through one lens on learning and of course it can be a reductive view, but the view here is clear, informative and links theory, research and practice in an engaging and humorous way.

Asking a series of questions as chapter titles, Willingham weaves a narrative of the mind, brain, memory and learning that is perhaps counter intuitive to ‘education folklore’ at times; these include the less obvious claims that though humans are naturally curious, they are not designed for thinking, that factual knowledge must precede skilled thinking, and don’t expect novices to learn the way experts do.

Accepting that the laboratory features of cognitive experiments may be limited in terms of how the approximate exactly to real life situations (ecological validity) , Willingham nonetheless identifies nine principles that are so crucial to understanding how our minds operate, that “they are as true for the classroom as they are for the laboratory”.

He narrates through humour, research, photos, graphs and attention grabbing, summary boxes. Crucially, he details at the end of each chapter what the classroom implications of these may actually mean for teachers. I also enjoyed the opportunity to read further through the ‘less technical/more technical’ bibliography contained at the end of each chapter, and I have actually followed up a few references from this.

This book may well invite an interesting array of teacher responses; do the messages represent an affront to what I do effectively on a daily basis without having even heard of such a construct as working memory? Can a cognitive scientist possibly help capture the complexity of learning and subsequent methods of improving learning via a cognitive science lens only? Well, for me, this book almost definitely adds to my understanding of how pupils may learn in my class, and how I may embrace this as a teacher.

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How teaching as a profession has embraced a research and evidence based narrative is open to interpretation and to no small measure of bias. What’s perhaps less clear is how teachers have embraced a role as curriculum developers. Does teaching the curriculum enable you to theorise, construct, synthesise, and evaluate what a curriculum should actually look like? How can a top down and bottom up approach complement the development of a curriculum that does not canonise knowledge yet espouses the development of key skills, capacities and dispositions? Using Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence as a case study, this book explores how flexibility and autonomy equates to maintaining national standards. It also draws on contributions from writers that offer international perspectives about curriculum developments.

Written as 12 chapters, this book asks key questions around the possible downgrading of knowledge towards a curriculum with an emphasis on building generic skills and within a constructivist philosophy of learning. Does this neatly tessellate with a purpose of education based primarily on economic considerations and the development of so called non-cognitive skills? And how does this new curriculum approach reconcile with a Youngian approach to developing ‘powerful knowledge’? A focus on subject and discreet knowledge on one level, yet integrated and connected at a higher, conceptual level?

With contributions from an impressive array of professorial talent, including Moira Hulme (University of Glasgow), Kathryn Ecclestone (University of Sheffield) and Ian Menter(University of Oxford), this book is edited by Professor Mark Priestley (University of Stirling) and Professor Gert Biesta, a Professor of Educational Theory & Policy who needs no introduction. Each chapter is superbly well referenced and the language of the book is both engaging and easy to access.

As someone who teaches this new curriculum, I found this book fascinating. Yes, the immediacy of context and familiarity of key terms probably helped, but this book illustrates principles of curriculum development that can hang on the architectural hooks of any curriculum from around the world. And a key message of ubiquity arises; teachers, through appropriate support can be change agents and can make a meaningful contribution to curriculum development- but not merely as individuals and not only because they teach the curriculum. This is perhaps then where the research narrative entwines- space is needed beyond time, access to quality PD is needed beyond schools (HE?) and collaborative dialogue within a protected risk taking culture is a necessity. Otherwise, dataveillance and a ‘CCTV lens’ on attainment figures only distorts a picture of what professionalism can look like.

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Research And Education

A Relationship – Part 1

Исследование мировых пространств реактивными приборами

Konstantin Tsiolkovsky

Featured imageNeil Armstrong, Yuri Gagarin, the adulation and hero status. This may not have been possible without the knowledge and insights of the less well known, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. He himself was building upon and enriching the theories and efforts of many great Mathematicians and Physicists of previous generations. Yet, like many other examples in Science, competing both with and against accepted discourses of thought presents its own challenges. The work of Tsiolkovsky and early advocates of the possibility of rocket travel was met with heavy doses of scepticism.

Some scientists of that generation doubted that rockets could work in the vacuum of space. The insistence of possibility, of imagination from pioneers like Robert Goddard, were readily dismissed, as a New York Times editorial (1921) highlights:

Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react.  He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in our high schools.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can look at the above comment with a massive degree of criticality and perhaps even through a smile of smugness. Yet, if we were able to examine dominant discourses around learning and teaching and classroom practices that exist today, through a retrospective lens that our descendants viewed some 90 years from now, what smugness might belie their smiles? How open to scrutiny is education as a multi disciplinary field of inquiry? How does this potential rich tapestry of inquiry connect and compete? How do we in education respect the body of knowledge that has accumulated in our profession through centuries of practice and human endeavour, whilst embracing more scientific methods of inquiry?

  • Would competing narratives be as fallible to scrutiny as Goddard’s was falsely projected to be in the New York Times?
  • How valid are the layers of scepticism shown by some today of the ideas and thoughts of Dewey, Vygotsky and Piaget?
  • Like the mechanics of rocket propulsion, what would they see us mistakenly pushing against to help move us forward? Data? Inspection models? Large Scale Testing metrics? Or, a reluctance by some to even consider that a research aware narrative may have merit? Or, a misguided faith in a research aware narrative itself?
  • Are competing certainties, alive at different extremities in education, merely underpinned by the same weakness?-that they are certainties.

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Many different beliefs and attitudes, defined in part by varying ideological perspectives, clearly exist in UK and International Education. Yet, does the richness of different perspectives get lost in the rigidity and competition for both ‘loudest voice’, ‘best song’ and slickest PR mechanisms? A panoramic snapshot of educational discourse in the UK highlights a growing narrative of knowthyimpact, research aware and teacher-researchers. Delve into the world of social media platforms and such sentiments become organic; they are led by powerful voices, with a groundswell of growing support and in certain contexts, considerable financial backing. Yet, how this is consumed by the palate of the profession is mixed, tasting both bitter and sweet. A voice perhaps defined by consonance and dissonance in how it embraces the harmony of this works and this doesn’t or you can’t tell me this works and this doesn’t.

The purpose of this blog series (Parts 1 to 6) is (ambitiously) to present questions and responses that perhaps capture key aspects of this dialogue. By interviewing a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, a Professor of Philosophy, a Secondary teacher and a Primary teacher, by asking twitter to respond to some key provocations, and by putting forward my own experiences and thoughts, I hope to weave together a series of posts that challenge our thoughts, force us to examine and confront our beliefs and make us think deeply about our role as teachers.

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So, if I took a series of temperature dips into the differing attitudes and perceptions that accompany a research narrative in education, how might I interpret the readings?

  1. When we frame dialogue around a relationship between research and education, what do we mean by research? 
  1. What exactly is a ‘Teacher- Researcher’?
  1. Is there a gold standard paradigm that rides shotgun over others or do multiple definitions allow for inquiry via a cluster of approaches? Is Action Research as valid as Randomized Trials for example?
  1. Given both the complexity of learning and teaching in the classroom and the multi disciplinary field that educational research represents, do experimental or quasi-experimental methods both have roles to play? Do RCTs for example, act as a stage 1 process of inquiry, with other approaches only being used thereafter?
  1. Educational Researchers may come from a variety of discreet subject disciplines and although education is a multi-disciplinary area of inquiry, are approaches to inquiry rooted too rigidly in the schema of discreet disciplines?
  1. Are they viewed as competing approaches within a hierarchy as opposed to equally valid, enriching yet different approaches of inquiry?
  1. The concept of Professional Capital, advocated by Fullan and Hargreaves sits very comfortably with teachers engaging in Collaborative Inquiry processes. However, do Action Research and Lesson Study for example constitute valid research and approaches to professional inquiry in schools?
  1. Within a research narrative, what is the most appropriate definition of how the relationship with education should evolve? Research led? Research informed? Research Aware?
  1. How do we define engagement with research? As all embracing as ‘on/off’ switch or a continuum of engagement from reading research articles and books to engaging in research pedagogy?
  1. How do teachers access research? Teachers in Scotland / NTEN Platform get access to EBSCO as part of their subscriptions, shouldn’t all?
  1. Can this relationship ironically mitigate a ‘professionalisation’ culture by overly focusing on wanting to be led? Is it another form of learned helplessness in schools that reinforces a “you tell us / we will do’ culture?
  1. Building upon the previous points, do teachers and SLT in particular, too often ‘look out of the window’ rather than focus energy and commitment to within?
  1. Do we reinforce and legitimize external agencies (e.g. OFSTED / DfE / GTCS / ES) to help define our professionalism when actually, our professionalism is defined by what we do in schools, every lesson, every day, every week, every month and every year?
  1. How do we become research aware or indeed, research literate and engage in research pedagogy without it becoming ‘another’? If a disposition towards developing a relationship between research and education is so important, how do we ‘make space’ for this to happen, beyond the perfunctory of time?
  1. What happens if teaching as a profession chooses not to have a more intimate relationship with research? 
  1. Can a Research narrative be distorted and diminished to a canon of pedagogical practices that are held up as a collective aspiration? A stick to beat rather than a disposition to self evaluate and improve?
  1. RCTs, Action Research models, Lesson Study to cite but a few are inquiry practices happening now and on an ever-increasing scale. How do we foster partnership models with HE that allow for a sustainable and two-way collaboration of knowledge, skills and expertise? 
  1. How does the local, single school research connect and talk as dialogue to other schools and to large scale, heavy funded research?

By asking these questions in Part 1, and through the help of friends and colleagues on twitter, we will capture responses to these questions and use them to form the body of Part 2.

Thank you to those who helped with thoughts during the writing of these blog posts.

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Books that caused me to think about my teaching- Part 2

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Great Myths of the Brain, Christian Jarrett

Neuroscience; A prophetic acclamation from George W.Bush hailed the 90s as ‘The Decade of the Brain’ and an impending expectation of being able to investigate one of the most complex yet critical facets of sentience. Riding this wave of ideological optimism partly influenced a One Billion Euro investment to build a computer simulation of the brain so detailed, it begins at the microscopic level of ion channels in individual neurons. Yet for all this technology and human investment,Jarrett manages to highlight an alarming level of misconception (& nonconception?) that still ‘infiltrate’ educational discourse. He highlights the common brain myths still endorsed by some teachers and, although we are taken on the now ritual assault on Brain Gym and left-brain and right-brain learners, many more myths are exposed. This takes us on a time travel roller coaster, focusing on the famous cases of Phineas Gage to the seminal study of HM. Further analysis is made of classic brain myths that refuse to evanesce even under intense scientific inquiry; “we use only 10% of our brain” “women lose their mind when pregnant” to the more bizarre “you have in your brain a cell that responds only to the thought of your grandmother”.

Jarret has consulted with many professionals connected to the field of neuroscience, brain research and psychology, including Uta Frith, Tom Stafford and Charles Fernyhough. He has looked at hundreds of research studies and articles and the result is a very accessible and credible book on neuroscience that provides a great storage dump of ammunition against neurononsense. What it also generates is a further interesting question; to better understand human cognitions, is the field of cognitive psychology better suited (at present) to education than the field of cognitive neuroscience? and do we in our eagerness to look for empirical ’definitives’ conflate both? A very enjoyable read that caused me to reflect and examine my beliefs around the how and why I teach the way I do.

Featured imageMake It Stick- The Science of Successful Learning, Brown, Roediger and McDaniel

Learning should be challenging, and attempting to dilute merely as engaging and an axiomatic ‘learning will follow’ maxim, may ignore the science of successful learning. Perhaps echoing the sentiments of Bjork and ‘desriable difficulties’, Brown (a writer and novelist), Roediger (Professor of Psychology) and McDaniel (Professor of Psychology) have collectively written a book that is largely (overly simply also, I accede) summarised by the title-“Make it Stick-The Science of Successful Learning”.

With Chapter contents headed, “Learning is misunderstood” and “To Learn, retrieve” there is an obvious iteration of key aspects of cognitions and cognitive psychology. Perhaps the current ‘sweetheart’ of Psychological appreciation, the meta language is easy to access and gently, yet with a weight of scientific force, nudges us towards confronting myths around how we learn and presenting more effective methods of classroom practice. Among the findings:

  1. Recalling new material from memory is more productive for robust learning and memory than rereading.
  2. Quizzing students on material they have read or that has been presented in class leads to better learning and retention than reviewing that material again.
  3. Interleaving the practice of two or more problem types (for example, math solutions or types of baseball pitches) is more productive than mastering one before moving to another.
  4. Asking students to grapple with solving a new kind of problem before teaching them the solution results in better learning of the solution when they are shown it.
  5. A series of cumulative, low-stakes or no-stakes quizzes over the course of a semester works like compound interest, strengthening retention and updating learning.

Referencing research with practical classroom application, and co-written by the storyteller that is Brown, “Make It Stick” is a highly recommended classroom companion. Perhaps a key challenge as a teacher is to allow such insights to inform classroom practice, yet not merely define. In a world of freneticism and pace, slowing our thinking around what we do on a habitual level can only be good- and this book certainly engenders such dialogic introspection.

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Happiness By Design, Paul Dolan

‘Non-cognitive’ skills (err will leave aside that nomenclature for the moment),GRIT, Resilience, Growth Mindset, all words that seem to walk and breathe in the lives of contemporary UK schools? Yes, to lesser and greater extents and yes, to varying levels of understanding regarding the psychology and research that sits behind such constructs. But everyone has heard of happiness, haven’t they? Everyone has experienced happiness, haven’t they? Is a lens of inquiry on happiness and ‘happy’ schools therefore merely an exercise in highlighting common sense, intuition and human experiences?

Perhaps these are overly imbued with powerful cognitive biases, such as attribution errors and the joys of cognitive dissonance? In an ever-growing world of quantifiable metrics of performance, it seems in some sense, the interfaces between cognitions and emotions are also open to scientific scrutiny. Blending our knowledge of economics and behavioural sciences to investigate Happiness, Dolan identifies the key role of attention, highlighting that we perhaps pay too much attention to what we think may make us happy rather than focusing on what does. This ‘does’ links to a purpose and pleasure balance, key ingredients alongside attention in this happiness formula.

I really enjoyed this book, and with over 30 pages of research references to further investigate, Dolan’s claims are backed up by weaving research to his own personal life events. He identifies the role of cognitive biases and how they may mistakenly frame our ideas of happiness and narrates ‘simple’ tools that may improve our happiness in everyday life. I won’t spoil what these are, read for yourself, but it did make me think’ “How happy are kids when they leave my classes? How happy should they be? And how happy can they be within the locus of my own control? What do I do in my life to increase my own personal happiness?

Couldn’t help thinking happiness by design fits very well as a key piece of a wider Salutogenic jigsaw puzzle. I’m going to read this once again to try and understand even more. But. I liked this book. A lot.

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