NTEN / ResearchED York

This is not an anthology of the day, it’s merely a reflection of the thoughts that constantly spiraled through my mind as I was driving home to Glasgow from York. I attended the fantastic NTEN / Research Ed event at Huntington School and I loved the day, l loved meeting so many twitterati as 3D organics, and I loved the feel of the day.

From John Thomsett’s fantastic opening talk to Kenny’s superbly insightful words on a curriculum that is not perhaps a curriculum nor excellent but, BUT may still evolve further into something to be proud of. Jill Berry’s honest, sincere and thought provoking narrative into the change from DHT to Headship which resonated strongly with HTs I spoke to on the day and onto the inimitable Tom Bennett’s welcomingly acerbic yet incredibly insightful look at the “good, the bad & the ugly” of research informed practice. Through finally to Stephen Tierney’s brilliant Babylonian and Jerusalem CPD narrative, which was so much more than just CPD; social, professional and a cultural habitus coalescing into one brilliant presentation. And. All the way through to the pub and the equally important ‘small chats ‘that further enrich such events afterwards.

If Csíkszentmihályi was there I would have shook his hand and said, “you know what you mean Mihaly about this flow thing.” Some times, just sometimes, if CPD can have that effect on your thoughts, on your disposition towards thinking and inquiry and self reflection, without necessarily the performativity of transposing into demonstrable classroom practice, for me, that’s good CPD, great CPD even. I genuinely embrace the growing fondness and developing relationship between research and a research informed teaching profession, with certain key caveats of provocation. Allow me to explain.

If I use the wonderful world of Psychology as a ‘looking glass’, how many teachers present at York are not aware of the following key headlines related to Neuropsychology and Education?:

“Both Nature and Nurture Affect The Learning Brain”

“The Brain is Plastic”
“The brain’s response to reward is influenced by expectations and uncertainty”
“The brain has mechanisms for self-regulation”
“Education is a powerful form of cognitive enhancement”
“There are individual differences in learning ability with a basis in the brain”

Very few I would speculate. I ‘chatted’ with my friend around such statements, & here’s the thing. How much of the above represents ‘new knowledge’ that teachers do not already interact with on a daily basis. How many teachers who teach kids in an area of high FME (free meal entitlement) high unemployment and the blight of poverty, don’t actually know how much a difference WHOLE SCALE social mobility might have? How many teachers don’t know that interchanging and replacing key terms in the following sentence would make just as much sense and resonate a strength of validity in equal measures: “There are individual differences in learning ability with a basis in the brain” We could replace “brain” with “disposition”, “environment”, “up-bringing” “postcode” and what does that really tell us about saying the brain. My friend, a Professor of cognitive neuroscience once told me this:

“A good test of neurobabble is whether you can replace the word brain with “People” or “Person”. If you can, then we haven’t learned anything new from saying “brain.”

Learning and education should not in my opinion be reduced to a point of singularity, enshrined in a definitive, singular working model of memory, encased only within a ‘scientific sarcophagus’ of controlled variables in a lab. YES, of course Education is cognitive enhancement but through interaction with many other layers of constructivism that define learning and growth equally as strongly.

Knowledge is of course a hugely pivotal and key layer and transmissionism is such an important agent in this enhancement- BUT. We are not a tabula rasa and learning can build upon our prior, existing knowledge, with the addition of ‘new knowledge’ contextualised via constructivist contexts thereafter in order to deepen learning. How else for example might we hope that our students of tomorrow have the knowledge and political and cultural literacy to challenge the ideology of UKIP and the menacing foothold that it might be able to assert on tomorrow’s voters, who represent our school pupils of today?

For me, this works equally well with the ‘walking the road together’ research, science and teaching. What do we mean by ‘research’? What area of research can provide the ‘answers’ I seek? Is this where complexity science and many lenses affords an advantage? Like any data, it will throw open and ask introspective and challenging questions and ‘request’ teachers to use this to interpret and frame the appropriate, context dependent responses? Like Csíkszentmihályi concept of flow, can I/ should I be able to engage in esoteric research that enriches the tapestry of research beyond performativity and outcomes? Should teacher CPD incorporate an explicit pedagogy of research? Should ITE? How do the many small converge to inform the whole? How might the ‘small’ yet vibrant RCTs join up in conversation with the ‘big guys’ and widen the gernalisabilityof smaller scale research?

I had a lovely tweeing chat with Zoe @fullonlearning and Phil Wood @geogphil and raised some of these points. Zoe felt a ‘slow growth’ model towards building a critical mass that embraced even the ‘idea’ of a research informed profession and Phil answered the small meets the large with this superb link: “one way of addressing generalisability of ‘small’ research http://betterevaluation.org/evaluation-options/meta-ethnography …

As a profession, we have a huge body of existing knowledge that goes back centuries. We have insights, intuitions, borne of experience add yes, perhaps informed by many biases. But that’s ok. That’s a part of the emerging narrative into generative dialectics with research and with scientists. I have learned most of what I know from other teachers NOT scientists, but I can learn more form both. Science should and must be used but not misused. Their role must not be overstated and subordinate the voice of teachers as passive listeners.

Cherry picking the ‘right’ evidence can be as damaging for me as advocating the pseudo science that sits behind the world of brain gym and left / right brain. I welcome a developing discourse with research and science that recognises the virtues, gifts, knowledge, talents and experiences of both fields, with equal weighting. If science cannot answer certain questions we ask, and neither can teaching, then we can both surely say. “sorry, don’t know the answer to that- YET? Or maybe ever?” (for you @SurrealAnarchy)

That for me is a dialogue and discourse well worth investing in. And perhaps, the ‘don’t know’ merely reinforces the need for dialogue and a ‘want’ to know if we can know.

I loved the weekend and will be going to London in September. I shall also be ‘lobbying’ hard for Mr Bennett et al to make a messianic homecoming with this extravaganza to his home town, where I shall embrace warmly with many others I’m sure.

One thought- One Action- OTOA. For this to have momentum and a sense unit beyond the 300 or so who attended the event, what are we going to do post-event? OTOA works for me. I have an INSET tomorrow, so I am going to share this blog with colleagues, and see how many may be interested in making the ‘long march south’ in September.

I am hugely indebted to @vinwalsh and @geogphil for the many times I have ‘soundboarded’ with them- maybe even a little research in itself,

Many thanks for reading,

Best Wishes,





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