Research Verses Gut Feeling

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The speed with which events happen in schools is incredible. A typical teacher has five hours of inspiration to deliver day in day out. Occasionally in the week they are driven by the buzz of an excellent lesson as they see it reflected back in the eyes of their students but most of the time it is a high adrenaline juggling act in which the same lesson can go really well with one group and be way off the mark with another. There is often little time to reflect before the next challenge.

It is not surprising therefore, as Bill Ferriter blogged this week, that teachers run, for the most part, on gut instinct, responding to a myriad of events. Teaching practices and techniques become embedded as the reliable bedrock. In fact many see the process of true learning as exactly that: turning practice into learning habits that can run automatically behind the scenes allowing the teacher to respond to more of the individual needs of students and allowing the students to concentrate more on the deeper understanding behind what they are learning.

In Bill's blog he uses this observation to make the case for quality professional development for teachers that involves taking them out of the classroom and gets them sharing expertise with other staff in learning communities at regular intervals throughout their career. This is an excellent aim and was highlighted in a recent McKinsey report as being a key ingredient for improving teaching.

The real step change in a school takes place when students and staff COLLECTIVELY change their learning habits. There is a multiplier effect which means that habits embed more quickly and with most of their intended aims in place. I would argue that the leadership team of the school must be extremely well versed on the findings of educational research and formulate a very small number of whole school changes that will make this easier to embed. At the core of personalisation is the need for habits of learning. If we consider schools as having well established effective habits already in place then, given that the research in favour of a change is strong, you really need the whole school to support each other in moving into new habits.

As an example, Community School wanted students to reflect on their own learning and develop their own targets for what they wanted to achieve. The school tried the usual ways of trying to tweak behaviours before taking the brave move of stopping all lessons for a day and inviting all student to come into school with their parents for 5 minutes each on that day and give a presentation to their parents and their teachers. The presentation had to contain a data analysis and review of their progress in all their subjects and some clear targets for the second half of the year. This requirement then forced a focus around students asking their teachers for information on their progress and led teachers to be inspired by the mature way in which most students were managing the complexities of school. Three years later the practice is entirely embedded and the 'Gut feeling' that students can't engage in detailed conversations about their progress and aspirations has been changed to a 'Gut feeling' that most students really want you to share your lesson objectives each lesson and involve them in discussions about what would help them most to learn. 'Research based Gut Feeling' perhaps.

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