BELMAS Conference: Reflections on the implementation of a journal club in schools.

Last week I was lucky enough to have my research paper, which formed part of my Master’s degree, accepted at the annual British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) conference 2017. Their conference welcomes visitors from over 20 countries and is an opportunity to discuss new ideas, in relation to practice, and network with professionals in the field of education.

Friday’s key note speaker, Tim Goddard from the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada,  highlighted  ‘schools are one of the few social influences everyone experiences’. This quote only highlights to me that we must work together to ensure our students are receiving the best possible education so experiences are positive for all. Therefore it is important we are ‘getting it right’ and I am passionate that using evidence as well as our own professional experiences is the best way forward for developing policy and practice.

The paper I presented focuses on journal clubs as a mechanism for bringing evidence based practice into schools. Firstly, I highlighted that there have been calls from the Government for education to move towards and evidence based culture back in 2007, yet many schools are still shying away from research. Policy making is still a concern as many policies are implemented on a whim, or on the back of a recent educational ‘fad’, with little background research being undertaken. There is also a lack of connection between research and practice with many teachers unable to engage with literature. Journals clubs have the ability to bridge this gap by bringing teachers together to discuss and analyse a research paper.

Myself, Emily and Ben set up a journal club in September 2015 in order to engage our colleagues and it has been a success. They are a valuable tool which are used in many professions if used correctly. They must not become just a ‘talking shop’ for professionals but a basis for ideas to be trialled and implemented into practice. However, after presenting my paper there was a number of questions, which has enabled me to further reflect on the success of the journal club.

Questions:

1. You have mentioned in the literature that sometimes teachers are unable to engage with the research because they struggle to understand it, how do you support them with this?

A: We have developed questions which are handed out with each journal which help them to unpick and understand the literature. It also keeps a focus while they are reading it.

2. What do you mean by leadership is needed in order for a journal club to be a success?

A: In my research I highlighted that a journal club needs support from ‘leadership’ but I did not clarify what ‘leadership’ actually was. Upon reflection that leadership needs to be someone within the school with a passion for evidence and research to lead a journal club but there also needs to be a member of the leadership team to support them. Research has highlighted that staff need to have a big enough social capital within a school in order for new ideas to be brought in with little resistance.

3. How do you decide what is ‘good evidence’ as there is a big debate as to what constitutes towards ‘good evidence’?

A: This question was a bit trickier to answer, but I think we have a responsibility to open up the discussion to the members of journal club. With some people coming from a scientific paradigm they may sway with Ben Goldacre and prefer the idea of randomised trials rather than taking the interpretivist approach to research. Whatever teachers decide is ‘good evidence’, teachers need to make an informed decision.

4. How do you make is accessible to those who cannot attend?

A: It is clear there is a need for an area for teachers to have a platform to engage in  the conversation, not just to access the journal article, even if they are unable to attend. This could be in the form of a Twitter platform but I am going to develop this next year to find the best solution. Any ideas that you have, or platforms you use in your school, would be greatly appreciated.

5. How do you stop your members from seeing your journal article as a fad in itself?

A:  As journal club leaders we have identified that we need to develop critical thinkers in our members. This process of development is essential in order for us to decide what research we want to use to inform our practice. As leaders we are currently working together to develop a plan for building critical analysis into our sessions.

In summary, we can see that our journal club has had a positive impact in our school and has closed the gap between research and practice. But we need to carefully consider the above reflections in order to keep improving journal club to have the most impact across school.

If you have an active journal club we would really like to hear from you about your success stories, or please get in contact if you’re thinking about setting one up.

Martha Boyne.

Further reading:

Biesta. G. (2007) ‘Why ‘What Works’ Won’t Work: Evidence Based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research’. Educational Theory 57:1.

Brookfield. S. (1995) The Getting of Wisdom: What Critically Reflective Teaching is and Why It’s Important. Becoming a Critically Reflective Practitioner.

Davis, P. (1999) What is Evidence-Based Education? British Journal of Educational Studies. 47:2 pp. 108-121.

Denehy. J. (2004) Starting a Journal Club. The Journal of School Nursing.20:4.

Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education.Department for Education.

Kleinpell. R. (2002) Rediscovering the Value of the Journal Club. Amerincal Journal of Critical Care. 11:5 412-414.

Sidorov.J.  (1995)How Are Internal Medicine Residency Journal Clubs Organized, and What Makes Them Successful?JAMA Internal Medicine. 155:11 1193-1197.

 

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Teachers make the worst students: how can we become better at using the research?

On Thursday, we attended the local TeachMeet where we heard some excellent presentations from teachers across local schools. For those that missed it, here is a summary of our presentation on how we can you move ourselves, our departments or and our schools towards a culture of evidence based practice.

Our journey into evidence based practice started when we read this from Ben Goldacre:

“there is a huge prize to be claimed by teachers…. by collecting better evidence about what works best, and establishing a culture where this evidence is used as a matter of routine, we can improve outcomes for children”     Ben Goldacre (2013)

As members of a profession that requires you to have a degree and postgraduate training, it seemed odd that compared to similar professions (for example: medical, nursing and social work), we tend to stop engaging with evidence and research after the training years. When discussing this with colleagues, we found that busy teachers don’t have the time to go hunting for the “good stuff” even though most showed an interest in finding out what the current thinking is.

How do we get evidence into schools and make it easier for our busy teachers?

  • CPD Library – Ask your school to invest in a selection of current literature (books on teaching, magazine subscriptions). The best thing about this idea is that it moves us away from INSET based CPD (where we have 5 or so days of training a year that we never think about again) and embeds use of research into everyday practice.
  • Social Media – Ideas have never been able to spread more quickly but there is an overwhelming amount of material out there. Look for posts with links to literature (peer reviewed or referenced) and look critically at anything that seems to lack any real evidence. Perhaps ask a member of SLT to be responsible for sending round a “blog of the week” or similar to facilitate staff access.
  • Masters Programs – Nothing better gets you reflecting on the strengths and weaknesses of evidence than a degree specifically designed to do just that. A Masters can force you to reflect on your practice from an outside, meta-perspective grounded in pedagogy. Some schools offer financial support or some time off for reading (you don’t know if you don’t ask!).
  • Journal Clubs – Something I am incredibly proud to say that we set up in our school. One journal is selected (by us) per half term, and staff members gather to critically discuss it and its application in our context. After a half term of implementing ideas based on our discussions, we get together and reflect on how it all went. A really good way to build a space for those professional pedagogical conversations and to develop critical reflectivity.
  • TeachMeets – Of course, we were talking at a TeachMeet so couldn’t go without mentioning them. Teachers meeting from different departments and different schools sharing teaching ideas that they have researched and implemented. Our top tip here would be to take away a one or two ideas rather than trying to trial everything that you heard otherwise it can get a bit unmanageable.

And then what?

After all of that effort the next steps are really important. We devised the diagram below to highlight the importance of actually trying things out an “having a go” at adapting your practice based on your findings from the literature.

iagram

Most times, things won’t be refined on the first attempt. Reflect upon the reasons for this (which may require going back to the research) and try again, refining your strategy. Once you have – well done but the work isn’t quite done yet. This is the time to where you can show your colleagues, department and school leadership and encourage them to trial the idea too!

So what are you waiting for? 

Martha, Emily and Ben

 

References

  • Boyne, M. and Beadle, H. (2017).  Journal Club: A mechanism for bringing EB practice into school. Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Journal. 9(2), pp. 14-23.
  • Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education. Department for Education
  • Manchikanti, L. (2008) Evidence-Based Medicine, Systematic Reviews, and Guidelines in Interventional Pain Management, Part 1: Introduction and General Considerations. ­Pain Physician 11:161-186
  • Profetto-McGrath. J. (2004). Critical Thinking and Evidence-Based Practice. Journal of Professional Nursing. 10.1016
  • Youngblut. J. M., and Brooten. D. (2001) Evidence-Based Nursing Practice: Why is it Important? AACN Clinical Issues. 12(4):468-76

Twitter can be a dangerous world. Be careful out there…

I think that Twitter is brilliant. I mean, it’s not perfect, but for teachers it has opened up a whole new world of possibilities to share creative, practical ideas, to discuss pedagogy in critical dialogue, to encourage reflection of our own practice and that of others, and to develop networks of like-minded professionals who have the improvement of teaching practice – and therefore student outcomes – at the core of all that they do.

However, Martha and I were at the Teacher Researcher Conference at the University of Sussex on Saturday and, amongst presentations of fascinating research and much lively discussion, one comment caught our attention: many teachers are now formulating their teaching approaches from Twitter and blogs, and this is dangerous due to the unaccountability of what they are reading. This got me thinking about the direction that the delivery of pedagogy is taking and of the hazards, but also clear benefits, of the rise of Twitter and the teaching blogosphere.

I agree that there are some risks to the fact that any teacher, regardless of experience or ability, can proffer advice – often seemingly definitive – to the teaching world at large. Our blog, amongst many of others, does it with regularity (although I hope we show enough humility so as not to appear dogmatic or definitive). As a History teacher, I am acutely aware of the inherent dangers of sources with unreliable provenance and the teaching community at large must show the same discretion. Blogs are, by their very nature, personal opinions which may, or may not, be accurate or rooted in evidence. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many great teaching strategies and ideas haven’t yet been subjected to objective research methods and analysis. Indeed, many simple classroom ideas don’t warrant such detailed research and even the most thoroughly evidenced approaches are subject to scrutiny and conflicting views. Furthermore, I’m sure we have all tried using critically accepted approaches to teaching and found that for our teaching style or with specific classes that they don’t work. However, it is hard to separate the good advice from the bad, especially when there is such an overwhelming range of often conflicting opinions being put forward. So what can we, as individuals and a community, do about this?

I’m afraid I don’t have a clear answer, but allow me to share some tentative thoughts. Evidence-based practice is undeniably important – indeed it is the bedrock of our personal approach to teaching – and it would be remiss of any teacher to not consider whether their teaching strategies reflect what has been evidenced to make the most impact. Yet this doesn’t really help us in the world of Twitter, where so many new, creative or challenging ideas are put forward which haven’t yet been subjected to the rigours of research. I don’t think we should avoid reading or trusting personal opinions, or only follow advice that is rooted in research, but that we must be critical of all that we read, whilst also having an open mind. I am aware that this sounds like an oxymoron and perhaps to an extent it is, but it is what we must do to both teach in the ‘best’ possible way, whilst also continuing to learn and develop our practice. We must consider whether we believe the advice we are reading to be accurate, if it matches our own thoughts and experiences, whilst also be willing to have our views challenged. We must consider typicality and whether the idea put forward has been backed up by other sources or goes against the grain, whilst not dismissing alternative views out of hand. We should consider if the advice is evidenced or not. It doesn’t have to be, but we then need to be aware that as an opinion it has its own attached weaknesses, whilst also not in any way necessarily being wrong because of this.

As I said earlier, I’m not sure what the answer is. Perhaps the frequency and sheer amount of blogs being posted is so overwhelmingly large that there is no panacea. There is, however, one thing that we can all do: be reflective of our own teaching practice. Whilst being willing to listen to and try out a range of strategies and ideas, you must also consider what is working in your classroom and for your students. This is something in your control, negating the provenance of the pedagogical input you receive. If you try something out and, upon reflection, you feel it has improved the progress your students are making, then keep doing it (and keep reflecting upon it). Likewise, if upon reflection the impact has been small or even negative, then don’t feel you have to keep following this approach. Or perhaps consider adapting or tweaking it. Or try it with another class. Classrooms are so diverse, that what works for you may not for someone else, and vice versa. This is what makes teaching such a stimulating and challenging profession to be in. The key is to keep reflecting upon what is or isn’t working for you. This, I believe, is what may make it possible to approach the range of ideas and strategies out there with a degree of confidence.

The world of Twitter is a dangerous one, but approaching its offerings with a degree of care and a reflective mindset should help to keep you safe.

Ben Wright

How can you add value to your teaching? Connect with your students.

Whenever I have the privilege of observing another teacher’s lesson, the thing that strikes me first is always the relationship that the teacher has with their students. You can sense this through the emanating atmosphere when you enter the classroom; sometimes uneasy, tense, staid or – dare I say it – rebellious, at others focused and respectful, full of positive energy, motivation and application. There are manifest reasons for why this may be the case, some a result of the teacher or lesson, others the particular topic, room or time of day. Yet the most positive atmospheres have a common thread running through them: excellent teacher-student relationships.

The importance of teachers building positive connections with students has been highlighted in recent and seminal studies. These suggest that students are more motivated when teachers take a genuine interest in them (Ferlazzo, 2015) and create inclusive classroom conditions (Ryan and Deci, 2000). The damaging impact of not building these relationships has also been stressed (Ginsberg, 2015). My own small-scale research for my MA in Education also highlighted the importance of positive teacher-student connections. Across interviews with a number of my students, ‘getting to know students as individuals’ was the most frequently coded reason given for the development of motivation-encouraging relationships.

Why is fostering these positive individual relationships with students so important? Well, apart from the pleasure that comes from getting to know another human being at more than a surface level, they have a positive impact on the quality of learning that occurs. Having these positive connections won’t in themselves make for excellent lessons, but what they can do is to add value to every aspect of your teaching. Students will be better behaved, work harder, respond better to feedback, show increased motivation, be more sympathetic to your misjudgements and in sum drive your class forwards more positively than if these connections haven’t been made.

So how can we go about building these individual connections with our students? The most important thing may be just finding (in reality, making) the time for the many small inputs that help forge these positive connections. Here are some of the things – and I’m sure there are many others besides – that I believe are worth making time for to build these connections:

– Learn the name of every student that you teach as soon as possible at the start of the year. Don’t just hope this will happen naturally over time. Get your class photo lists out and consciously learn them. Nothing that follows will work without this essential prerequisite.

– Get to your lessons a couple of minutes early and spend that time talking to individual students as you wait to begin, trying to find out something of their lives and interests outside of your lesson.

– Greet each student at the door of your classroom by name as they enter, saying good morning and asking how they are. Do the same as students leave, this time highlighting something positive they have done in the lesson, for example asking great questions, showing improved concentration or finally nailing that 8-mark exam question.

– Always say hello to your students in the corridor or around school. Make this an active approach; be the one to make the first move. If you can, stop to have a chat with them. Remind them about a due homework or test. Ask them how their half term was. You will find that over time students will start to seek you out as well, further developing the teacher-student relationship (and brightening up your day).

– When returning tests or assessments, find time to speak with each student individually about it. Let them know what you were pleased about and reinforce areas they need to improve. Support them if they under-performed and stretch them if they had success. Make your students aware that their results are not just a ‘number’ for you, but a signal of their progress and a spotlight on their strengths and weaknesses.

– When you ask a student a question in class, be sure to always listen to their answer. It can be easy to ‘switch off’ sometimes when teaching and only half-listen – especially if you are concerned about time or monitoring behaviour – but nothing will hinder these connections more than your students feeling as if their contributions aren’t valued.

– Following on from this, don’t tolerate anything less than total respect in your lessons, not only between you and your students, but also between the students themselves. Make sure everyone feels like they can make a valuable contribution to your lesson in a supportive and respectful environment. Encourage your students to make mistakes (and learn from them). Encourage all students to get fully involved in tasks and activities. Don’t let a student fall ‘under the radar’ as every student needs to feel like a valued part of your class.

– Share something of yourself with your students. You are their teacher, but don’t feel you have to act like a ‘teacher’ all the time. Show some humanity. Share a story about your past, demonstrate empathy with struggling students or relay an amusing anecdote from your weekend. 

Ben Wright

References:

  • Ferlazzo, L. (2015) Building a Community of Self-Motivated Learners: Strategies to Help Students Thrive in School and Beyond, Oxon: Routledge.
  • Ginsberg, M. (2015) ‘Shadowing a student shows how to make learning more relevant’, Phi Delta Kappan, 97(4), pp.26-30.  SAGE [Online] Available at: www.sagepub.com
  • Ryan, R. and Deci, E. (2000) ‘Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions, Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), pp. 54-67.

Evidence based practice, why are we so bothered?

With myself and Emily currently completing our Master’s in Education and Ben having already completed his, our research is often at the forefront of our minds.  As an advocate for evidence based practice I have found I have focused much of my writing around this topic.

About 18 months ago I read an article by Ben Goldacre ‘Building Evidence into Education’. Goldacre raised a very valid point, professions such as medicine, nursing and midwifery see evidence as integral in providing the best outcomes for their patients as well as continuing CPD. Not only is this argument both popular but academic as well. Therefore why are we, professional teachers, not engaging with this practice and using evidence to improve the outcome of our pupils?

So, what exactly is evidence based practice?

Evidence based practice is using current literature and the available evidence to make decisions about our teaching practice and to inform policy making. Obviously evidence can take different forms and evidence used in the medical profession will be different to that used in education, but applying the principle of sourcing evidence, evaluating it, applying it and using it to further inform practice is something the teaching profession should be looking to achieve. In short, teachers should be using the literature that is out there and applying it to their own classroom practices and then evaluating the effect.

How did this impact my Master’s research?

Ben, Emily and I set up a journal club to encourage colleagues to engage with current literature. The club runs every half term and we discuss the latest research article, provided by ourselves, and how this can impact on our teaching. We often focus on a research questions and critically analyse this as a group of professionals.

As part of my Master’s research I decided to analyse the impact journal club has as a mechanism for teachers to engage with evidence based practice. From my findings there was an overwhelming agreement from staff that they felt education should be evidence based and that journal club could have a positive impact on engagement, however many teachers do not attend. I also identified that teachers see the value evidence has for the development of their practice and engagement was talked about as being ‘forward thinking’. This frustrated me somewhat as although the teaching body wanted to move the profession forward to engage with evidence based practice, there are clear barriers in place which leaves teachers unable to engage. What these barriers are I am currently researching as part of my dissertation. I hope to disseminate these barriers and discover how we can work towards this culture in time for the next academic year.

Martha Boyne

References:

 

Biesta. G. (2007) ‘Why ‘What Works’ Won’t Work: Evidence Based Practice and the Democratic Deficit in Educational Research’. Educational Theory 57:1

Boyne, M. and Beadle, H. (in press).  Journal Club: A mechanism for bringing evidence based practice into school. Teacher Education Advancement Network (TEAN) Journal, [forthcoming].

Goldacre.B. (2013) Building Evidence into Education. Department for Education

can be accessed here:

http://www.badscience.net/2013/03/heres-my-paper-on-evidence-and-teaching-for-the-education-minister/