Monday, 23 May 2016

researchED Melbourne 21 May 2016

This weekend saw the researchED world tour arrive in Melbourne, Australia and hosted by the Brighton Grammar School.  As per usual, there was a range of fabulous speakers, drawn from academia, schools and think-tanks and I was lucky enough to see and hear:

  • Professor Patrick Griffin on Collaborative Teacher Teams and Student Growth
  • Professor Geoff Masters on Schools and Learning Organisations
  • John Bush on Creating the Conditions for Evidence-Informed Practice
  • Ray Swann and Improving the Quality of Decisions in Schools using Evidence
  • Deborah Netolicky, Chris Munro, Jon Andrews and Corinne Campbell on Impacts and Challenges of Coaching in Australian Education Contexts
  • Dr Anthony Dillon on The Applicability of Positive Psychology to Indigenous Australians
Indeed, if you would like to read more about researchED Melbourne a number of attendees have already written blogposts ( which to be be frank are far better than anything I can write).  So have a look at the words of 

As for me, I have three observations.

First, there is much criticism of social media as being a divisive medium - yet researchED is a tremendous example of how social media can be used to physically bring professionals together.  Not only does Twitter help colleagues from individual countries come together but it creates conditions whereby colleagues from across the globe can come together and consider the things that matter.  And from my experience of researchED events held in Australia, America and Scandinavia - the similarities between interests and needs of teachers across the world are far greater than the differences.

Second, maybe schools need to re-think the scope of their professional learning communities.  Given the ease with which contacts can be made with colleagues around the world and who are willing to share their time and expertise, school professional learning communities which are made up of exclusively of individuals from within the same school (and country) may well be underdeveloped.  School professional learning communities need to give some thought to how strategically they can access expertise and insight from outside the school.  Indeed, it would be interesting to think what would be the conditions necessary for successful Joint Professional Development, where that JPD spanned the globe.

Third, at sessions like researchED, when you are presenting you have to be aware that your words can sometimes be reaching a world-wide audience before you even finish the sentence. In my session was on What Would a Curriculum to Develop Evidence-Based Practitioners Look Like? (which looked to develop themes I had explored previously on both  Sunday 3 April 2016  and Sunday 21 June 2015), one comment I made during the session appeared to set the fingers tapping away on smartphones both during the session and subsequently with a number of likes and re-tweets.

And finally, researchED relies on individuals giving freely of both their time and expertise - so  a big thanks must go to Ray Swann of Brighton Grammar School and his team of volunteers, who did so much work in the background to make the researchED Melbourne such a big success.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Leadership strategies to develop evidence-informed schools - evidence from schools

How can school leaders establish evidence-informed schools?

One of the constant challenges in advocating evidence-based practice and the strategies necessary to promote it, is to ensure that you have robust evidence to support your proposed strategies.  With that in mind, this post will examine Brown and Zhang’s (2016) research on potential policy levers available to school leaders who wish to facilitate evidence-informed changes with their schools,  as well as increase the use of evidence-informed practice by teachers.   I will then go onto explore the implications for the continuing professional development of both current and future school leaders.

The research

Brown and Zhang undertook a survey of 696 primary school practitioners in forty schools to examine four factors which school leaders need to consider when seeking to promote evidence-informed practice within their schools.  These factors are: first, the existence of teacher capacity to engage in and with research and data; second, school cultures that are attuned to evidence use; third, schools promoting the use of research as part of an effective learning environment (professional learning communities); fourth, the existence of effective structures, system and and resource that facilitate research-use and the sharing of best practice.   The data was subsequently analysed to identify potentially successful strategies which school leaders could use to promote evidence use within their schools

The findings

Brown and Zhang go onto identify a set of relatively inexpensive and relatively simple policy drivers that both support evidence-informed change and the frequency of use of evidence-informed practice by teachers.  As Brown and Zhang state:

What is key is, however, is that these solutions do not appear to be either resources intense or complex to implements, relating as they do to school leaders to : 1) promote the vision for evidence-use (that is, encourage its use); 2) engage in actions such as ‘modelling’ , ‘monitoring’ and ‘mentoring and coaching’ in order to demonstrate how evidence can be employed to improve issues of teaching and learning; 3) establish effective learning environments in which learning conversations around the use of evidence can flourish. (p15)

Furthermore, Brown and Zhang argue that trust is and important factor in determining the potential success of such strategies.  Trust will be required of those colleagues who are research literate by other colleagues who do not have such capacity, particularly if evidence-informed practices are to be widely adopted.  Second, Brown and Zhang argue that in high trust schools, practitioners undertaking new and innovative projects feel supported and sense that they are operating in a ‘safe-environment’.  With school leaders facilitating increasing levels of trust by engaging in reciprocal efforts, be it joint-problem solving or  shared-decision making, with colleagues.

Implications for the development of current and future school leaders.

There would appear to be at least three key implications of Brown and Zhang’s work for the development of current and future school leaders wishing to support the development of evidence-informed practice within their current or future school.  First, it’s extremely difficult to promote a vision of evidence-informed practice unless there is a clear understanding of what is meant by evidence-informed practice.  In particular, it will be necessary for school leaders to have a clear understanding of the complex relationship between evidence-informed change different conceptions of the very nature of teaching practice (Hargreaves and Stone Johnson, 2009) as this will influence how the vision for evidence-informed practice will be articulated.

Second, Brown and Zhang acknowledge that their study has focused a particular phase of education i.e the primary phase- , with fifty per cent of the schools involved either being part of teaching school alliance or similar partnership.  As such, research is required to see whether the three relatively simple and inexpensive strategies identified, have the same potential within different phases of education, be it secondary or post-compulsory.  My own hunch is that secondary school leaders may - due to the larger size of their schools - need to give greater attention to structure, systems and resources.   As for the CEOS for Multi-Academy Trusts, it is possible that a different toolkit will be required to support the development and use of evidence-informed practice.

Third, for school leaders to develop trust with colleagues through  the use of reciprocal, a necessary condition would suggest that these efforts would need to be underpinned by genuineness.  Unfortunately, recent research by Le Fevre, Robinson and Sinnema (2014) would suggest that school leaders have limited capacity to engage in what they term ‘genuine’ inquiry.  With this lack of capacity being a function of cognitive biases, perceptions and inter-personal skill levels.  As such, school leaders may require a significant disruption to their current practice and ways of working.  In the first instance, this may best be achieved by some form of 'private' intrapersonal inquiry.  Having challenged their own assumptions in private, this may lead to a willingness to do so in public interpersonal inquiry. 

Some final words

On the one hand, Brown and Zhang’s research is encouraging in that the development of both evidence-informed change and practice may not be as resource intensive as first thought.  On the other hand, school leaders are going to need to be individually rich in the skills necessary to engage in disciplined and genuine inquiry.  Unfortunately, the evidence suggests this may well not be the case. 


Brown, C and Zhang, D (2016) How can school leaders establish evidence-informed schools: An analysis of potential school policy levers, Educational Management Administration and Leadership 1 – 20

Hargreaves, A., and Stone-Johnson, C. (2009). Evidence-informed change and the practice of teaching. The role of research in educational improvement, 89-109.

Le Fevre, D. M., Robinson, V. M., & Sinnema, C. E. (2014). Genuine Inquiry Widely Espoused Yet Rarely Enacted. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 1741143214543204.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

So you want to get better at shared decision-making

If you are a teacher, evidence-based practitioner or senior leader and are looking to improve your decision-making processes, then this post is for you.  In this post we will be looking at the competences and processes associated with shared decision-making between clinicians  and patients.  We then go onto explore the implications for education professionals and their decision-making processes.  But first I will summarise both my underlying position and associated theory of action.

A summary of my argument and underpinning theory of action (amended from Fullan and Hargreaves, 2012)
  • Decisional capital - the capital that professionals acquire through structured and semi-structured, practice and reflection - is a core component of a school's professional capital
  • Decisional capital can be enhanced by school leaders working with colleagues to take advantage of their knowledge, skills and experience.
  • Decisional capital can be enhanced by teachers, heads of departments and head-teachers engaging in the deliberate practice of their decision-making skills - and this practice may require thousands of hours and a number of years to develop.
  • Research exists in medicine about how to improve the shared decision-making processes between clinicians and patients
  • These research findings can be adopted for use in schools to identify the competences and processes required by school leaders - at whatever level - to engage in shared decision-making with colleagues (and potentially pupils).
  • By using these competences as a check-list school leaders can take action to improve shared decision-making with colleagues.
  • The use of these competences will lead to an increase in decisional capital within the school and contribute to improved outcomes for both pupils and colleagues. 
The health professions and shared decision-making with patients 

One area, which might have potential to support teachers and headteachers engage in better collaborative decision decision is the work of Elwyn, Edwards and Kinnersley(1999) - cited by Greenhalgh (2014) - who were pioneers in the academic study of shared decision-making between doctors and patients.   Elywn, et al (1999) state that clinical decision-making can be seen as a spectrum – with a paternalistic model at one end of the spectrum and an informed choice model at the other.  As such, shared decision-making sits in the middle.  Elywn et al represent the model in figure 1 and which I have amended for a school-setting

Figure 1 

Shared decision-making
Informed choice/individual teacher professional autonomy
In the context of schools, this could be likened to a range of decision-making processes, which had a command and control model at one end of the spectrum and teacher autonomy at the other.  In this context, informed choice involves a teacher receiving information about possible changes in practice which may impact upon their classroom practice, but they are professionally autonomous enough to make and informed decision and choice on how to proceed.  As such, shared decision-making is an attempt to stake out a middle-ground in the decision-making process.  If school leaders were to share decision-making with colleagues when addressing problems, then the characteristics are likely to be as follows (amended from Elwyn et al 1999 p 478)
  • Shared decision-making involves at least two participants - maybe the headteacher and the teachers and often others
  • Both parties - be it leaders and teachers - take steps to participate in the decision-making process
  • Information sharing is a prerequisite to shared decision-making
  • The decision - which may be to do nothing - is made, and both parties agrees to the decision.
Given the relational nature of the process, I will now turn the leadership competences necessary to engage in shared decision-making.  The competences required for teachers to engage in shared decision-making will be explored in a subsequent post.  

The competences necessary to engage in shared decision-making

Edwards et al (2004) identify a number of competencies that clinicians need to demonstrate in order to engage in shared decision-making with their patients, and these are illustrated in Table 1.

Table 1 Competences required for shared decision-making

Define the problem
Clear specification of the problem that requires a decision
Portray equipoise
That professionals may not have a clear preference about which treatment option is best in the context
Portray options
One or more treatment options and the option of no treatment if relevant  identified – alongside the option of no change
Provide information in preferred format
Identify patients preferences is they are to be useful in the decision-making process
Check understanding
Of the range of options and information provided about them
Explore ideas, concerns and expectations
About the clinical condition, possible treatment options and outcomes
Checking role preference
That patients accept the process and identify their decision-making role preference
Involving the patient to the extent to which they desire to be involved
Deferment if necessary
Reviewing treatment needs and preferences after time for further consideration, including with friends or family member, if the patient requires
Review arrangements
A specified time to review the decision

Inevitably, there is a not straight ‘read-across’ between competences required for health professional to engage in shared-decision making with a patient and those which an educational leader needs to engage in a shared decision-making with colleagues.  That said, there are four aspects of the competences which are worthy of further consideration by the evidence-based practitioner, and which if practiced may lead to an increase in the school's decisional capital.

First, the competences provide an easily amended check-list for decision-makers wishing to engage colleagues in shared decision-making.  In particular, the competences make explicit the need to: define the problem; identify options; explore the implications of the decision;  check shared understanding of the situation; involve colleagues in decision-making process; and, then making follow-up arrangements.  In doing so, it provides decision-makers and their colleagues with a tool with which they can use to reflect upon the decision-making process and identify areas for development within a shared decision-making process.  As such, it has the potential to provide a mechanism for decision-makers to engage in deliberate practice.

Second, the notion of equipoise is central to the process – i.e. maintaining a sense of balance, if not neutrality, when outlining the different options available and their respective advantages and disadvantages.  By displaying authentic equipoise, this should lead to greater engagement by the colleagues in shared decision-making, resulting  increased levels of decisional capital emerging, as colleagues feel they have a authentic part to play in the decision-making process.

Third, these competences should help those colleagues who are leading the decision-making process, to really think through how they want their colleagues to engage in the process.  One of the most misused word in the management lexicon is consultation, which is often used to mean so many different things – be it the testing of ideas, genuine consultation where opinions are being sort or on other occasions if can be conflated with collaboration and co-creation.  By using the competences outlined in the shared decision-making, it should help decision-leaders to be explicit about the decision-making process, and also allow colleagues to participating in the process to be clear about their expectations about their involvement in the decision-making process.  If expectations are aligned this is likely to lead to an increase in the stock of decisional capital, rather than a decrease.

Fourth, given the increased emphasis on pupil voice and engaging with pupils, understanding the nature of shared decision-making and the associated processes may be an essential first-step in helping a school develop opportunities for 'genuine' pupil voice.  Indeed, this notion of accessing pupil voice is an essential component of processes that need to be undertaken by evidence-based practitioner.

And some final words

This post has drawn heavily from practices associated with evidence-based medicine and which may be anathema to some headteachers and teachers.  Nevertheless, if we can get past the notion that all evidence-based medicine is nothing more than using RCTS to tell health professional what to do, then will be able to develop the skills, knowledge and understanding necessary for effective evidence-based education, at a rate that is faster than would otherwise be case.  And in doing, so we will hopefully bring about better outcomes pupils, colleagues and the communities that schools serve


Elwyn, G., Edwards, A., & Kinnersley, P. 1999. Shared decision-making in primary care: the neglected second half of the consultation. The British Journal of General Practice, 49(443), 477–482.

Edwards, A., Elwyn, G., Hood, K., Atwell, C., Robling, M., Houston, H., Kinnersley, P., Russell, I. and Study Steering Group, 2004. Patient-based outcome results from a cluster randomized trial of shared decision making skill development and use of risk communication aids in general practice. Family practice, 21(4), pp.347-354.

Greenhalgh, T., 2014. How to read a paper: The basics of evidence-based medicine. John Wiley & Sons

Hargreaves, A and Fullan, M. 2012. Professional Capital: Transforming, teaching in every school. Routledge, Abingdon