What do top teachers do?
Top teachers make it their business to be better and professionally develop, continuously.
They make it their business to carry out research and develop their skills. They join a learning community (or more than one), they observe colleagues, they dissect what works and discard what doesn’t. They plan together and they share ideas and resources to support improvement.
It certainly sounds like this is something we should all be doing but the reality is quite different.
Teachers aren’t engaging in research as much as they could be and very few are part of teaching research groups.
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) in their research (undertaken by the NFER and University of Portsmouth) found that “Research evidence continues to play a relatively small role in influencing teachers’ decision-making” with a sizeable 84% of those surveyed saying that their continuing professional development was based on information other than academic research.
However, there are differences between sectors. Primary school teachers were significantly more likely than secondary school teachers, and senior leaders were significantly more likely than middle leaders/classroom teachers to report that they used research to inform the selection of teaching approaches.
The NFER said:
Teachers were, on average, willing to engage with research evidence, and reported that their school climates were supportive of evidence use. However, it appears that this willingness, and those positive climates, were not yet consistently translating into evidence-informed decision-making across schools in England.
And there we have a problem. We are told that teachers need to engage with the evidence and interact with research yet so few are. Silo teaching is still rife with islands of teachers doing their own thing in Year groups or Key Stages or Departments rather than analysing lesson plans, considering lesson content, carrying out post-lesson reflections and comparing experiences.
Teachers can take a back seat and plod along but in the most effective teaching contexts, teachers are required to produce two research papers each year with the best ones published. These papers can improve teaching practice because they encourage experimentation, interaction with research and self-reflection. They can also pool collective wisdom and get teachers together.
Why don’t we make Teaching Research Groups a legal professional requirement? This is precisely the sort of requirement that would give teaching a better chance of being seen as a profession.