On Monday I led a staff INSET on the theme of engaging with education research. I was apprehensive about it as I can’t clam to be an expert, especially outside of specific science education research.
The session went well, we discussed some of the reading we had done over the summer. [As part of signing up to the INSET teachers were asked to choose a book from 5 popular introductory titles to read over the summer.] We also discussed who did education research, what the barriers were to greater engagement with it and where it was published and in what forms.
I updated the group on some of the research work we have underway in school, one school wide project and a chemistry specific project. As part of this I showed some introductory findings from our chemistry project, graphs of achievement in a particular skills test vs MiDYiS score (MidYis is a kind of cognitive ability test designed by CEM at Durham taken by lower school pupils). The group I was working with included teachers of music, classics, English and business and one brave member asked me how I got my graphs. The last time they had done a graph was when they did GCSE science, they had no awareness of how to do a graph in excel, their only experience had been with pencil, paper and ruler. The conversation developed into a discussion of how I had carried out some analysis with the enhanced results analysis from the recent A levels to determine where the boys’ strengths and weaknesses are and what we could teach more effectively.
This session got me thinking about the assumptions we make about our colleagues and the wider teaching community. As a science graduate, mathematics and data have been a part of my life since school. Pencil and paper correlation graphs in school led onto training in excel spreadsheets at university meaning when I finally returned to school as a teacher, data analysis came naturally. I don’t claim to be an expert at Excel but I can make it do some useful things and if I can’t then I have the prior knowledge and confidence to be able to work it out using Google (or a conversation with someone more skilled). It simply hadn’t occurred to me that other teachers wouldn’t know how to do this (I clearly spend too much time with other scientists!) but thinking on, why would they?
There is a drive at the moment for teaching to become a more research informed profession. Some of this works under the assumption that teachers have the motivation, time and skills to access and interpret education research. Even without that level of assumption, a lot of research (and a lot of school life) depends on data processing and a large number of our colleagues will have last met that when they were school pupils themselves. It actually makes me wonder whether a bit of basic data crunching should be part of teacher training courses. Assumptions are dangerous and can leave some colleagues feeling excluded.
The session opened my eyes completely to other people’s perspectives on what I take for granted. I look forward to helping my engaged and curious colleagues to improve their excel skills at least to the basic level I have. INSET can be as much a benefit to the presenters as the attendees!
Let’s not carry on making assumptions about our colleagues and open up a few more conversations.