KNAER-RECRAE

Partnering with Education Professionals to Mobilize Knowledge: Exciting Developments in Australia and the UK

KNAER-RECRAE Highlight:

Partnering with Education Professionals to Mobilize Knowledge: Exciting developments in Australia and the UK

BY JONATHAN SHARPLES

In this blog, Professor Sharples shares with the KNAER network takeaways from his recent work with Evidence for Learning in Australia, as well as groundbreaking work at the Education Endowment Foundation in the UK. Similar to knowledge mobilization initiatives in Ontario, Jonathan observes a shift in both countries towards developing meaningful partnerships between practitioners and researchers as a key strategy for increasing the mobilization and impact of research informed practices in schools and classrooms. Jonathan adapted this blog from a recent post he contributed to the Evidence for Learning website.

Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure of spending some time in Australia, working with colleagues at Evidence for Learning (http://evidenceforlearning.org.au), a new venture that aims to take an evidence-based approach to ‘helping great practice become common practice’.

…the momentum for evidence-based reform has been increasingly carried by a broad alliance of people – policy makers, practitioners, intermediaries…

My overriding impression from being there (apart from not wanting to come back to London in Winter!) was that it feels like an exciting time to be teaching in Australia, as evidence-informed practice emerges as a more central feature of the education landscape. The developments remind me of one of the key shifts we have seen in the UK over the last ten years, where the momentum for evidence-based reform has been increasingly carried by a broad alliance of people – policy makers, practitioners, intermediaries – rather than being a predominately research-driven agenda.

This shift may also ring true for many in the Canadian Knowledge Mobilization community and it provides a fantastic opportunity I think. In Australia , I was struck by the sophisticated research knowledge of the teachers and headteachers I met, and their skills in interpreting and applying evidence to practice. Most impressive was the clarity of purpose in terms of using research, in combination with their professional expertise, to improve pupils’ learning and make education more equitable. Whilst this sounds obvious it is not always the case. Although well intentioned, sometimes we get so focused on the means – generating and using research – that we can lose track of the end, which is, of course, to improve the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

I was struck by the sophisticated research knowledge of the teachers and headteachers I met, and their skills in interpreting and applying evidence to practice. Most impressive was the clarity of purpose in terms of using research, in combination with their professional expertise, to improve pupils’ learning and make education more equitable.

Related to this I was struck by the sharp focus on implementation.I really like the phrase ‘the practitioner is the intervention’. It emphasises that no matter how good evidence-based practices and programmes are on paper, what really matters is how they manifest themselves in the day-to-day work of teachers in the classroom. Again this sounds obvious, but too often we focus on encouraging an engagement with evidence at the expense of providing the necessary time, commitment and support to translate a conceptual understanding into practical behaviours. In this respect I was lucky to see some great examples of disciplined and skilled implementation: schools picking a key priority area, say formative assessment or mastery learning, and setting out a long-term commitment to applying research in a way that works for their context, sometimes at the expense of other potential priorities.

I was lucky to see some great examples of disciplined and skilled implementation: schools picking a key priority area…and setting out a long-term commitment to applying research in a way that works for their context, sometimes at the expense of other priorities.

One of the most exciting aspects of the Education Endowment Foundation, where I am based in the UK, is how it is emerging as a genuine partnership between research and practice, with research producers and users collaborating to establish ‘what works’, and applying that knowledge in complex school environments.For example, a national network of Research Schools is emerging, which are creating opportunities and capacity for evidence-informed practice in their region, by communicating research findings, providing training and professional development, and encouraging disciplined, ‘bottom-up’ innovation (https://researchschool.org.uk).

The opportunity, I think, is to make these leading schools as central as possible to our endeavour, as those individuals that are able to bridge the research-practice divide are, I believe, our greatest asset. The opportunity is for all stakeholders – researchers, practitioners and intermediaries – to work out what they bring to the party, whether that’s in driving innovation, capturing impacts, translating evidence, or integrating it into practice. Working out these coordinated, but differentiated, roles isn’t easy, although when it happens I think that’s when things really start to motor.

ABOUT JONATHAN SHARPLES

Professor Sharples is a Senior Researcher at the Education Endowment Foundation, seconded from the Institute of Education at University College London, where he is exploring schools’ use of research evidence. Jonathan works with schools and policy makers across the sector to promote evidence-informed practice, and spread knowledge of ‘what works’ in teaching and learning. He writes evidence-based guidance for schools and works with practitioners to scale-up effective practices.

Jonathan previously worked at The Institute for the Future of the Mind at the University of Oxford, where he was looking at how insights from brain-science research can support teachers’ expertise and professional development. Prior to this he worked as a secondary school science teacher in Sydney. He is the author of Evidence for the Frontline, a report published by the Alliance for Useful Evidence that outlines the elements of a functioning evidence system.

 

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