Research Based Practice - The Art of a Great Question

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As a principal of a primary academy in Kent, I have the challenge of engaging fifty seven staff in continuing professional development that will enthuse them to create an inspirational school for all who work and learn within its walls. 

Two years ago I introduced a new element of CPD for my teaching staff. I asked each teacher to take on one research based appraisal target.

Creating Space for Research

I came to the realisation that training days were becoming a little stagnant, although there were days where a whole staff training event was deeply purposeful, I found more often that these whole school days impacted on only a proportion of the delegates. 

If we were talking about assessment, then the EYFS staff were less interested.  If we were talking about autism then the classes without autistic children were less engaged.  I therefore elected to take two training days and equate these to ten hours of individual training. Each teacher then had fifteen hours of research based learning in their pocket.


Senior staff were trained as Mentor-Coaches and used the principles of Mentor-Coaching to allow the teachers to devise a research based target that would develop their practice and enhance pupil's learning.

Appraisal discussions led to a range of exciting and meaningful targets that encouraged teachers to develop their research based practice.  Targets were varied and included research on the impact of parents on early reading, use of Google Docs to enhance learning and the impact of Twitter on professional development.

Some amazing blogs have been produced by both teaching and non-teaching staff across the school, many have been re-tweeted by +ukedchat . Blogs have included ones by our stunning staff, including @primaryreflect, @KS1Rocks , @AlisonMoon , @MisterHackett @Annemariemiddle.

The Learning Ticket

I gave each teacher a 'Learning Ticket', each ticket had a cash value of £150 and was to be spent on their research based appraisal target.  In addition to the Learning Ticket, three Research Bursaries were made available for teachers to bid for.  Each Research Bursary had a cash value of £500 and teachers could bid collectively for these to enhance their research.  One teacher bid for a research bursary to research into the impact of Lego in story writing.

Blue Sky

I adopted a digital appraisal and CPD tracking system called Blue Sky. This system allowed appraisers to input appraisal targets, link them to the school key priorities and track each staff members' appraisal and training activity. 

Once trained, staff were able to upload appraisal evidence, CPD courses and their impact and upload relevant evidence linked to their appraisal targets. The programme also allowed staff to track their research time while their reviewer was able to give a gentle nudge to staff who had been less than active over a period of time. 

As a result, appraisal reviews became truly owned by each member of staff and there were no surprises at the end of the appraisal cycle as there had been a regular conversation through the Blue Sky program between appraisee and appraiser throughout the year.

Teach Meets

With a research based appraisal target in place for each teacher and Blue Sky tracking progress towards the targets, teachers developed a variety of new practice based on the research undertaken.  It was key that there was a forum to share this practice and celebrate the success across the school and beyond school. 

To this end, I set up a Teach Meet based on the national Teach Meet Model.  The Teach Meet is a meeting of teachers to share their practice in short 'micro-presentations'.  Each presentation at our teach meet lasted no longer than seven minutes. 

Our first Teach Meet focussed on 'Irresistible Writing" and the second on 'Irresistible Learning' and shared a range of practice across the school that was a result of the research based practice in appraisal.

The Teach Meet has been an exciting and engaging way of celebrating success of research based practice and sharing practice that makes a positive difference to children's learning. Teach Meets have also encouraged the sharing of practice across schools locally.

Formal Research training

We also developed a more formal research based practice with a local ITT provider, Canterbury Christ Church University.  The project involved nine schools across our collaboration of schools.  Teachers from the nine schools met across the year to learn about research methodology and were given an opportunity to put the methodology into practice in an action research project. 

The outcomes of the research projects were then published by the university and a celebration evening held to share the outcomes of the research projects. The research empowered staff to deepen their pedagogical understanding and share their new learning with colleagues.

Where to now?

Working in a school that has a research based practice model embedded in its practice is a real thrill. Our forthcoming appraisal round will see research based targets appear in the appraisal targets for every member of staff. Some staff are apprehensive of this as research based practice is a new concept for them.  This apprehensive feeling may be rooted in the appraisees’ trust in their abilities, being confident in sharing their findings with colleagues or simply moving away from the comfort zone of the known path ahead.

If we are to create an exciting and engaging education system, we must continue to ask questions that encourage us to gently push boundaries and give us the conviction to create our own path into the horizon. 

By providing our staff with the space to engage in action research in our exponentially busy life within school, the benefits to our school, our staff and our children are palpable. 

Enjoy the journey!

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