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Research School Network: Being ​‘evidence-informed’ won’t make you a better teacher. Dr Niki Kaiser, Network Research Lead at Norwich Research School


Being ​‘evidence-informed’ won’t make you a better teacher.

Dr Niki Kaiser, Network Research Lead at Norwich Research School

I need to eat less chocolate.

I know I need to eat less chocolate. I understand the risks inherent in eating too much chocolate. I could reel off the list of ingredients that make up a bar of chocolate, and explain to you why it’s not a good idea to eat too much fat and sugar.

I know all this, and yet I still eat too much chocolate. Perhaps I’m just not motivated enough! But it’s evident that simply knowing something is the right or wrong thing to do isn’t enough (on its own) to change habits and behaviours.

Behaviour change is difficult. We build up habits over time, and then have to work hard to break them. As a starting point we need to be motivated to change, but sometimes the best way to change our behaviour long-term is to deliberately form new habits. In this podcast from the EEF Harry Fletcher-Wood explains that motivation is important, but it can change and wane. If we rely on motivation alone, it’s likely to be fragile at times.

Harry talks about the importance of having prompts to help us build new habits. So for example, rather than just saying to a child that they need to do a bit of homework every day, we could suggest they do it each day when they get home, and before they do anything else.

This is particularly relevant to CPD, and applies to supporting both your own practice and that of other teachers. We will all have experienced that feeling of coming away from a motivational training session feeling fired up and keen to get cracking with some new approach, only to find that life takes over and you don’t embed it in the way you intended. In the worst cases you might forget it altogether, and not find a way to apply it to your classroom at all.

To help ensure that changes to practice are embedded and sustainable, we encourage teachers on our training courses to consider the COM‑B model when planning how to implement new approaches, and support others to do so within their school.

Influencing behaviour change involves changing one or more of the following:

  • Capability
  • Motivation
  • Opportunity

(hence COM‑B, where the B stands for behaviour).

COM B

This leads us to ask questions about any proposed change or approach we introduce. 

Capability: how capable are the people undertaking the change? Do they understand the problem? Do they have the relevant knowledge and skills? Will they need additional training for specific aspects? These factors are typically individual to each person.

Motivation: how motivated is the person to make the change? For example, do they dislike the current feedback policy, so they are excited about making a change to how it’s carried out? Do they feel supported and rewarded, and think they’ll make a positive difference?

Opportunity: how much opportunity do people have to practise the change? Will there be CPD, coaching, resources and time available? Will these support factors come from within the school or will you use external providers?

If we want teachers and leaders to become more evidence-informed, and for this to lead to tangible, practical, sustainable change, then we have to consider the barriers to (and the supports for) the changes in behaviour that we want to see. I’ve seen this in a number of roles I’ve held over the past few years:

  • As a Research Lead, I began to raise awareness and influence culture by sharing blogs and articles with colleagues. But it was only when these ideas were embedded in our whole-school CPD system that they really began to have an impact. There were no overnight changes, and staff had to be given time and support to integrate them.
  • As a Research School, we understand that coming to one of our training programmes is really just the first step towards change. Teachers make sustainable changes by considering how to implement the changes they want to introduce, and this consideration of implementation, alongside time for reflection, has to be woven into each course.
  • As a Content Specialist at the EEF, I have thought hard about how to make sure I don’t just produce pretty things” that teachers look at (and hopefully like) and never think about them again. It’s good to make things look appealing and memorable, but ultimately what I want them to do is support teachers to develop their practice in a way that’s supported by evidence.

I do believe that being evidence-informed’ is important. I think it’s vital that teachers reflect on their practice, and do so continuously – and that research can help them to do this effectively. But I also know that knowledge of evidence isn’t enough. Ultimately, we have to think about how to change, and influence, behaviour. This prevents us thinking only about shiny new things”, and helps us to make sustainable, sustained changes.

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