Dan Cable writes in Alive at Work, that a powerful method to build relatedness and belonging within a team is to ask each person when they are at their best. Which circumstances bring out the best version of themselves? It’s a fascinating question. The rationale is, that by sharing this self-reflection, your shared vulnerability helps to bond the team, but also that each member’s response helps the team to understand what each other look like when they are truly thriving.
Looking around Farnham Heath End School at ResearchEd Surrey 2021, it seemed that this was a circumstance and experience that brought the best out of every delegate and speaker. The air was abuzz with excited conversation, rustling of programmes amidst frantic plotting of routemaps for the day, and of course the scent of cookies that followed one across the site (they were excellent).
There are no typical answers to the ‘best version of yourself question’, but I’ve found among educators the response often involves helping or serving others. When you gather likeminded colleagues together who are taking control of their professional development with autonomy and passion, there is a sense of wonder and enjoyment that is difficult to surpass. It is this feeding of intellectual curiosity and collaboration which will ultimately culminate in the desire to help and lead others.
The tangible thrill in the air that prevailed throughout ResearchEd Surrey has been my experience at many conferences that are focused on evidence-informed sessions when they are run and attended by passionate professionals.
So, what were my key takeaways from the day?
Firstly, it must be said that the organisation was exemplary from the Farnham Heath End and Research Ed teams – every detail had been considered.
Sharing experiences of research
I first relished the evidence-informed period of education that we are currently enjoying in 2015, and began attending conferences in 2016. While those events, books, and blogs were fantastic, it seems to me in hindsight that they were generally about the theory behind a new piece of research, along with accompanying studies. Five to six years on, we now have case studies and depth of experiences that practitioners are sharing. Jon Hutchinson spoke in his session about the importance of evaluating the impact of any initiatives or systems that you introduce, thus aiding your decision about which tradeoffs to make in your school. Now that we have more experiences, we can re-examine research to see how it stacks up within schools and colleges. As Adam Robbins said, is the juice worth the squeeze?
Jade Pearce lead a fantastic session about leading evidence-informed teaching and learning. As she acknowledged, we’ve all read about retrieval practice, cognitive load theory, and other strategies to improve teaching. What she provided her grateful crowd was six years of experience: how did she roll out these ideas to school staff? Which things worked? Which things needed tweaking? Like Jon, who spoke about how they have refined their instructional coaching programme after nearly a decade of working on it, Jade was able to match research with lived experience. You can’t read that in a book in the same way.
Dissemination of research
Of course, it wouldn’t be ResearchEd without some significant chewing of complex theories and evidence bases. My first encounter with that in Surrey was Adam Robbins and his session about how behaviour spreads. Adam picked through the work of Damon Centola, a social scientist who specialises in social norms and how groups adopt new behaviours. Adam did a fantastic job of highlighting the key concepts from Centola’s work, sharing them with wit, humour, and references to interesting studies. I told at least 4 people about the farmers from Malawi. The session trod the fine balance of being accessible and yet complex, piquing my interest to go and read more. The same can be said of Oliver Caviglioli and David Goodwin, who touched upon the excellent work of Annie Murphy Paul in The Extended Mind, disseminating a couple of her ideas, and yet not overwhelming the audience in what is a relatively short time to speak on a topic.
This is the essence of a successful research-informed event: equipping the educators at the conference to leave with enthusiasm, new knowledge, and most importantly, a thirst for more.
Everyone who gathers on a Saturday is on a quest to broaden their expertise, meet other colleagues, and to revel in the autonomy of choosing your own CPD. There are, of course, well known faces moving in and around the session venues, and the chance to do some edu-celeb watching is always a fun activity. I may have succumbed to some name dropping and mentioned how I took Doug Lemov and Joe Kirby to the football recently.
But I can guarantee that everyone at ResearchEd met someone new, strengthened professional and / or personal ties with existing colleagues, or will make a connection with someone post-conference. Despite my jesting at the well-known voices, these conferences are places without hierarchy or ego – and this perhaps contributes to the wonderful humour on show. I laughed countless times during the day. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good laugh, but the sense of positivity and optimism creates a perfect breeding ground for humour, self-deprecation, laughter, and shared experience.
Personally, I enjoyed my brief time with Joe Kirby, a deep thinker who can drill to the heart of a matter within seconds, and then switch to light and carefree within the same discussion. A true gentleman and an exceptional mind. I also enjoyed introductions with Patrice Bain and Jade Pearce, both of whom I’ve interacted with on Twitter, and was just about brave enough to say hello to in person.
I don’t have shares in ResearchEd. This blog post celebrates the gathering of educators from across the country, and beyond, on a Saturday. The combination of autonomy over our development, the variety of sessions on offer, and the purpose driving each and every person who attends conferences or reads about improving their practice, created tangible delight. This event was a true celebration of professionals who want to be better, to grow their minds, networks, and of course, their teaching.
Here’s to continued sharing, generosity, and discussion.