Bluffer’s Guide to Evidence Based Practice.

This article originally appeared in Teach Primary, a wonderful and intelligent publication to which you can subscribe here.

The quickest way to endear yourself to your primary colleagues and win their respect is to helpfully explain to them that everything they do is wrong and probably educationally damages their children. Whilst a commitment to becoming more informed by evidence might seem both intimidating and time-consuming, you’ll be happy to learn that it’s perfectly possible to bluff your way through this endeavour with little or no extra work.

So read on, brave teacher, and rightly earn your place as the most exasperating and pestiferous charlatan at staff meetings and beyond…

Don’t actually read any research

Just how do all of these teachers manage to read so much academic literature whilst doing the backbreaking job of being a classroom teacher? The answer – and don’t tell anyone – is that, and this really is the clever part, they don’t! Luckily, it’s almost impossible to be wrong about anything in education, because everybody disagrees about everything. Preface all of your pontifications with phrases such as ‘Of course all the evidence shows…’ or ‘I was actually reading an interesting study recently…’ In the unlikely event that someone actually calls you out on your claptrap, promise to ‘dig out the original article’ and then avoid them until they forget.

Take pot-shots at weak targets

 The wide ranging interest in education and lack of formal quality controls means that it’s pretty easy for dodgy initiatives and fads to take hold. A rookie error on the road to becoming an evidence based practitioner is to believe that you should contribute something positive to education; perhaps attempting to discover and share more effective forms of instruction, assessment and school improvement. I mean, fine, but that just sounds like a lot of work. It’s much easier to smarmily denigrate the fresh corpse of learning styles or brain gym. Revel in self-righteousness as you tear down the overlooked multiple intelligences poster, left up in the corner of the staffroom since the 90s. Exclaim sternly, ‘This has been thoroughly debunked!’ as you cast it into the recycling bin from whence it came. Suggest to your colleagues that they start calling you the debunker ‘as a joke’, then change your email signature.

Narrow your world view

Perhaps you may choose the more athentic, but ultimately pointless, path of actually engaging with academic research. Be warned, this can and will lead to depressing levels of cognitive dissonance in which you are regularly faced with the painful realisation that you’ve been doing your job horribly forever. To combat this, only read research which will reinforce your predisposed views and ideas. Psychologists call this ‘confirmation basis’. I’ve tried it and it really is lovely. This handy mental defence will ensure any nasty opposing views are either avoided or instantly dismissed out of hand.

Ignore context and nuance

In strong contention for the most unsurprising axiom of all time, Dylan Wiliam (NB famous educational researcher, drop his name often to boost your evidence credentials) reminds us that ‘everything works somewhere, nothing works everywhere’. This introduction of thoughtful application and reservation around research findings presents a dangerous challenge to your (always humble) ‘I am the WORD, cower before my genius’ understanding of teaching and learning. At face value, it’s blisteringly obvious that a study involving English literature undergraduates may not be applicable to learning maths in year 1. On the other hand, reading up on the methodology and assessing the reliability of results within the context of your school or year group would take up like half your PPA. Don’t do it – read the headline, strap on your blinkers and just plough on.

Grow your audience 

As your confidence in spouting about effect sizes increases, you are likely to find that the staffroom is no longer a large enough audience for your enlightened sermons. It’s time to go national, baby. A twitter account is the quickest way to ‘establish’ yourself as an authority on the school scene. Start referring to yourself as an ‘educationalist’ (for you have transcended mere teacher status now).

Make some dollar

If you have carefully followed the above steps of this guide, you should now be well on your way to delivering your first keynote at least one national conference. And once your twitter follower count has crossed the 10k mark…cha-ching! It’s time to monetise. Set yourself up as a consultant promising to bring an ‘evidence based approach’ to terrified and confused headteachers. Try not to corpse as you assert that this can be done in a two hour CPD twilight at any point in the year.

 

Armed with this bluffer’s guide (and, if you absolutely must, a cursory google of the EEF toolkit rankings), you can confidently announce yourself as an ‘evidence based practitioner’. And you never know, if you shout that loudly enough, you might even be able to wangle a TLR out of it. You’re welcome.

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