Post by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher
What happens when two American educators spend a week traveling through the United Kingdom talking with teachers, university researchers and visiting schools? In the spirit of similar journeys recently taken by the likes of Grant Lichtman, author of #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education, across the United States to explore schools, we embarked on a one-week jaunt in a different direction, landing in English cities such as Cambridge, Durham, Windsor, London, and Crowthorne.
The initial impetus for this trip was for us to present at the gathering of teachers, school leaders, and policy makers at the Sunday Times Festival of Education that attracts educators from around the world. But with five days between our arrival and the start of the festival there was a chance to learn from others who were equally passionate to enhance teacher quality, student achievement, and the schooling experience for all students. Too often, the lens in which we look at education reform and innovation is constrained by our geography. The Internet has certainly broken down those barriers, but there is still nothing better than interacting with individuals in person. There is a lot we can learn from talking with educators from other parts of the world. This is our short story and a hopeful introduction to important people and schools that should be on your professional reading list or included in those you follow on Twitter.
We arrived in London at a very stressful time for English high school and university students, and their parents. Many were preparing for or finishing up various levels of GCSE examinations that would have strong implications for their future schooling. The intensity and pressure associated with these exams is unlike anything in the United States for students as well as teachers. At the same time, England’s Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, was calling for even more rigorous examinations in conjunction with targeted teacher training.
In one week, we met directly with or listened to an amazing line-up of forward looking thinkers in education who should be on all of our professional radars: Rob Coe (@ProfCoe), David Weston (@informed_edu), Johnnie Noakes (@JonnieNoakes), Tom Bennet (@tombennett71), Carl Hendrick (@C_Hendrick), John Tomsett (@johntomsett) and Lucy Crehan (@lucy_crehan). And if these names are not YET familiar to you, then Angela Duckworth, Sir Ken Robinson, and Carol Dweck almost certainly are. Equally important are those that we met and learned from as part of Research Schools International where at three different roundtables, led by faculty and researchers from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, we learned about school-based research being conducted around globalized learning at Mid-Pacific Institute and growth-mindset at St. George’s School and Wellington College. So what follows are some of our takeaways that we hope introduce you to important research and individuals whose research, writing, and modeling should inform how we define and develop exceptional teachers on either side of the Atlantic and how we design and deliver schools and curriculum that challenges and supports students, that is researched informed, and that prepares students for the complex, globalized world they will inherit.
Ian is a native of England and even though Glenn has been to London three previous times, he never ventured into the North and the city of Durham. If you are a fan of the author Bill Bryson, you might recall reading his declaration about Durham, “It’s a perfect little city. If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. Take my car. It’s wonderful.” Keep in mind that Mr. Bryson was once the Chancellor of Durham University.
But it wasn’t Bryson’s suggestion that drew us to Durham, it was the Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring that is directed by Professor Rob Coe. We came to further understand the research of Professor Coe and his team, including Dr. Stuart Kime (@StuartKime) and Dr. Christine Merrell (@CHMerrell), and to consider how it could be used to develop a professional growth framework that we are designing for the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. Our interest was also sparked by some adaptive learning assessments that Dr. Coe and his team have been using on a large scale in the UK and to see how they might translate to schools on the other side of the Atlantic.
Now, we have heard that the British are kind people but after six-hours with us (including a great lunch) we can safely say Rob and his team were overly generous. We took away many things from this idea exchange, but particularly important were a much greater appreciation for the obtaining, evaluation and use of evidence, and our heightened sense of the value of feedback, meta-cognition and peer-tutoring that was highlighted in the “Teaching and Learning Toolkit” that Professor Coe co-authored (which, among other great statistics, is now used by 64% of school leaders in the UK). While this is pitched primarily for English schools with English students, the research it analyzes comes from all over the globe, and it should certainly draw the attention of state-side teachers, school leaders, and policymakers.
After indulging on our first “proper” fish and chips of the trip we headed south to one of the most famous schools in England and possibly the world, Eton College. It was highly suggested that we meet up with Johnnie Noakes, the Director of The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research. Any stereotypes of Eton were quickly broken as Johnnie gave us a quick history lesson of the school that was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI for 70 poor boys. While the student population has increased to 1300 and certainly includes the aristocrats of English society it remains true to its mission of public purpose, for example, connecting its boys to area state school students as tutors, and by collaborative projects conducted by the Centre for Innovation and Research that seek to push the mark on “what is great teaching?” and disseminate this research knowledge – a purpose so similar to the CTTL at St. Andrew’s. It was great to see the expansive library of the Centre that includes authors such as John Hattie (Visible Learning) and Martin Stephen (Educating the More Abled Student). It was also privilege to exchange ideas about each of our centers and to imagine ways our teachers and students might virtually collaborate in the coming years. Walking out of Windsor to catch our train to England’s capital for the night we were excited about the growing collection of schools, old such as Eton (575 years) or young such as St. Andrew’s in Potomac, Maryland (38 years) that are each looking to use research to inform the practice of teachers and to enhance learning for all students.
The next morning we found ourselves meeting up with David Weston, the founder and director of the Teacher Development Trust. We had previously met David at the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York as he presented at the ResearchEd conference held there in the spring of 2015. The Trust’s mission is “Dedicated to improving the educational outcomes of children by ensuring they experience the most effective learning. [The Trust] is raising awareness of the importance of professional development and building tools to help teachers to transform their practice and achieve success for all their pupils.” We sought David’s advice on a tiered Mind, Brain, and Education Science Professional Growth Framework that we were building for teachers and school leaders. David’s perspective was invaluable and he directed us to think deeply about how change actually happens in schools and among teachers as he directed us, like Rob Coe had, to the “Teaching and Learning Toolkit.” We suspect that one-day soon David will be a name under consideration by, or even for, England’s Secretary of Education. He certainly has our vote and for now, we suggest you check out his Tedx Grand Rapids talk, “Unleashing Greatness in Teachers.”
After saying goodbye to David it was off to Wellington College, in Crowthorne, England, which founded and continues to host the Sunday Times Festival of Education. The school’s head, Anthony Seldon, is a force of nature who clearly enjoys provoking teachers, school leaders, and policymakers to both defend and reimagine their vision of teaching and schools. Many themes percolated throughout the Festival’s 150+ sessions. We particularly enjoyed idea exchanges around the role research can play in informing school change, teacher training, and curriculum innovation as well as debates on the question of whether or not “Teaching is an Art or a Science?” Similar to the United States, the debate over the short and long term benefits of school and university tests were also heated and we found that despite the English’s reputation for politeness, they are ferocious debaters and we were glad to be introduced to the Battle of Ideas and the strong convictions of Claire Fox (@Fox_Claire) the director of the Institute of Ideas.
There were far fewer presentations around technology than we expected and only a limited number of subject specific programs. We particularly enjoyed the passion of Nvellie Gwynne and his thoughts on how to better teach Latin. We were inspired, and jealous, of the travels and observations of Lucy Crehan (@lucy_crehan) who visited the “known for great schools” countries: Finland, Canada, Singapore, Japan, and China (focusing on Shanghai) and who will be soon sharing her work in a self-published book about the experience titled Cleverlands. We were introduced to new books titled, What if Everything We Knew About Education Was Wrong?, Trivium 21c, The Seven Myths of Education, How to Get the Most Out of Homework without Really Setting It and This Much I Know About Love Over Fear: Creating a Culture for Truly Great Teaching. It was great to walk amongst the authors and to listen to their publishing stories as we work to bring our own book, Neuroteach, to educators sometime in 2016. But one of the highlights of the festival for us was seeing the first publication from Wellington College’s Learning and Research Centre that was inspired by our own Think Differently and Deeply that Research Lead Carl Hendrick learned about during his visit to our school in the fall of 2014. We challenged Carl and his colleagues to produce their own publication and we were excited to see the results and look forward to seeing what both our centers can produce in volume two.
Within the Festival of Education there was a smaller conference for those schools, like ours (St. Andrew’s) that are part of Research Schools International (RSI). We were there to share research that took place in the United States (Mid-Pacific Institute, St. George’s School, Pine Village Spanish Immersion School, and St. Andrew’s), England (Bedales School and Wellington College), Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Ecuador, and Australia. Dr. Christina Hinton, and her team that includes Dr. Bruno della Chiesa, brought this group together to explore the research each of these schools are doing in partnership with researchers and faculty from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who lead RSI. Despite our geographic differences there emerged a common theme among research projects around topics such as globalized learning and what continues to be called—to our dismay—the non-cognitive factors associated with learning (growth mindset, mindfulness, grit, and happiness, compassion, motivation, and care). Our dismay comes from our knowing, from research, of the role emotions play in learning and thinking so we look forward to someone finally developing a better term than “non-cognitive” or what have also been termed “soft” skills.
Exhausted but invigorated it was time for Glenn to head back to the states and for Ian to lose himself in his native country for one more week. It was a privilege and a delight to spend time in a country with a vigorous and passionate dialogue on “how do we improve the craft and profession of teaching – and thus improve the learning for all our students?” Everyone in the U.K. reminded us that it was far from a rosy picture so don’t get too carried away, but the nature of this question is so very different, so much more optimistic for changes that will improve learning across the whole range of schools and students, than the debate in the US which is so dominated by high stakes, narrow focus standardized tests. We are certainly curious to see how the push the English government is making toward “evidenced-based teaching” balances out with their continued commitment to measuring student learning through rigorous, standardized assessment. We are excited to have new research about how to prioritize the professional development program for our colleagues at St. Andrew’s who continually are exploring ways to enhance the knowledge of their subjects and the pedagogical strategies that will enhance learning and the experience of being a student. We are thankful to have formed new allies with teachers, school leaders, and policymakers who recognize, as David Weston pointed out at the end of his TedX presentation that, “If we want the best for our children, let’s do the best for our teachers.”