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Sharing practitioner enquiry results

One of the issues that can sometimes get in the way of staff thinking around practitioner enquiry is the expectation that we somehow share our results, either at the end of a particular enquiry focus, or even during the process itself. In my experience some staff can feel very threatened or insecure about sharing their findings, outcomes and insights from any enquiry process, no matter how hard senior leaders might strive to allay such fears. This post is an exploration of  why we might wish to share, as well as some simple ways that you can disseminate outcomes, that are relatively straightforward, but are nevertheless powerful tools within the enquiry process.

The first thing I would say is that we all need to see collaboration and sharing as key elements of any enquiry, not something that is bolted on at the end. For our enquiries to have the greatest impact, for ourselves, colleagues, schools, and  even the system, we need to be collaborating and sharing, not functioning in isolation. All enquiries have value, and contain learning not just for the individuals carrying them out, but also for others in the system, even when they go awry or do not have the expected impacts. Each enquiry contributes in a small way to the collective knowledge of the system as a whole, though their greatest impacts are for individual teachers and their learners. Having the input of colleagues throughout the process is beneficial to everyone, and may well help individual enquiries  develop greater insights and have deeper impacts. Beavering away on your own can be very limiting and exhausting in a number of ways. Being involved in professional dialogue, and sharing, throughout the process, is helpful to all, and should be seen as an important element of any enquiry process.

When collaboration and dialogue are expected and supported throughout, it is much more likely that deeper insights will be gained, and that pedagogical or curricular changes made will have greater impacts than the focus of any one particular enquiry. Which is one reason why school culture, built on mutual, collaborative, professional trust, is so important.

Having said that, I do think it is important that we take the time to reflect and share our final thoughts and insights after we having been enquiring into issues around improving learning for any period of time. This is important for us, as individuals, but also for colleagues, and our settings. The big question is; 'How do we do this in such a way that makes it accessible to everyone and is not seen as some sort of sword of Damocles hanging over us at the end, or beginning, of a school year?' Practitioners should not be concerned  by having to 'share' their results with colleagues, or others, and the more comfortable they become in this, the better the shared understandings. This is not a 'test' at the end of an enquiry!

How we shared our work with colleagues, was something that I never recognised as an issue, until I had to facilitate this for the staff in the two schools I was leading. After our second year involved using practitioner enquiry for professional learning, we thought it would be a good idea to finish the year with a joint CAT (Collegiate Activity Time) session, where teachers would share, for a no more than five minutes, what they had been doing, and the insights gained. in the first year we had held one to one discussions with staff for the same purpose, and to offer more support. It became quickly apparent that not everyone was comfortable sharing to a larger group of colleagues. In response, we suggested that they could present this in any way that felt comfortable to them. This could be a five minute talk through of what they did, a poster, a Powerpoint, scrapbook or any other way they felt comfortable with, but which included the key elements of their enquiry. We wanted them to share the issue they identified, the professional reading they did around this, the change they identified to test out, how they selected their focus group, how they captured data, insights gained, what worked and what didn't, in terms of impact on learning? Then, to reflect on their next steps. It sounds a lot, and it can be, but it is possible to collate this information quickly and simply.

We wanted these sessions to be relaxed, and for each teacher, and their colleagues to view them as a continuation of the conversations they had been having already throughout the year. It is amazing how teachers, or adults, who can feel completely comfortable speaking in front of a class or school, can suddenly lose that confidence when they are asked to speak in front of colleagues. One of the big changes that came out of practitioner enquiry for us, was an increase in confidence amongst staff to have those conversations and to make such presentations, both in their own school and elsewhere.

We all quickly recognised there were lots of different ways to present any enquiry results to colleagues and others. All are valid, as long as they incorporate the  key elements and learning from the enquiry process. Sharing your results and insights should be viewed as just another part of the enquiry process, one which encourages more reflection, analysis and hopefully promotes deeper insight, but one which needs to be undertaken in a way that works for you and your context.

I have been very fortunate to visit many schools to see and hear staff reporting back on enquiries and sharing their learning. Some of the ways I have seen this done are detailed below. They may help you on your own journey, or you might have found other ways that have worked particularly well for yourself or colleagues. Key is to keep such reflection and feedback proportionate and manageable. The importance of enquiry lies in the process, and how it changes your thinking and your practice, to better lead learning for all your learners. What tool works for one, may not work for another, and you may change your mind over time, that's okay and should be expected.

Some ways of feeding back on your enquiry:

1) A short written report. I would suggest two sides of A4, with bullet-points as to the main messages. Keep this succinct and focused. Can be shared easily with colleagues, school leadership and others, if desired. You could submit this beforehand, so that colleagues might consider a question or two they would like to ask at a discussion session. Some people find this easy to do, others prefer a different method.

2) A short, five minute, presentation on your enquiry. Again, keep to the main points of the process, followed by your reflections and insights. Photos, either on a screen or to hand around, as your speaking can help inform what you are saying, and deflect some of the attention from yourself. Generally, pictures and illustrations mean less words and make information more accessible.

3) A Powerpoint, or other tech tool, of no more than ten slides, that tells the story of your enquiry, leave a little time for questions. Keep the writing on each slide to a minimum and illustrate with photos to tell the story. Again, this deflects attention from the speaker, and onto the message and your insights. As this is a tech tool, it is easy to share a copy with colleagues following your presentation.

4) Produce a poster of your enquiry process. When we first did this, the posters were created by hand, and we left it to the individuals to design their own posters, again asking them to include all the key elements. Some used technology to produce a poster, and eventually we had some produced professionally, as research posters, after we had provided staff with a range of templates they could use. Such research posters have become more and more common in higher education, especially for short presentations. These can be photographed for further distribution.

5) Keep a scrap-book or illustrated diary of your enquiry process. Some staff prefer this method and theses records are easy to share or talk through with colleagues. They should include photos and samples of work, as well as the insights you gained from your analysis of the enquiry data. Pictures and illustrations can be very powerful in helping you explain your enquiry, especially when accompanied by one or two thoughtful sentences of  explanation.

6) Instead of having whole staff sharing sessions, you can break this down into small groups or triads, who share their findings, using any of the above methods. Some staff will feel a lot more comfortable in this type of structure, and it can produce more focus and engagement, depending on how it is organised. For example these could be organised in departments in secondary settings, or by focus of the enquiry, or across stages in primary settings. One person from each triad could feed back to another one, to help spread information shared.

7) I visited North Berwick High School to see staff talk about the impact of their enquiries. All staff who had carried out an enquiry presented their results on 'washing-lines' hung up in the school hall. They produced an item of clothing, T-shirt, pants, trousers, etc., which they had drawn on card or sugar paper, and onto which they put details of their enquiry process and outcomes. These were hung on string lines around the hall. Staff could wander around looking at the 'washing' and asking questions about the different enquiries. Some staff still gave more formal presentations, but I did think this was an innovative and creative way to present some very powerful enquiries, which was completely accessible and non-threatening to participants.

8) You could provide staff with an electronic pro-forma which they then populate. This would be an aide-memoire to the enquiry process itself, but would remove the pressure of having to think about how you are going to present your work, rather than focusing on the process itself, and your learning from it. Such a tool would include something like the following headings:

Issue:
Enquiry question:
Baseline data:
Professional reading:
Focus group and criteria:
Intervention or change implemented:
Re-collection of data:
Analysis of data: 
Evaluation of enquiry and of impact for learners:
Next steps:

It should not take staff too long to complete this, some of it as they go, and can be shared easily as a starting point for more dialogue with colleagues or others. Its the thinking behind the answers that's really important, not so much the answers themselves. Conversation about these can tease out the nuances of the enquiry outcomes and the process.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to present enquiry results, but all of them are relatively quick and simple to do. The whole point of considering how to present the results of any enquiry is to promote further thinking and reflection of enquirers. Enquiry is complex and needs to be seen as organic, changing as we go, rather than a mechanical, linear process. Anything that causes us to keep thinking and reflecting is to be welcomed, and hopefully leads us towards those dispositions of enquiry that Marylyn Cochran_Smith and Susan Lytle, and others, have spoken of.

Some other positive by-products of such reporting is we are completing meaningful self-evaluation  for ourselves as individuals, and for the setting in which we work. We are demonstrating in a real way how we are meeting the GTCS Professional Standards and are using the Model For Professional Learning to inform our own learning as adults and professionals. We are also demonstrating a focused, voluntary collaboration that will produce individual and collective improvement. But, most importantly of all, we are articulating how we are striving to improve learning outcomes for all our learners, by better understanding ourselves and our impacts on that learning.

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