Teach & Serve No. 7 – “If You’re Not Research Based, You’re Shadow Boxing”

Teach & Serve 

No. 7 * September 15, 2015


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If You’re Not Research Based, You’re Shadow Boxing

I probably should have been fired in my first years of teaching…

Here is a recreation of a conversation from early in my career as a teacher (I hope you enjoy one-act plays):

Administrator: “Why do you do what you’re doing in the classroom, Mr. Howard?”

Me: “Well, what I am doing works for my students.”

Administrator: “What do you mean ‘what I am doing’?”

Me: “I mean, my teaching strategies.” (I would have felt really smug here, using the term “teaching strategies – that reached way back into my undergrad education classes!)

Administrator: “What teaching strategies are you using?”

Me: “Oh, you know, I use Cooperative Learning and High Level Assessments and…”

Administrator (perhaps a little impatiently): “Yes, but how do you know those strategies work?”

Me (less sure of myself): “Well, ummm, the students seem to like them.”

Administrator: “The students like them?”

Me: “They seem to, yes.”

Administrator: “Do you have any reason to think those strategies the students like are actually effective?”

Me: “Do I need to get my resume together?”

Okay, so that’s something of a fictional recreation (the biggest fiction, perhaps, the idea that any administrator for whom I was working was really going to ask me about data), but it’s actually very reflective of the thought process I had 20-odd years back. I loved teaching English. I liked the majority of my students. I could wow them with my knowledge of A Prayer for Owen Meany or Macbeth and wasn’t that enough?

I wrote quizzes, though I don’t remember what rationale I ever employed when doing so. I wrote tests, but I have no idea what learning outcomes I was trying to assess with them. I gave assignments and even graded (most) of them, but I cannot remember giving students many standard-based rubrics on how they would be graded prior to them turning in their papers, essays or projects.

Frankly, I didn’t do much of anything that was research based.

I’d love to suggest that, when I’d been in high school education for a decade, that all changed. I would love to tell you that, when I became an administrator I had a revelation and understood that I needed to become well versed and up-to-date in my knowledge of current educational trends and research. But, no, that wouldn’t be accurate.

I made many decisions as an administrator the same way I did as a classroom teacher. If things “felt” right, they probably were. I was (and hope I remain) a pretty smart guy and I made pretty good decisions most of the time. See all the equivocations there?

Educational ResearchHere’s a fact about many educators which was certainly true in the early years of my career: we often shy away from research and professional development because we’re aware that the research and “best practices” tend to change as soon as the next “leading voice” in education is published. I’ve often heard veteran colleagues say of a new initiative “oh, I saw this 20 years ago when it was called ‘the new math’” or some other like comment.

Okay, fine. I get it. You’ve seen it all.

Further, I get that you often make good decisions based on your experience. I trust that. I value it.

But, but… BUT!

There is solid research available to educators – research on the adolescent brain, on executive function, on the efficacy of homework. There is research on the best ways to structure lesson plans, the best ways to engage reluctant learners, the best ways to differentiate teaching. There is research on the best technologies to use in the classroom and the technologies that don’t work in the classroom.

There. Is. Research.

So, why are we often reluctant to access it?

Well, there’s an awful lot of it, and it’s all readily available. Also, some of it is conflicting. And, importantly, our administrators are not always clear on what data they want to use to make decisions. They are not always clear on what research is research they trust.

Okay, okay, okay. I get it. I got it. I thought that research would slow me down. I treated it like something to be avoided. I was aware that I might have to change what I was doing if my school started to adhere to research, to data, to measurables in its decision-making.

I am a little more seasoned now. I understand a little better that, while I primarily made good decisions as a teacher and an administrator, they didn’t have feet. They didn’t have grounding.

They didn’t have research.

Folks, if you’re not researched based in your curricular and leadership decisions, you’re simply shadow boxing. You may land a few punches, you may score a few knockouts but, at the end of the day, you’re simply lucky.

And, sometimes, unlucky.

Find the research that resonates with you. Learn about why you’re doing what you do. Pull the data that makes sense.

There’s no need to shadow box… there’s every need to research.

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4 Comments

Filed under Education, Education Blog, Ignatian Education, Jesuit Education, Teacher, Teacher Blog, Teaching

4 responses to “Teach & Serve No. 7 – “If You’re Not Research Based, You’re Shadow Boxing”

  1. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 8 – “Have I Properly Confused You?” | And There Came a Day...

  2. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 9 – Gratitude – Saying “Thank You” | And There Came a Day...

  3. Pingback: Teach & Serve No. 10 – Being Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable | And There Came a Day...

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