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The Evidence Quarter

The EQ Guest Speaker:
Dr Raj Chande

How can we encourage teachers to learn from each other?

7th December 2020

We were very excited to welcome Dr Raj Chande as an EQ guest speaker. Raj is an Expert Advisor in Education and Skills at The Behavioural Insights Team and a maths teacher at a secondary school in East London. He joined the Behavioural Insights Team in 2012, after studying an Economics masters and becoming interested in behavioural economics. Raj has worked on projects targeting higher education participation, attainment in secondary schools and further education colleges, and teacher recruitment and workload. Since 2018, Raj has worked in three secondary schools in London – “one average, and two very good” – which informed what he had to say.

Raj gave an overview of the way that best practice is currently shared in schools, in the form of after school CPD presentations. He finds these are often unengaging with too much information given at once. He argued that whilst we know that children learn best when they are given one new skill at a time, it is overlooked that adults also learn best this way. Therefore for teachers, especially new ones, these dense CPD sessions are ineffective.

“My contention is, we throw so much stuff at teachers, they don’t know what to do. You don’t know how to navigate all these different things that are being brought to you, so in the end you reach for a few things which somehow get you through the day and then you grip on to those. CPD as it’s currently designed in the schools that I’ve seen is not really helping teachers with what’s on their mind as being the immediate problems they have.”

Using an engaging metaphor of making a bolognese, Raj argued that teachers should be given the templates – or ‘ingredients’ – for lessons that work. “Enough abstract philosophising about what it means to be a bolognese, and more ‘here are ingredients, use them like this’. Give them the ingredients”. Raj believes teachers should be given actual examples of good lessons, rather than telling them in an abstract way what should be in lessons. Importantly, teachers can then replicate this template in the future. 

Raj then spoke about a Harvard study which found several principles that predicted whether or not a school would get good results. This was turned into an RCT across various schools in Houston, turning a principle into an intervention, and they found it worked. Raj believes we should do a similar thing on a smaller scale, by observing teachers within a school who are using the same lesson template, but getting better test results than others. “Let’s give teachers a structure, lesson templates of what we know works best. Then let’s experiment by observing who is delivering the best results within that structure, and then see if we can learn from that.” This could then be incorporated into the lesson template, and you begin a cycle of identifying what the best teachers are doing, and sharing that information.

In the Q&A session, we discussed whether this system might squash teachers’ creativity and independent thought. Raj believes that “encouraging teacher creativity is a sequential thing that should only be attempted when the basics are in place”. Otherwise, it is actively harmful. He believes that new teachers would rather be given more structure as they have not yet had the chance to develop good professional judgement. We also discussed how to get teachers on board without feeling threatened. Raj concluded that the system should be framed as “supporting new teachers with evidence based habits in a compassionate way that’s aimed at helping them”. 

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