How to Train, Retain and Research with Dr. Phil Wood – PP147

Kevin Mulryne
Kevin Mulryne
Paul Dix
Paul Dix

Dr. Phil Wood is a former geography teacher, subject leader and AST and is now at the School of Education at Leicester University. His research is about changing pedagogy and challenging organisations and teachers to look at their pedagogy. Phil is also an associate trainer with Independent Thinking.


Phil is concerned that a lot of schools are now driven by numeric data and senior leadership teams are concentrating on accountability rather than being part of the extended group of teachers. He would prefer to see accountability being more community-led rather than being driven by improvement targets based exclusively on exam data. He thinks this is partly due to the ways in which headteachers are judged at the moment – a bit like football managers – by their most recent set of results. Phil advocates a more nuanced and multi-channel approach which takes account of much more long-term aspects.

What is the ‘what works’ agenda and what’s wrong with it?

Phil explains that the ‘what works’ agenda is based on the flawed premise that there are ‘end of the rainbow’ solutions to all the issues around pedagogy. If only we can find them, they will present us with all the solutions to our problems.

This is shown in the recent fetish for randomised control trials and certain elements of systematic reviews. Once you understand ‘what works’ it can then be applied to all contexts and thus the whole job of pedagogy becomes quite simple.

Phil sees this massive reduction of complexity as impossible. It’s not chaotic – you can see patterns and work out what approaches have the best chance of working well but the place of the teacher is always to mediate this – to work out which of the better-evidenced ideas are going to work in their context.

The way this has been implemented in recent years – to attempt to create speedy change – has meant that nothing has the time it needs to be embedded, monitored and analysed.

How do we give teachers in training access to the thought processes of expert teachers?

Phil has been involved in trying to embed lesson study into teaching practice. Because of time and other pressures, student teachers can be ‘running parallel’ to the department they are in. They tend to be planning alone and maybe getting a little feedback on their plans from their mentor but then they go back into working by themselves. To counter this, Phil had the mentor and student teacher working much more closely together. Lessons were taught in threes – the first by the mentor which the pair would then evaluate and plan an amended version for the student teacher to deliver to a parallel group. Thus, the expert teacher was opening up their own thought processes to give the student involvement in and access to them. The student is part of the discussion and learning a whole raft of different aspects of the lesson planning and delivering process from the expert teacher.

This makes it much easier for the expert teacher to share their experience where they might find it much more difficult to explain in a de-contextualised manner.

Feedback from students teachers has been very positive as they feel involved in the process and are learning a great deal from the expert teachers. The expert teachers are also happy with the process because they can gain new ideas fro the students and also develop their own practice by having the opportunity to analyse it for this purpose.

Are teachers too busy to engage in research beyond their classroom?

Phil points out there are different kinds of engagement in research from reading digests to engaging in practical classroom-based research. There has been a reduction in those who feel able to be involved in research as the pressures of teaching have grown in recent years. However, there are plenty of examples of great practice underway, for example a small study Phil is involved in to do with growth mindset.

This is much likely in a Multi-Academy Trust or Teaching School Alliance or where individuals are keen. Partnerships with universities can be extremely productive but Phil believes it has been counter-productive in recent years that the impression has been given that research is easy and quick – the best research is very a time-consuming and taxing process.

However, Phil does see research as a core activity for a profession that wants to be sustainable and truly professional – tie should be devoted to it and it shouldn’t be seen as something you need to give up your own time to get involved in.

Can you train a teacher in six weeks?

Phil believes this is impossible and in fact there is evidence to suggest that what Phil and his colleagues refer to as ‘pedagogic literacy’ can only be fully developed over a whole career.

There is always more you can do. You never reach the end point.

If pushed, Phil would recommend a two-year course, based in schools but with proper partnership with universities. Then there must be development throughout the career.

Can teacher work be reformed to aid teacher retention?

Phil believes that bringing back trust in teachers but blended with a genuine sense of responsibility leads to getting more out of people. This also means that vast amounts of paperwork can be eliminated which exist in a hyper-accountability system where the majority of it has nothing to do with children’s learning.

Alongside this, you have to accept there will be lots of people who will teach in different ways. As long as it is evidenced, it should be allowed.

Is behaviour training in universities really that bad?

Phil says that it isn’t. The best way of training in behaviour is in the classroom and so schools who have systems in place to support the students while they train are the most effective, with the support of universities. As Paul points out very few trainee teachers sit down with their mentors and plan for behaviour.

Phil on Twitter: @complexsoc1


Independent Thinking page:

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