John Catt Educational
25 Jun 2021
Research can be an intimidating word for teachers and school leaders. It conjures up visions of scrutiny and paperwork, and feelings of inadequacy. Yet the current educational landscape is designed to ensure we recognise its value and invest in it, so by choice or incentive, schools up and down the country are dipping their toe in this daunting world.
Teachers are reading journals, papers, articles and attending conferences to gain knowledge and a wider perspective from experts in every aspect of curriculum, pedagogy and leadership.
Graham Chisnell is someone who understands why taking that first step is scary, but also why all this engagement means it’s a really exciting time to be part of the profession. So with Irresistible Learning: Embedding a Culture of Research in Schools he has set out to help more of us over the threshold.
Anyone who starts their book with the line “I unwrapped my first guitar, a classical acoustic, on my 11th birthday” is a winner, in my opinion. But while the comparison between beginning to learn the guitar and beginning to build a research culture eases you into the book in an accessible and gentle way, in truth this is not a gentle book. It’s an in-depth, pragmatic and wholly useful text with a singular mission and an unwavering approach.
Chisnell’s book is jam-packed with brilliance. The eight key steps of his research cycle provide the book’s structure and each chapter helpfully includes the key takeaways that, put together, give you everything you need to get started with research-informed practice.
From defining the issue and building a question to be answered, to deciding on your methodology and analysing and reflecting on your findings, the book challenges your opinions of research and continues to ensure you refine your approach throughout.
What is really refreshing about Chisnell’s book is the theme of what is possible in schools. His lived experience of schools and his current role in school leadership mean he is a realist. He understands the challenges teachers face with workload and accountability, and manages to embed his research culture among it, rather than adding to it.
The biggest challenge is the culture shift, which really does have to come from the senior leadership team in order to be successful. With this in mind, Irresistible Learning offers a complete guide to making research not just part of the practice but part of the ethos of your school.
But the book isn’t simply aimed at school leaders. It offers tips for influencing and driving a research culture from any position in a school. Chisnell talks about the importance of justifying change, knowing your team, building trust and having integrity, which is just really good culture setting, whether its focus is research or something else.
And throughout, the theory is backed up with evidence from Chisnell’s own practice. He writes with pride about his staff approaching this new way of working and about their lightbulb moments. But he doesn’t shy away from the realities of challenging conversations and opportunities for reflection either, which make his pursuit of his staff’s success all the more believable. His concept of ‘talent pathways’ and the open coaching culture he describes are certainly refreshing and unique, and the breadth of application on show gives the impression of something truly forward thinking and wholly supportive.
True to its title, Irresistible Learning doesn’t stop at lighting the research fire. It goes on to describe coaching models to ensure the fire stays lit, as well as strategies to take that culture beyond the school gates to help it spread. Its warts-and-all approach, and the lived experience in which the book is grounded, gives the reader the confidence they can beat all the challenges that will have to be faced.
Irresistible Learning is worthy of a top spot on every leader’s book pile and on every staffroom bookshelf.