On designing phronetic professional development tools

I haven’t written anything for some time now (about a month!), for which I’m both sorry and a little annoyed. But enough of self-flagellation…

The reason for not writing in so long is that Jack (my colleague) and I have set ourselves the challenge of creating an online, evidence-based professional development tool for teachers and school leaders who want to learn how to use research and evaluation techniques in their schools. A what?!

The Research Support Partnership Course

When we set up evidencebased.education, we decided that we would aim to create professional development tools which would align with the best available evidence on teacher professional development, but which would also be pragmatic. We wanted to bring together the contextual, professional knowledge and experience of those who know their schools so intimately, with the best available research evidence and evaluation techniques; finally, we wanted to add into this our own experience of helping school leaders and their teachers become more ‘evidence-based’. So we used sources such as the Teacher Development Trust’s ‘Developing Great Teaching’ (Higgins, Cordingley et al. 2015) report, as well as literature about the Aristotelian idea of phronesis or ‘practical wisdom’ (Biesta 2007, Brown 2009, Flyvbjerg, Clegg et al. 2014). And the result of all this? Well, we’re not finished yet, but what is emerging is the online Research Support Partnership Course. Here are a few of its features:

  1. It lasts between one and three years (depending on a school’s needs);
  2. It is online;
  3. It encourages in-school experimentation and collaboration with colleagues;
  4. It engages school leaders;
  5. It includes input from us (external expertise), consolidation and support activities, and we’re always at the end of the phone to answer questions;
  6. It uses a ‘drip-feed’ method to space out the learning (approximately six hours every three to four weeks);
  7. It acknowledges differentiation is important and allows learners to progress at their own pace;
  8. It uses a variety of activities to create learning opportunities;
  9. It focuses on translating and embedding learning into practice;
  10. It places us (evidencebased.education) in the role of coach / mentor, with teachers taking a leading role in their learning.

Because we view professional learning as inherently-linked to changes in behaviours and actions, we have also drawn upon the EAST Framework (Service, Hallsworth et al. 2014) from the Behavioural Insights Team. EAST stands for Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely.

Have we created something which engages teachers and school leaders in professional learning about research and evaluation? Yes. Have we created something which is based on the best available evidence and is seeks to develop phronesis? Yes. Does it work? We’ll find out!

The journey continues on this one, and it’s an exciting ride. We remain true to our mission of empowering and supporting schools to use research evidence and evaluation techniques for the purpose of improving valued outcomes. If you want to join us, or simply learn more, drop me an email: stuart@evidencebased.education.


Biesta, G. (2007). “Why “what works” won’t work: Evidence‐based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research.” Educational theory 57(1): 1-22.

Brown, L., Ed. (2009). The Nichomachean Ethics. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Flyvbjerg, B., et al. (2014). “Reflections on Phronetic Social Science: A Dialogue between Stewart Clegg, Bent Flyvbjerg, and Mark Haugaard.” Journal of Political Power.

Higgins, S. E., et al. (2015). Developing Great Teaching, Teacher Development Trust.

Service, O., et al. (2014). EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights, Behavioural Insights Team.

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