It's amazing what a little extra confidence can do. It can get you standing up in public to address a hall of strangers. It can help you extract money from people who don't want to give it to you. And it can push you boldly off in search of knowledge and skills.
Wendy Williams got that little extra from her work as a teacher-researcher.
Not that it was easy. Late last year, for example, she was one of three staff from a Welsh primary presenting their findings to an international professional development conference in Birmingham. "We were the only teachers there and I felt second rate, inadequate," she says. However, she soon realised that people were fascinated by their research and wanted to know more. "We had worked with real children and had genuine feedback. It was more than just academic paper talk."
The real children were the pupils of Terrace Road primary in Swansea. In 2002, the school won pound;6,000 from the General Teaching Council for Wales to run a research project on retained reflexes. Five teachers, helped over initial qualms by a higher education lecturer and a consultant in neuro-physiological delay, produced the hypothesis that "a whole-school programme using movement and music will improve attention, balance and co-ordination in primary schoolchildren and enhance children's ability to learn".
They didn't stop there. An additional hypothesis was that the teachers would benefit professionally and, given the whole-school focus of their work, that Terrace Road would gain more than if staff had pursued individual career development.
Next came the search for proof. Each of the five teachers ran their own research projects and Wendy, the school's special needs co-ordinator, collected and analysed data on selected key stage 2 pupils.
"I'm 56 and it is a while since I have done anything academic," she says.
"The research approach is very different and quite difficult to get into.
You have to understand the terminology and report writing is onerous. But once you get into the pattern of doing it, it's fine. When you go into primary teaching you have to make that effort to keep your brain active and alert, past the level you are teaching at.
"At the end we felt we had gained a better understanding of our own teaching, of children's learning and of the children as people. We set aside observation periods when we got off the classroom treadmill and went deeper into a child's mind."
They also proved their hypotheses. Most of the children made measurable improvements after just a term on the programme, particularly in reading.
And the teachers found satisfaction in the opportunity to work together and in partnership with experts, and through the systematic monitoring of pupils' progress. "We all felt it was hard, but very worthwhile. We felt we had achieved something."
Other Terrace Road staff have been inspired to follow suit. One teacher is researching the effectiveness of brain gym, another is looking at the value of counselling for young children. Meanwhile, the retained-reflexes programme is expanding. The school is moving into the wider community, winning over parents, district nurses, subject advisers, even dentists.
"Doing the research gave us the confidence to push it," says Wendy. "People had to listen even if they didn't believe, because we could show them the figures."
For more information see: Case Study Two, Primary Leadership Paper no 11.
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