Some Thoughts on Best Practice

I was recently pulling some thoughts together from the BLC conference. A session on Northern Ireland’s educational system was particularly interesting. The speaker characterized “best practice” as a top-down approach.

He also mentioned an article that was extremely influential in European school reform entitled Education Epidemic. The article was written in 2003 by DH Hargreaves and published by London-based think tank called Demos.

What is meant by ‘good practice’? Sometimes it refers to standard practices that are considered effective, part of a profession’s repertoire or ‘custom and practice’. Novices are expected to learn these. Sometimes the term refers to a less common or recently devised practice that is thought to be better or more effective than the standard; many innovations fall into this category, especially when they remain untested but are advocated by their creators. However, greater effectiveness is not necessarily more efficient. For example, a new practice for the teacher may help a student learn better, but the cost to the teacher, in terms of time or energy, may be so great that the costs of the new practice outweigh the benefits. For a practice to be a good one it should have high leverage, that is, it should have a large effect for a small energy input. A new practice of low leverage, where the energy input is disproportionate to the outcome achieved, hardly qualifies as ‘good practice’. High leverage is the key to teachers working smarter, not harder, and should be at the heart of transferred innovation.

It is interesting reading, and has much to say about where we are as a supervisory union and a state particularly in light of Vermont’s new interest in “school transformation.” My intention behind bringing staff into a collaborative platform such as Google Apps is to leverage technology in order to cultivate a culture of innovation in each of our schools, while at the same time providing a convenient means to spread those innovations that are deemed to be both “high leverage” and effective among all of our schools.

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