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Evidence-informed practice

The Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership (the Academy) has legislated functions that include:

“to improve public confidence in the teaching profession and schools in Victoria through the promotion of the use of evidence-informed practice amongst school leaders and teachers…”.

The Academy is also legislated:

  • “to develop and publish guidance materials and resources for use by providers of professional learning programs ...
  • to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of the Academy's professional learning programs, including in relation to teaching practice and outcomes for students and
  • to provide advice to the Minister and the Department in relation to… school leadership… and teaching and professional practice… and professional learning”.

This means that the professional learning that the Academy offers, the materials and resources produced, and the advice provided by the Academy should all be ‘evidence-informed’ and contribute to ‘evidence-informed practice’.

What is evidence-informed practice?

As outlined above, the Academy’s legislation refers to evidence-informed practice. In common use, this term is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘evidence-based practice’. For the avoidance of doubt, the work of the Academy and this paper are focused on evidence-informed practice.

Burns (2023) notes that evidence-informed policy and practice in education continues to evolve and has the potential to result in ’the development of better evidence ecosystems‘ (p.2). Burns contends that there is an international shift in focus from policy to practice in education.

Much of the Victorian policy and resources for teachers and school leaders produced by the Department of Education (DE) are based on evidence to inform their creation, but the department does not have a documented approach to the use of evidence for school improvement or professional learning.

Writing in the journal Social Work in Health Care, Epstein (2009) notes that evidence-based practice is focused on previous research while decisions by professionals utilising evidence-informed practice includes previous research but is not limited by it. As Epstein puts it, evidence-informed practice is more inclusive than evidence-based practice.

The New South Wales Government Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) suggest evidence-informed practice is ‘using evidence to design, implement and improve…’. They state that this evidence can include research evidence, lived experience, practitioner expertise and local knowledge. Given the context of the DCJ, they also include ‘client voice’ as a source of evidence. This is also an appropriate approach in education.

Context matters

The Academy operates in the education field and that broad context has its own requirements in terms of understanding and applying evidence-informed practice.

The context of the education field is one aspect to consider. We also work with teachers and school leaders in every conceivable context of classroom and school including socioeconomic, geographical, financial, sectoral, cultural, maturity, scale, age, school type including special schools, and many other aspects.

A further challenge includes our encouragement in professional learning programs of the use of individual problems of practice from teaching and learning contexts across Victoria. There is a very large and wide range of evidence that could be called upon to identify, address and monitor these problems of practice.

Given its context(s), the Academy, therefore, adopts an inclusive and context-relevant understanding of evidence-informed practice in school education to include, and be influenced by:

  • robust research evidence (Coldwell et al. 2017)
  • school and student data
  • teacher and leader inquiry knowledge
  • the lived experience of teachers, school and system leaders
  • teacher and leader practitioner expertise and local knowledge
  • student voice.

We note that what might be evidence-informed for one context may not be equally applicable in all other contexts. There are few universal truths in evidence about excellent teaching or leadership that will apply equally or in the same ways in any two contexts. That said, there is likely in many cases to be high level evidence that applies, regardless of context.

The department offers resources to support teachers and school leaders, including the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO), which also utilise various forms of evidence to inform their design. One example of such evidence might be the Victorian Teaching and Learning Model (VTLM) that outlines the elements of learning and teaching that support best practice in Victorian classrooms, including a focus on explicit teaching.

The Academy’s position includes the understanding that the most powerful student outcomes from professional learning are likely to be achieved through:

  • trusting the teacher or school leader as an expert in their context
  • encouraging and supporting teacher and school leaders to consider and integrate multiple sources of evidence (including evidence-informed department resources and support) while inquiring into, reflecting on, and making changes to, their practice and the impact that has on student outcomes in their context.

To contribute to a functioning evidence ecosystem in education, as Burns (2023) suggests is required, the Academy supports teachers and school leaders to understand how to:

  • select and evaluate appropriate sources of evidence to apply to their practice, in their context
  • monitor the effectiveness of this application on their practice and student outcomes
  • work on continuous improvement over time.

The Academy website has up to date program and resource information. You may also wish to sign up to the Academy Connect e-newsletter.

 

References

Burns, T. (2023). The evolution of evidence-informed policy and practice: An international perspective. Centre for Strategic Education.

Epstein, I. (2009). Promoting harmony where there is commonly conflict: Evidence‐informed practice as an integrative strategy. Social Work in Health Care, 48, 216–231.

Coldwell, M., Greany, T., Higgins, S. Brown, C., Maxwell, B., Steill, B., Stoll, L., Willis, B. and Burns, H. (2017). Evidence-informed teaching: An evaluation of progress in England, UK, 2017. Department of Education.

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