“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
– Alan Kay
For many years the teaching profession has been familiar with the term ‘best practice’; sharing what is working well in one setting so that it might be implemented in another. It is happening within schools, between schools at conferences and TeachMeets, and online through both ‘top-down’ websites and ‘bottom up’ blogs from teachers.
Even the recent review of the English National Curriculum has been influenced by a comprehensive review of ‘best practice’ in different subjects from across the world (DfE, 2012). There is a problem with taking such practice at face value. The ‘best practice’ that is often held up is Finland due to the high levels achieved in international PISA league tables (OECD, 2009). However, when looking at international comparisons ‘best practice’ is only part of the story. Practice in schools is coupled with the Finnish culture, which places a high value on academic achievement, and a high status for their teaching profession. How can we replicate Finnish achievement unless we take the complexities of Finnish culture and implant them on the English?
The first head I worked with, Neil Hopkin, used to talk about needing to replace the quest for ‘best practice’ with the search for ‘next practice’ (Hopkin, 2010, Deakin Crick et al, 2011). I always used to think this meant that aiming for today’s best practice resulted in achieving the best of yesterday. By aiming to invent the future rather than re-hash the past you would create the ‘current’ best practice.
It has taken me three years to realise it is more complicated than that, for my initial conception implies that one day you will invent the future and reach your goal; get to the ‘next’ and stop.
Recently I have realised that ‘next practice’ is not about the goal, it is about the journey. A commitment to ‘next practice’ is a commitment to continually develop what you are doing in the context in which it is situated. In most cases this is going to take a fair bit of learning from others, of looking at the current ‘best practice’, but fundamentally I think it is not about emulation but about a research based approach to constant evaluation and development.
‘Next practice’ is a commitment to a process not an end product. In moving from ‘best practice’ to ‘next practice’ we acknowledge that the best solutions come from development, not imposition. Perhaps a process of development that never stops should be our real goal.
Deakin Crick R., Jelfs H., Huang S. & Wang, Q. (2011) Learning Futures Final Report, University of Bristol. Available at: http://learningemergence.net/technical-reports-2/learning-futures-evaluation-2011/ (Accessed 12th July 2012).
DfE (2012), Review of the National Curriculum in England: What can we learn from the English, mathematics and science curricula of high-performing jurisdictions?. Available at: https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-RR178 (Accessed 13th July 2012).
Hopkin, N. (2010), ‘Energising Education’, December 6th 2010, in Neil Hopkin’s Blog. Available at: http://neilhopkin.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/energising-education/ (Accessed 13th July 2012).
OECD (2009), OECD Programme for International Student Assessment: PISA 2009 Results. Available at www.oecd.org/edu/pisa/2009 (Accessed 12th July 2012)