Improving trust, improving schools: findings from a social network analysis of 43 primary schools in England

Christopher David Brown, Alan J Daly, Yi-Hwa Liou

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    Purpose – Many governments worldwide are now promoting the importance of research-informed efforts at improvement. At the same time research is yet to make sustained impact on the practices of teachers. Given the importance of the issue and the lack of progress in this area, the purpose of this paper is to examine what drives teachers’ perceptions that their school: first, encourages the use of research evidence to support improvements to teaching; and second, whether school improvement strategies are grounded in research on effective practice.

    Design/methodology/approach – Reviewing extant literature, the authors hypothesize that teachers’ perceptions of research use are related to their perceptions of: the presence of in-school organizational learning (OL) factors; whether they work in high-trust environments; and also to the frequency and quality of their “expertise-seeking” interactions. Using a survey instrument to measure OL, trust, and school research use climate, the authors gather data from 828 teachers in 43 schools. The authors then use social network analysis to quantify teachers’ professional relationships; with hierarchical linear regression employed to explore multilevel relationships between variables. Social network diagrams are also used to visualize the patterns of relationships between teachers/study variables.

    Findings – The analysis indicates that teachers who report the climate of their schools to be focussed on learning, experimentation, and valuing new ideas, tend to also report more use of research/evidence. Likewise, teachers who had more frequent and useful interactions around teaching and learning also report more research/evidence use (RE Use) in their schools. Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, is that higher levels of perceived trust in the school are also associated with reporting higher levels of RE Use.

    Originality/value – The results illustrate the importance of learning and trust in facilitating the types of relations needed to provide teachers with access to the research/evidence centered social capital that resides within a school. The work expands the notions of what is necessary to support the use of research/evidence in schools by placing more relational elements of the improvement equation front and center.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)69
    Number of pages91
    JournalJournal of Professional Capital and Community
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2016


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