Evidence-Based Learning at School

Findings of the project and measures taken

Resulting from the cooperation with our Swedish project partners we can present the following findings and measures:

1. Insight into Swedish school system and school inspection

We have received a good overview and, in some instances, insight into the Swedish school system, through regular and often very intensive professional exchanges and personal encounters. In particular, we received deepened insight into the management structures and the work of school inspection.

The insight into another national school system has once again given us a view of the European dimension of education, in a most intense manner. It has opened up our eyes even more to other forms, structures and approaches. Our ability to learn from others and to put what we learned into practice was strengthened through this. For both partners in this Comenius Regio Project, Europe was thus no longer just an idea, but a living impulse for our work in school inspection.

We were able to gather some impulses beyond the increase in knowledge. Some encouraged us on our already-chosen path (for example, the Swedish handling of resistances in the implementation of innovations). Others are still being discussed. And others have already been put into practice:

2. “Learning conversation“ – a method for the implementation of innovations in the school system

As part of our participation in the Comenius project, we have been introduced to the “Learning Conversation” method by our Swedish partners. Our Swedish colleagues continually impress us in that many of their meetings are designed using this method, and they have achieved very good results using this.

What is discussed in a „Learning Conversation“?

  • A learning conversation is a method that finds solutions that will be supported by all or most of the employees and/or persons concerned.
  • The study group should consist of a maximum of 7 persons.
  • At the beginning of the “learning conversation,” a moderator, a timekeeper and a minutes notetaker should be determined.
  • The study group then receives a study topic called “learning question”.
  • Within a period of time set by the moderator (2-5 minutes), each participant must think about the study topic. These thoughts are written on Post-its – one Post-it per thought.
  • In the next section, each participant now receives a fixed period of time (approximately 2 to 3 minutes), in which they present their ideas to the group. Each participant will receive the same amount of time and will have to contribute. The first participant starts by affixing their thoughts on a poster with the help of Post-its. The presentations should not be interrupted. The moderator ensures that everyone observes this rule. The timekeeper ensures that the time periods are strictly adhered to.
  • At the end, clarifying questions may be asked; however, no criticism and no judgement should be included. Then it is the next participant’s turn. This participant also fixes their thoughts onto the poster with Post-its. If they have similar issues to their predecessor, then the note sheets will immediately be sorted thematically. All other conditions remain the same. The participants each have their turn.
  • After each person has had a turn, the poster is then jointly considered and it is discussed whether or not the thematic bundling makes sense. Changes can be made here. Headings for the subject areas are then sought, as well as first solutions or other study topics, from which further action can be planned.
  • As the minutes are noted, all results are compiled at the end and can be given to the participants.

Adoption of this central method for Western Upper Bavaria

Rationale for the adoption

  • Each person in the group has their say. In this way, people who like to take control of the conversation are sowed down somewhat, and others who are usually quieter can make their contribution.
  • The contributions are much more honest than in the usual group processes: they are first formulated alone, and for the first presentation there are no commentaries or criticisms. Only in the third step is the contribution discussed.
  • Everyone participates and contributes to the result, which fosters commitment. Thus, each person is a part of the solution.
  • The solutions to an issue are also sought within the group.

Testing of the “learning conversation“

For these reasons, we have decided to present the method to our leadership staff. As part of  regional teacher training, all deputy vice presidents and all second deputy vice presidents of the inspection district have been familiarized with this method. They have even taken part in a “learning conversation” and have familiarized themselves with the positive aspects.

Application for leadership staff

This method will be introduced step by step in other leadership staff training, as a method, but also as a way of achieving a certain goal.

Application in the training

The staff of ministerial representatives will be introduced to this method in autumn. The aim is to implement “learning conversations” into many regional training programs.

Application in schools

This method will also reach the secondary schools in the supervisory region through the schools’ leadership teams. It will, however, take some time before it reaches them significantly.

As has been common in Western Upper Bavaria since the restructuring in regional teachers’ training, the participant is always obliged to apply the newly acquired knowledge. They should perform the learning conversation method in their area of work with a group from their area of responsibility. The evaluation of our training has been very positive so far.

3. Scientific support and advice on ongoing school development processes

The Swedish structure that delegated scientists from the universities at all levels of the school supervision is unknown in the Bavarian school system (and cannot be applied so easily).

We were, however, very convinced by the very relevant assignment and monitoring and the related mutual positive influencing. This approach also represents the exact intended meta-objective of the project: putting more evidence-based, general valid results grounded in educational research into practice. We have tried to adapt this idea into our system in our own way:

  • Even more lecturers for training from the university fields, especially for leadership training
  • More cooperation between university facilities and regional teacher training. A three-day “Day of Mathematics” for teachers was organized in December 2014, for example, a collaboration among the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, the Pedagogical Institute in Munich and our office.
  • Changing the focus in financing. The existing resources will be used more for scientific speakers.

4. New ideas for continuing professional development of teachers

Our restructuring of regional teacher training was also done during the time of the joint Comenius Regio project. The new concept was already in the making and already had an evidence-based approach. This was strengthened by the first discussions with the Swedish partners (see: Regional Teacher’s Training for Secondary Schools in Western Upper Bavaria). On the meta-level, the partnership helped us clearly in the clarification of our approaches and supported our journey.

However, since there is no regional training in this central way in Sweden (but the training impulse occurs more within the school), there were fewer tangible impulses than expected in this area.

5. Impulses for continuing professional development of leadership staff

Both partners in the project have similar approaches when it comes to the quality development of the supervisory and leadership staff for schools. Both experience the same challenges and resistances in the implementation of innovations. Both encouraged each other in their desires to drive the mindset at the management levels of schools.

Therefore the exchange made possible through Comenius Regio was very helpful.

6. Conclusion

The benefits derived through this two-year project for our agency have gone above and beyond expectations. We will continue the impulses obtained and the practical implementation. We will also always allude to the source of these impulses, namely this European Educational Programme, and will apply again in due course for another Comenius Regio project.

We are very thankful for the facilitation of such an intensive exchange with the European Community!

Ernst Fischer
Ltd. RSD as Ministerial Representative for modern secondary schools in Western Upper Bavaria