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Behavioural Insights for Education: A practical guide for parents, teachers and school leaders


June 22, 2017 Fionnuala O’Reilly, Raj Chande and Zhi Soon

Yesterday, at the Telegraph Festival for Education here in the UK, we released our most recent publication, Behavioural Insights for Education – a practical guide for parents, teachers and school leaders. We’ve had the privilege of working with Pearson Education on this publication and are really excited to get this into the hands of parents, teachers and school leaders all around the world to help them apply behavioural insights to their respective roles in the education process.

The guide looks to equip parents, teachers and school leaders with more tools to make a difference in students’ academic lives by setting out simple techniques informed by behavioural science. While policymakers and educational researchers have traditionally focused on big ‘structural’ factors, such as class sizes or budgets, behavioural scientists have instead been looking at the details of what parents, teachers and school leaders say and do. This has identified a treasure trove of powerful insights to empower those closest to students (their parents, teachers and principals) to make a difference. The guide has a real practical bent, with exercises and activities throughout for readers to try, as a complement to the concepts and ideas discussed. It is broken down into three chapters:

Parents: this chapter focuses on how parents can use behavioural insights to help their children achieve both educational and personal goals. It includes topics like meta-cognition, self-control and mindset theory.

Teachers: this chapter provides practical ways for teachers to incorporate behavioural insights into how they teach and set up their classrooms. Topics include counteracting negative self-perceptions and providing effective feedback.

School leaders: this chapter highlights the important role of school leaders and how they can apply behavioural insights to address some of the biggest challenges they face as heads of schools such as teacher recruitment, teacher retention and parental engagement.

The guide details old and new findings from the behavioural science literature and offers step-by-step instruction on how to incorporate these insights at home and in school. Particularly noteworthy, many of the techniques we cite have shown promise in narrowing the academic achievement gap between students from rich and poor backgrounds. We caveat ideas we think may require more research, but encourage parents, teachers and school leaders to try them out where appropriate. Whilst certainly not a silver bullet, we think that behavioural insights could be a catalyst for change in learning, teaching and school management.

We thank all those at Pearson, particularly Vikki Weston, Laurie Forcier and Dan Belenky for their continuous support in the writing of this guide and the numerous BIT staff who provided thoughtful comments on drafts. A thank you also to all the researchers whose findings are cited in the guide.

To all the parents, teachers and school leaders out there (as well as those who are not, of course), we hope you find the piece useful.

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