An evidence-informed, collaborative professional learning resource for teacher leaders and other leaders working within and across schools

By: Carol Taylor , Chris Brown , Karen Spence-Thomas , Louise Stoll


Or purchase digital products from our partners:


Products specifications
Attribute nameAttribute value
PublishedOctober 2021
Pages28 x A6 cards, 16 x A5 cards, 1 x A5 booklet 12pp
Size220 x 160mm

Co-authored by Louise Stoll, Carol Taylor, Karen Spence-Thomas and Chris Brown, Catalyst: An evidence-informed, collaborative professional learning resource for teacher leaders and other leaders working within and across schools is a collection of specially designed cards created to support and promote the professional learning and development of groups of teacher leaders.

Catalyst is a professional learning tool intended to bring to life the findings of a collaborative research and development project carried out between researchers at the UCL Institute of Education and Challenge Partners, an informal national network of schools.

The project investigated four questions:

1. What is it about effective middle leadership within and across schools that changes teachers’ practice?

2. What are the most powerful ways of sharing knowledge about excellent middle leadership practice within and across schools?

3. What are the most important factors when designing evidence-based tools to track changes in teachers’ practice as a result of middle leaders’ interventions?

4. What leadership conditions in schools help develop and embed cultures of shared outstanding practice?

The collection consists of two sets of resource cards and a clear and detailed facilitator guide – along with a bibliography and photocopiable resources for download – and has been designed for use by staff in schools in all contexts and across the entire student age range. Ultimately, the aim of the Catalyst process is to:

  • help develop better understanding of and skills in teacher/middle leadership
  • stimulate evidence-informed conversations about teacher/middle leadership which lead to deep and meaningful learning
  • support skilled facilitation of these conversations
  • encourage inquiry, improve problem-solving and enrich decision-making through collaboration
  • enhance leadership within schools and across networks and school partnerships.

Suitable for school leaders and educators looking to both expand and refine their conversations around change management, professional development and school improvement.

Picture for author Carol Taylor

Carol Taylor

Carol Taylor is a programme leader for Bespoke Leadership Programmes at UCL IOE. A former school leader, she helps schools to embed practitioner research and inquiry into organisational and individual practice. Carol also designs and facilitates bespoke leadership programmes for national and international contexts.

Picture for author Chris Brown

Chris Brown

A Professor in Education at Durham University, Chris Brown is seeking to drive forward the use of professional learning networks to promote the collaborative learning of teachers. Chris also has a long-standing interest in how research evidence can and should, but often doesn't, aid the development of education policy and practice.

Picture for author Karen Spence-Thomas

Karen Spence-Thomas

Karen Spence-Thomas is a former schoolteacher and Associate Professor (Teaching) at the Centre for Educational Leadership, IOE. She specialised in designing and facilitating tailored professional development programmes for school leaders in the UK and internationally. She also co-led the centre’s R&D network of schools, promoting teacher inquiry as a basis for professional development.

Picture for author Louise Stoll

Louise Stoll

Dr Louise Stoll is Professor of Professional Learning at the UCL Centre for Education, IOE and an international consultant, focusing on how school and system leaders create capacity for learning. Louise is a former president of the International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement and has worked with the OECD on several initiatives. She has co-developed many materials supporting leaders to connect research evidence and practice.


  1. The authors of Catalyst are to be congratulated on producing an outstanding framework of extensive ideas, starters and development strategies to involve, engage and encourage staff teams to modify or take forward their current practice. 
    Middle leaders and others with responsibility for leading development, change and support for colleagues will gain greatly from the range of materials as an evidence-based resource. The Research Findings cards promote participation, involvement and collaboration by team members. When used effectively, the focus on tracking impact, sharing knowledge and promoting a culture for shared practice creates opportunities for team members to have a voice in the process of generating change and promoting ownership of ideas, confidence and resilience.
    This is an outstanding toolkit for developing learning and participation which is stimulating, engaging, thought-provoking and challenging. It will generate team conversations to promote meaningful development based on the cooperative involvement of all players.
    Highly recommended for leaders working in schools, colleges and other centres of learning.
  2. Catalyst connects school leaders with the research base through a set of multi-use practical resources in an accessible and user-friendly way. The pack offers a flexible approach to leadership professional development and self-assessment, which could be used by individual schools, MATs or alliances. A great professional development resource.

  3. Catalyst offers a brilliant dissemination of much of the research around educational leadership, but it is also much more than this. The evidence-based Research Findings cards provide bullet-pointed lists of the most impactful attributes of leadership, and the Professional Learning cards provide leaders, at all levels, with activities and themes to help lead development, thinking and change.

    In the enthusiasm-rich but often time-poor environment of schools, Catalyst is a brilliant jumping-off point for leadership development.

  4. This unique resource will be highly useful to every professional learning educator. The research findings are insightful and the format of the materials allows users in many parts of the world to place important and evidence-informed ideas into their school change practices.

  5. An innovative professional learning resource that supports and enables leaders to engage school leaders with evidence-informed practice, and which provides a means for colleagues to stimulate their thinking about a wide range of leadership scenarios and challenges. Highly recommended!

  6. Original, eye-catching, mind-engaging, practice-improving and brimming with professional learning practices which we know work well. The cards are the perfect catalyst for professional growth and, in turn, the development of more capable learners. This resource underscores the power of learning for all teachers and school leaders.

  7. These ingenious game-like yet evidence-informed professional conversation-starters will help both challenge and deepen leaders’ thinking and develop their strategies, while making the business of becoming a better leader playful rather than pompous or ponderous.

  8. It’s a thought-provoking resource and leads to a better understanding both of being a teacher leader and of being a learning community. The fact that Catalyst is both research- and practice-based makes it a splendid tool for many purposes, including: training new middle leaders and teacher leaders, reflecting on one’s own team facilitation practices, deepening a learning conversation, and being a critical friend to others. It’s both attractive as a conversation starter and as a way to get through the whole collective learning and design ‘loop’.

    It’s quite a new idea to transform research data into a toolkit such as this one. Catalyst transfers academic knowledge into practice, and hence gets it to the intended users right away. As a team process facilitator, I’m very happy to have all of this knowledge in a box and use it whenever it’s suitable.

  9. Catalyst is a highly effective resource that combines a rigorous research-informed approach with prompts for reflective and collaborative learning. It is appropriate for a wide range of professional roles and situations and has a consistent focus on sustainable capacity-building and professional and organisational change.

  10. For leaders and teachers who are tight for time but passionate about improvement, Catalyst presents a fantastic way to engage with the latest educational research and come up with personalised action plans for change. Practical, evidence-based and transformative, it presents the latest research, asks the right questions and then empowers us all to be catalysts for change. The exercises will help to move us beyond an individual journey of leadership and towards deeper conversations, stronger communities and more reflective cultures.

  11. As a scientist I was drawn to this resource by the use of the word ‘catalyst’ in the title. A catalyst is a substance which speeds up reactions between other chemicals but remains unaltered after the process. In these challenging times I think we all want to make change, but without being ‘consumed’ ourselves. This resource really delivers on the promise of its title – it doesn’t try to offer you a step-by-step prescription for success, but rather it provokes you to think about the issues you want to solve. Through a combination of self-reflection and consultation with colleagues, you are guided by key questions and research findings which can help you think beyond your normal constraints.

    At a time when people are searching for answers, Catalyst provides some great questions. My compliments to the authors.

Write your own review