Image: Timperley, Kaser & Halbert, 2014
Building Teaching as Inquiry projects collaboratively is becoming more commonplace as teachers shift their learning and teaching practices (Modern Learning Pedagogies) to co-teach or team-teach learners, for whom they are collectively responsible, within changing learning environments (Modern Learning Environments). There are lots of benefits in building collaborative inquiry projects, even if teachers are still operating in single-cell classrooms.
As the Future Focused Inquiries (FFI) facilitation team, we support leaders and teachers to inquire into their own practice to make decisions about ways to change their practice to benefit learners. In this blogpost I and two colleagues (Suzi Gould and Togi Lemanu) from the FFI team share our experiences in facilitating collaborative inquiries in schools.
This handy article explains the difference between Teaching as Inquiry and Inquiry Learning. We use this a lot when introducing Teaching as Inquiry in schools. We also use the most recent framework for supporting Teaching as Inquiry, the Spirals of Inquiry.
Two common themes that arise for those implementing collaborative TAI
We have found two common themes that arise for teachers and leaders as they grapple with implementing collaborative Teaching as Inquiry (TAI) processes:
- How to manage change and motivate teachers to engage in TAI processes and practices; and how to transition from existing processes so that teachers are well supported to adopt/engage in TAI as a way of growing professionally as well as improving student outcomes.
- How to build collaborative teams that effectively gather and review evidence to develop a focused collaborative inquiry into practice.
Motivating teachers to engage in Teaching as Inquiry processes and practices
Three ways to engage teachers in Teaching as Inquiry are:
- the effective use of evidence about learners,
- keeping a manageable pace when learning about Teaching as Inquiry, and
- developing evidence seeking and inquiry/growth mindsets to improve collaborative teaching and learning.
Persevere with Scanning
As we work with teachers in teams, we ask them to spend at least a whole term predominantly in the Scanning phase of the Spirals of Inquiry. The Scanning phase asks teachers to think more widely about their learners, considering a more holistic picture of what helps them to learn, and what does not. If done well, they don’t talk about solutions at this stage, but only the current situation for learners.
We also explore the Seven Principles of Learning, and use these as a guide to review everyday experiences in the classroom of both the student and teacher. This research, based on the science of learning, is being utilised by teachers to determine new ways of gathering evidence, scan what is going on for their learners, and inform 21st Century learning environments (or future-focused education).
Pace is important
Spending at least a term in the Scanning phase enables teachers to work as a team to explore and innovate ways of scanning the current situation from a wider perspective than that of the professional — they gather data from learners and their whānau.
Slowing down this phase of the inquiry process enables teachers to gather a wider perspective of the student, and gain a deeper understanding of the learning ecology. Knowing what ‘Scanning’ is and isn’t is important to support effective gathering, use, and storage of evidence about learners. It also allows space for collaborative learning conversations, and the development of an inquiry and evidence-seeking mindset.
As teachers move through the Scanning phase with each other and their learners, they build a sense of ownership over the process, and are motivated to use the data in meaningful ways to inform next steps about their practice. The first time through the Scanning process can feel slow, frustrating, and ambiguous, but if teachers persevere and have rich conversations about the data with each other in relation to their teaching practice, they will begin to see themes emerging and areas to focus on together. We like to call this “slowing down to speed up” — where teachers and their learners use scanning data to focus the inquiry through consideration of their practices and why they use them.
As teachers consider their practices, we might encourage them to see these as one part of the picture — imagine a picket fence, made up of slats, it is not the slats alone that provide the form of the fence — it is the spaces in between that also create the whole image. The idea here is that we must listen carefully to the voices not always heard — cast our assumptions aside, and look innovatively towards the change that will make a difference for these particular learners.
Learners are aware of the process, and are enabled to have agency over the inquiry through developing their own understandings about what helps them to learn, and what helps them to actively engage in learning. We encourage teachers to use the suggested questions provided by Kaser and Halbert (2014). For example:
- To what extent can learners connect with and learn from the broader environment?
- To what extent do they learn on a regular basis from members of their community?
Context is important. As facilitators, we support teachers to engage in Teaching as Inquiry in ways that are relevant to their school community (mainly their learners and their whānau). This includes being culturally responsive. For example, engaging with the Talanoa model and exploring posts from experts like Togi Lemanu about engaging with Pasifika learners and their families helps teachers to shape the way they scan and inquire in culturally appropriate ways.
Building collaborative teams and a collaborative inquiry focus
Collaboration is more than simply sharing ideas and practices or visiting/observing each other. Collaboration involves teachers committing to a common goal or focus using inquiry practices, challenging and critiquing each other respectfully, focusing on evidence-based needs, and having clarity about their roles in the work/process. Building trust is important if teachers are going to be able to collaborate in this way. We like to use the “Actions that Engender Trust” from Dalton’s Learning Talk series to support teams to reflect on their current team work, and to improve the way they enable trust to be built in an ongoing way. These actions relate to the need for us to build effective communication skills that are inclusive, and that encourage a “growth mindset” that help people explore possibilities and build relationships (Dweck, 2006).
We watch and mentor teachers and leaders through the process
As facilitators, we watch the team-building process closely. We guide and mentor teachers and leaders in how they reflect on their own practices that may be contributing to the situations emerging from the Scanning phase. With support, they learn to ask themselves and each other what is leading to the situation, and how they are contributing to this. More common themes emerge across their own teaching practices, and a set of focused inquiry questions emerge for the team to work on together.
These types of open conversations don’t occur automatically. Facilitators support teaching teams to use the language of inquiry to ask questions of the data, of learners, and of each other. Learning Talk resources help guide teachers in their use of language that will foster inquiry.
Sensitive building of rapport with teachers is essential
Supporting teachers through the inquiry and change process involves listening to their stories. From there, as facilitators, we can start building a relationship with the teachers. Teachers might offload about their school life and, sometimes, that is what is needed for teachers to break out in conversations/talanoa so that we are welcomed in supporting them.
At times, supporting teachers individually can be difficult. Having a collaborative fono/meeting with staff involved, and having all principals attend is a great way to support teachers in building their capability. Facilitation involves building relationships, connecting with teachers’ stories, and encouraging collaboration.
Finally, think carefully about how to engage with and use evidence
We recommend that teachers and leaders think carefully about how to engage in Spirals of Inquiry or Teaching as Inquiry. Ensure that you’ve really considered what practices in your school need to change and why. Use wide-ranging evidence that includes the perspectives of learners and their whānau. Trust that common themes will emerge from the data you explore, and keep your inquiry focus manageable. There is always more than one thing to work on at a time, so, as educators, we need to prioritise those that will have the greatest impact for learners. Slow down to speed up!
Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Centre for Strategic Education, Seminar Series Paper No. 234.
Dalton, J., and Anderson, D. (2010). Learning Talk: build understandings.
Dumont, H. et al (2010). The Nature of Learning: Using research to inspire practice. OECD Publishing.
Dweck, C. (2006). Mindset: How you can fulfil your potential. Ballantine Books
Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014). Spirals of Inquiry (PDF)
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