Teaching as Inquiry: where teachers inquire into their practice and use evidence to make decisions about ways to change that practice for the benefit of the learners.
A common question that comes from collaborative inquiry teams at this time of year is: Should we start again?
A better question to ask would be: What progress did we make with our collaborative inquiry last year and where to next?
A teaching team worked together last year to scan their learners widely – building up a picture of learners’ social, emotional and cognitive wellbeing, strengths and areas for exploration. They used the evidence to focus on a theme that emerged and to consider their practices attached to that theme. A focused inquiry came to light and the team engaged in learning together and took some initial action in the classroom to change their practices and to make a difference for learners. By December, the team had taken some action but had not yet engaged in learning for long enough to embed new practice. While they checked learner progress and achievement, they hadn’t really checked widely to see if they’d made enough of a difference overall.
The new year:
What progress did we make with our collaborative inquiry?
An influx of new learners in the new year doesn’t have to mean ‘new inquiry’ for the team. Collaborative inquiries morph and change over time based on the evidence you gather about teacher practice and learner progress. One way to confirm that your inquiry is still useful and relevant for your team is to ask yourselves if you’ve gathered enough evidence to show that:
- Your learners have experienced success and you’ve made enough of a difference for them (what data shows this? Whose voices are represented? What do your Māori learners and whānau think?)
- Your teaching practice has changed and the new practices are fully implemented and embedded (what observations and other data show this? What were the criteria for success that you used? What research evidence supports the new teacher practices you implemented?)
Other questions teams can use to evaluate the progress of their collaborative inquiry include:
- What evidence did we seek to know we were making a difference? What research and other knowledge informed this?
- When did we check and how often? How did we check in a way that allowed for adjustment – right away?
“Checking is about beginning to set the stage for what comes next” (Kaser and Halbert, p. 7, 2016). That means that once a focused inquiry is underway, it never really “ends” – it simply shifts focus over time based on new evidence and clarity over whether or not changed practices have made a difference and have become embedded into our learning environments
But what about our new learners?
Often we think our focused inquiry from the year before won’t be relevant for our new learners this year. However, remember that:
- Collaborative inquiries are focused on the gaps in our practice as teachers, highlighted by the challenges our learners face.
- Those gaps remain in our practice until we fully implement and embed change.
- The Learning phase is not short term or quick fix
“The professional learning research evidence indicates that the integration of substantial new knowledge requires a minimum of a year of focused collaborative effort to make a difference. Two years is much better. With three years of engaged effort, movement towards a transformed learning environment is usually well under way. So space must be created for this to happen” (Timperley, Kaser and Halbert, p. 16, 2014).
At the start of the year, when your team is part way through an inquiry from the previous year, consider a “re-scan”. Re-scans can be shorter and more focused. For example, four weeks of Scanning your newly selected learners with a particular focus on your existing team inquiry may be most appropriate.
If your team has changed significantly (staff re-shuffle or turnover), you may wish to do a wider, longer scan while also considering evidence from the previous year’s inquiry.
A re-scan and continuation of your existing inquiry can be your team’s opportunity to:
- Improve the ways in which you gather whānau and learner voice
- Better consider the place of culturally responsive practice in your change plans
- Consider new approaches to identifying clear goals and outcomes for changed practice and ways for checking these
As your team discovers the results of initial scanning in the new year, you can then have a robust team conversation about whether the evidence is telling you to continue with your inquiry, or whether to adapt your Learning and Action to cater for new evidence. This is a “morphing” of your inquiry rather than dismissing all of the previous year’s learning and action.