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A whole school approach to teaching as inquiry

Alison Taylor, Deputy Principal at Pakuranga College in Auckland, discusses the six-year journey her school has been on to embed teaching as inquiry into the practice and mindset of teachers and the change in culture she has observed as teachers become more open to change and talking about their learning.

The importance of dedicated time and support for teaching as inquiry

There is structured time, every Friday morning, when teachers work in cross-curricular professional learning groups (PLGs), which are facilitated by a coach. The PLGs engage in a structured process of inquiry, and have booklets with key readings and templates to help guide them through the different stages of inquiry (year plan for PLG). During the PLG sessions the group will unpack the readings (click here for reading list), and talk through their inquiries with colleagues who support teachers to be reflective and to unpack their assumptions and critique their thinking.

The coaches, who receive specialist training, also work one-on-one with each member of the PLG to further support teachers in the inquiry process.

Spirals of Inquiry

Pakuranga now uses Timperley, Kaiser and Halbert’s Spirals of inquiry model. This was an intentional strategy to move teachers away from thinking about inquiry as a project that had a clearly defined start and finish point towards thinking about inquiry as an iterative process.

Alison has also found the hunch phase of the model, where teachers surface their hunches has been particular useful for teachers. This is because the hunch phase requires teachers to think about how their ‘normal’ teaching practice might be supporting some learners but disadvantaging other learners.

Observations and student voice

Within a PLG, teachers form groups of three. In their groups of three the teachers do observations of each other’s practice, including a post observation discussion. The teachers use the school’s observation template (click here for a copy), which includes collecting student voice – two students nominated by the teacher being observed and two students selected a random. To support teachers in these post observation discussions, the school held sessions in which staff critiqued a videoed post observation discussion.

Data and Student voice

Each year there is at least one Friday session dedicated to data, where teachers bring data they have collected to the PLG. They then ask a series of structured questions about it what is it telling teachers about your students in this class and pushing people to think about what data they’re using. Data is then referred to later in the year when the staff look at progress being made by students.

Alongside diagnostic tests and NCEA achievement data, student voice also is an important data source. Teachers are encouraged to regularly collect student voice about their practice. Click here for questions to ask and tools to collect student voice.

Some of the key lessons Pakuranga has learned about collecting student voice are:

  • The importance of sharing back with students what the feedback says and then discussing with them how you’re going to respond and why
  • Encouraging student honesty by creating a culture where they feel safe to be honest and the teacher is genuinely curious and respectful
  • Not stressing about those not giving feedback but consider how to encourage it e.g. bring in a colleague or target specific groups
  • Thinking carefully about the sorts of questions are going to elicit the types of information you need
  • Using digital tools and a variety of methods to get a variety of voices
  • Asking one question is enough, and if it is well selected it has the power to enable you to find out what students are thinking and why
  • Share with each other teachers what you are doing with student voice
  • Also capture voice on social and emotional aspects, it doesn’t always have to be about cognition

Friday workshop sessions

To complement the PLG sessions, teachers are also offered a series of sessions on a particular school-wide focus, for example literacy. Teachers are able to identify a particular area of literacy that they want to focus on and are able to take a series of three workshops to support their knowledge and skill development. The first workshop will provide teachers with an understanding of key theory and tools. The second workshop gives teachers time to think through how they will implement the tools or new ideas in their practice and in the third workshop session teachers feedback to the group what they did, why they did it in that way and the effect it had, including presenting student voice that they have collected.

Implementing a distributed leadership

While Alison oversees the running of staff professional development in the school, she has implemented a distributed leadership model whereby different staff members are responsible for overseeing different aspects of the programme. One of the DPs is responsible for training and supporting the PLG coaches. The literacy team led by another DP organises and facilitates the literacy workshops that are offered, and the PLG coaches are responsible for supporting the teachers in their groups. The coach role is very much one of a critical friend and the school have really encouraged teachers to drive their own inquiries.

End of year sharing

At the end of each year a group of teachers will present their inquiries, discussing what they focused on, what they have done and tried, and what they have learned. After a teacher has presented, a group of students from their class talk about their experiences and the impact of the teacher, and the impact of the strategies and approaches being used on their learning and the learning of others in their class.

Key lessons for the effective implementation of teaching as inquiry

  • Dedicated Friday time is essential. It helps to develop a sense of professional responsibility and the professional attitude of teachers towards inquiry is very positive
  • Build trust within the PLG so that people feel comfortable sharing both what is going well and what isn’t going so well in their practice
  • Use teacher models, teachers who share their practice with others
  • Student voice data provides essential information on the cognitive, emotional and affective side of learning
  • Inquiry is a mindset as opposed to a project
  • Teachers need support to reflect on their practice and to unpack their assumptions about their students, learning and their teaching
  • Select the PLG coaches or facilitators carefully. Look for people who are passionate about teaching and learning and people who have mana
PREPARED FOR THE EDUCATION HUB BY

Alison Taylor

Alison started her career as an English teacher and is now Deputy Principal at Pakuranga College, Auckland. She has played a pivotal role in creating the structures and conditions to support teacher inquiry into the effect of their teaching on student learning.