As senior leaders, how do we support teachers in their quest for quality? I know most of you will be very familiar with the diagram that’s from the New Zealand curriculum around teaching as inquiry. That was where we have started our journey. The exciting thing for us about teaching as inquiry was that it was a model of professional learning that actually took into account how unique every single teachers individual classroom is. From the different students that are coming into your classroom at the different times of day, the different subject areas, the different ages, because it is such a unique mix, the response, your teaching response, has to be able to meet the needs of those unique learners, at that time. So, teaching as inquiry allows us to be responsive, to meet our students needs. That was a huge change from the one-size-fits-all kind of professional development that a lot of us, certainly I’ve been brought up in, and I was very used to.
Just drawing on some work that I’ve been involved in and readings, that type of thing, Viviane Robinson’s work and Mei Lai’s work puts teaching practice in a context of problem solving. And what I mean by that is every time we go to make a practice decision, we are, sometimes on the trot, making lots and lots of these decisions every day, but we’re making a decision of what is best going to meet the learning needs of my students in front of me now, to get them to the place I need to be. And the reason I want to talk about these practice solutions is because often, we’re making these decisions based on what we know to be deep-seated truths and beliefs about our students.
Now I want to just draw some attention to another piece of research that I came across when I was doing my work. It was by a woman called Christine Rubie-Davis, there was also someone Hamilton, and Hattie was involved in this research, it was in 2006. What they were looking at were teacher’s expectations of students, and how those expectations translated to those students’ achievement. Now, what they did, is they linked expectation with achievement and they found that for the groups of Māori students, the practice decisions teachers were making maintained their level of achievement for the entire year. They looked at that in comparison to non-Māori students and they found that teachers were making practice decisions that actually increased levels of challenge so non-Māori students were making higher gains across the year. Now I just want to share that, because I don’t think that’s coming from a place of wanting to do bad or ill to any of the students in front of us. But what it does demonstrate is how these deep-seated beliefs about student groups; we just draw on those automatically to inform our solutions. And sometimes these beliefs are flawed.
One of the wonderful things, if we do inquiry well, if we do it rigorously, we can actually begin to uncover some of those beliefs that we have about groups of students – and Barbara you were talking about how these generalisations are not helpful – and so if we can uncover those beliefs, then we can start to think differently about the possible solutions. And that opens up a whole new repertoire in our practice, it increases our quality practice, because we have more repertoire to draw on to meet the needs, the many needs, of the students that present in front of us.
Teaching as inquiry is a way that we can interrupt those automatic solutions, practice solutions that we come up with.