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Teaching as inquiry

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Teaching as inquiry (TAI) is a process that encourages teachers to change their practice in order to enhance success for students. It involves inquiry into the impact of teaching and the teaching–learning relationship. TAI is "not a ‘project’, an ‘initiative’ or an ‘innovation’ but a professional way of being." (Timperley, Kaser, Halbert, 2014, p. 22)

This section provides ideas, resources, and tools to support your inquiry journeys, as well as school stories to inspire and promote discussion.

Taking action

For this phase of the inquiry, ask yourself:

  • How can I make the biggest change?
  • Where will concentrating my energies make the most difference?
  • What am I doing to contribute to or create the students' lack of success?

Making change

Changing your practice is about researching into what you do in the classroom. It is about identifying what needs to change and why, and then attempting to enact change through a well thought out plan of action.

This can be a good time to seek a mentor, or seek professional support from colleagues to guide and challenge you. Many schools belong to Communities of learning (CoL) and these can be valuable systems of support, especially for school wide inquiries.

Modifying your pedagogy can be as small or as big a challenge as you want it to be. For your first inquiry, you could focus on the learning of a small group of target students, who are all experiencing difficulty in the same thing. Concentrating on one area of your practice with a small group of students will not only focus you and make the inquiry more manageable, but it will also enable you to see the impact of your inquiry more clearly.

School stories 

Teachers as learners
These seven learning stories illustrate parts of the learning journeys of seven teachers. Each teacher grappled with the concepts of collaborative inquiry, cultural responsiveness, and pedagogical content knowledge and with how they could better enable their Māori and Pasifika students to achieve success.

Teaching as inquiry
Teachers from Kelburn Normal School share reflections on the action research within their classrooms for themselves and their students.

Teaching as inquiry in a secondary context
In this excerpt from a presentation at ULearn 15, Miranda Makin describes teaching as inquiry at Albany Senior High School, including the role of teacher expectations and beliefs on student success.

Teacher toolbox

Use the following questions to help you identify how you can change your teaching practice: 

  • From other teachers - what stories of success are already in your school? Whose classroom teaching could you observe, to see their practice in action? How can you use what has worked successfully with their students in your context?
  • From research - What does recent literature, local or international, tell us about successful practice with the issues you have identified with your students? When looking at international studies, try to imagine them in a New Zealand cultural context.
  • From the NZC - what does the curriculum document tell us about effective pedagogy? Which of these ideas could you implement in your classroom to enact change?
  • From hunches - what does experience and instinct tell you might work? What have you implemented successfully in another classroom that could be adapted for this one?
  • From community expectations and needs - how well do you know the community that your students are part of? How could you connect with whānau to get information and support for your initiative? What changes could you make that reflect your students' cultural norms and perspectives?

Creating an inquiry action plan
Creating an inquiry action plan helps to focus you on the important parts of your change. The action plan is all about your needs - you may plan by weeks in the term, you might look at goals you want to achieve, or milestones that need to be observed before the next stage can be started. The most important aspect of an action plan however, as with all parts of teacher inquiry, is that it is flexible and fluid. Inquiry is not a structured or linear process, so make sure that you are developing a plan flexible enough to withstand the unexpected.

Some schools may already have a teaching as inquiry action plan for you to adapt, especially those schools that are looking at teaching as inquiry as part of their appraisal process.

Have you seen?

Teaching as inquiry – practical tools for teachers
Templates and examples for teachers, using the NZC teaching as inquiry cycle.

Coaching and mentoring. Receiving guidance from another colleague who has or is going through a similar process of inquiry can be invaluable. This person is a useful sounding board, can observe your teaching, and will encourage in-depth reflection.

School story

Coaching and mentoring at Pomaria School
Coaching and mentoring at Pomaria School helps teachers reflect on their practice and grow as educators. In this clip, teachers discuss the benefits of this type of collaboration.

Professional learning groups (PLGs). A professional learning group is a group of colleagues who meet regularly to discuss the inquiry process. This group will be able to challenge your beliefs about teaching and learning (sometimes even ones you didn't know you had), share experiences of the inquiry journey, work collaboratively and help sustain the inquiry process. Although PLGs are often used for a school wide inquiry, where all staff are looking into the same aspect of practice, they can be just as valuable when staff are all working on individual projects.

School story

Teaching as Inquiry – St Patrick's, Silverstream
These videos, from St Patrick's School in Silverstream, illustrate how PLGs can be used as a means of introducing the Teaching as Inquiry model in schools.

Published on: 18 Dec 2020