When I arrived at Lynfield College last year I found a school with a very strong Teaching as Inquiry culture. All teachers across the school were inquiring into the impact that their teaching was having on their students. This was enabled by some great scaffolded templates to help teachers who were newer to the process and time was built into the meeting schedule to help these inquiries progress.
Despite the strong inquiry culture, there were some weaknesses to the process. These inquiries were shared within Faculties and with whoever was appraising the teacher but often the great practice was not shared any wider than that. Teachers may have had a breakthrough in helping a student in their subject, but this didn’t necessarily mean that student’s other teachers also got that knowledge. At times, some of these inquiries also seemed to be based more on teacher interest than identified student needs i.e. I have read/heard about a great idea and I want to try it in my class so will make that my inquiry.
We are part of the Lynfield Community of Learning and last year our Across and Within Schools teachers were using the Spirals of Inquiry approach to guide their inquiries. Alongside this, we also had a group of staff working on a Te Toi Tupu Future Focused Inquiry on Pasifika Achievement. To further our understanding of this process, a small group of us went to the Core Education Breakfast Seminar and Workshop on Spirals of Inquiry run by Rebbecca Sweeney.
The more we learned about Spirals of Inquiry, the more we liked it’s student centred, learning focused and collaborative approach. As our 2016 Inquiries were already underway, we started planning towards adopting this approach school-wide in 2017. We had introduced the Spirals approach last year so staff had a chance to see the change and then in March our Community of Learning schools had a joint PD afternoon where the “keynote” was Helen Timperley talking about how to make Spirals of Inquiry an effective process.
To have one of the global experts on Spirals of Inquiry speaking with us was invaluable. Along with Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert, Helen Timperley has pioneered the use of collaborative Spirals of Inquiry to help innovate practice in schools. If you haven’t read any of their research papers, then A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry is a great place to start. My favourite quote from that paper is:
innovation floats on a sea of inquiry and curiosity is a driver for change.
As we made the shift from individual to collaborative inquiries, there were already some obvious inquiry topics emerging. Our teachers with specific roles with the Community of Learning would help lead staff that wanted to link in around their inquiry topic. This set up groups of staff collaborating on ideas such as using peer critique to assist growth in writing and how participation in extracurricular activities might increase student engagement. Other groups had emerged over the start of the year such as a group of staff collaborating on a mentoring project to raise boys achievement (this was as a response to a surprise blip in Level 1 Boys achievement last year). Others still were just starting to make sense of their data and thoughts from Term 1 to work out what they might inquire into this year. To help create the sea of inquiry we set up a few guiding principles for collaborative inquiry at Lynfield College:
Last week, staff met in these collaborative inquiry groups for the first time to set up how they will learn together over the year. Those who weren’t sure what they wanted to focus on yet met in the staffroom and we discussed possible inquiries. More collaborations were formed and great discussions started.
Our next steps are to put the collaborative inquiry groups up on the wall in the staffroom. The focus of each group written on a piece of paper, with pictures of staff involved in that group attached to it. This will allow staff to see who is inquiring into what and enable them to ask questions of other groups to see if they might want to join as well.
Initially it seemed a very big shift in our practice; to move from individual to collaborative inquiries. But these steps so far have actually been pretty easy. The important thing for us now is to help support the groups to truly collaborate on their inquiries. Now, that will be a tougher, ongoing challenge; but exactly the sort of challenge that school leaders should be working on right now.