Friday, 3 April 2015

Successful collaborative teacher inquiry – what’s the secret ingredient?

Earlier this week I had the privilege of being a listener learner at the preschool teachers’ quality learning circle (QLC) as they shared their inquiry first steps and critically reflected on the why, what, how and so what of their inquiries. Their honesty, emotional attachments to their inquiries and reflections made me very humble and appreciative to work with them.

On reflection I realised that even though they were inquiring into their own practice as individual teachers the connections between their topics of inquiry soon became apparent. Therefore, individual inquiries are in fact a powerful form of group collaborative inquiry as they were all striving to improve their practice and programmes for the betterment of all the students in the preschool. The teachers made the connections explicitly in their reflection logs as they connected the inquiries of others to their own and made links to their practice.

More importantly, the development of a professional learning culture based on relational trust was apparent as each teacher was acknowledged as an expert and valued through the quality learning circle process. In my experience, after this learning culture has had time to develop naturally in context, teacher inquiries & innovation leading to improved student outcomes have a greater chance of success. 
Why do schools assume that their school culture is conducive to sustained school development and inquiry? What evidence do schools gather to understand and gauge teachers’ willingness and readiness to undertake inquiries based on trust and collaboration? Do schools develop a plan to build a professional learning culture before embarking on collaborative inquiry or is it just expected that this will develop throughout the process? Developing collaborative group norms will not necessarily lead to effective and sustained collaborative inquiry; teachers may quickly revert to previous social behaviour and the process may become meaningless for some.

As stated in both Finland & UK research articles - multi-level, professional learning communities develop autonomously from organic, trusting, respectful, like-minded relationships between teachers, not systems instituted from the top down in contrived circumstances.

Lasting fundamental change, that is, change in teacher practice requires understanding and, often, improving the school’s culture; cultural change is a slow process. I believe any teacher inquiry needs to be underpinned by a robust school development model that ensures a culture of inquiry, true collaboration and empowerment based on high expectations for all. 

So, what are the essential ingredients to ensure collaborative teacher inquiry is effective?
  • The establishment of professional learning groups based on the Te Ariki quality learning circle (QLC) model will ensure the protocols and true values of teacher interaction and collegiality are honoured and result in productive learning for all.
  • Time - using the Ariki QLC model to empower all teachers, to be acknowledged as an expert and to learn to collaborate in a trusting environment where all learners are celebrated.
  • Using robust professional learning group protocols and questioning and reflection tools ensure teacher narrative is replaced with critical reflection and is focused on evidence based practice.
  • Starting with individual teacher inquiry and, when collaboration & collegiality are established, teacher inquiry can move beyond personal, idiosyncratic reflection, or dependence on outside experts, to a point where teachers can learn from each other, sharing & developing their expertise together across the school or across schools.

I have introduced the Ariki QLC model for school improvement into 3 schools and have evidenced its success and impact. I have used teacher voice, student voice and student achievement data to define this success. It is a powerful first step for any school improvement project and will ensure a conducive school culture is established before collaborative inquiry is undertaken.

If you would like to learn more about the Ariki QLC model email:

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