Wendy Kofoed – The realities of supporting teachers' inquiries

Wendy Kofoed describes how she began by modelling the inquiry approach with teachers at Newmarket School. All teachers were involved in working through a classroom-based school inquiry. She and her school leaders then provided a supportive context for teachers to learn to inquire about the impact of a chosen teaching approach in their own classrooms.



We also looked at supporting staff or resourcing the process of an inquiry approach. The resource that predominantly we looked at was time. We looked at our meeting schedules for example and made sure that teachers had time to inquire, to discuss their findings of their inquiries, to debate some of the outcomes, to go back and look again, to observe each other.

So we built in structures for teachers to have success, if you like, in their own inquiries. I modelled a process initially and that was - the notion of inquiry it sort of just floats out there - we’re told that we in schools need to inquire into our practice. The realities of inquiring in a school system can be quite problematic. And what sounds easy is not so easy in a busy school. So I wanted to work through what the process of an inquiry would look like. Several teachers and I worked on an inquiry around accelerating progress by using prior knowledge in guided reading lessons for the particular targeted children that we had identified. We did some observations of lessons. We worked out a structure of what acceleration might mean in relation to prior learning in a guided reading context.

I personally did a lot of research around that, you know. It was a new area for me so out comes the books, out comes the Google and I thought, ‘Okay, I need to have a greater knowledge in this area myself if we’re working on that.’ And Alison Davis’s work was great, Reading Comprehension certainly was useful and Sheena Cameron’s work was useful around reading comprehension.

So going out to find what I needed to find was strategic as well. We, the teachers and I, we looked at the literature, we looked at teachers’ practice. We needed a little bit of theory. We also needed some practitioners’ advice about what it would actually mean in a classroom environment to use a greater amount or develop prior knowledge to a greater extent with the targeted students. The teachers and I that did the initial inquiry. We then fed back to staff what we did and the systems we used, what we found useful. We discussed our action plan. For example, we discussed our findings and we had some initial quite pleasant results from that initial inquiry. It was only a short inquiry but it gave us, a key group of teachers, an understanding of what we would need for teachers to set about their own inquiry.

From there, we looked at developing a sort of a high trust model in that teachers were most welcome to choose the focus of their own inquiry. We didn’t dictate what their inquiry might look like but what we did do was say it had to fit under their overarching goal which was accelerating Māori students’ and Pasifika students’ achievement. 

The teachers inquired in a range of teaching strategies. We had a group that looked at motivation and goal setting. We had another group that looked at leadership. Some teachers worked on similar inquiries. Some teachers preferred to work on their own inquiry, and the trust aspect was in that we provided them with resources and off they went. We certainly provided support for that process.

Initially, the setting of individual goals and working through action plans was quite problematic for teachers. It’s not something they were widely experienced with. So we worked through with groups of teachers ways we might do that and what it might look like in practice.

So a high trust model was important, but with the high trust model - sort of an aside to that was - the idea that we were all going to be involved in this journey, and for that reason we built it into our appraisal system. And again, we cleared the decks. This was a key goal for teacher appraisal. While there weren’t particular requirements around that, it was expected that all would partake in the same journey, and that we would share the findings of our journeys in a collegial manner as we worked through those processes.

Supporting inquiry

This summary shows the steps Wendy followed to ensure that teachers had support to engage successfully in the inquiry approach.

1. Clear the decks for action

  • Ensure school systems support teacher inquiry process.
  • Ensure that inquiry is the main professional learning expectation for teachers.
  • Build the expectation for participation into school performance management system.

2. Support individual or group teacher inquiries related to acceleration goals

  • Support teachers to create their own inquiry action plans.
  • Support teachers to carry out inquiries.
  • Provide opportunities for: collecting evidence of student learning:
  • observing other teachers’ practice
  • sharing what works /isn’t working
  • analysing and talking about the impact of their teaching on student achievement.

Discussion questions

  1. How would you decide what the focus for inquiry might be in your own school?
  2. What evidence do you have that makes it likely that you are focussing on an area that is likely to make a major difference to student achievement?
  3. Who do you know who might be able to support you to get inquiry off the ground in your school?

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