Wendy Kofoed – Developing school-wide inquiry

Based on her experience at Newmarket Primary School, Wendy shares some key messages about building inquiry approaches into school practices.



If I was to give advice to another principal about implementing an inquiry approach in their schools, I would respectfully suggest that they systematise the approach that they take. Think about their school as a system and how an inquiry approach can be built into the system. From my experience, by building it in in various levels of the system, the outcome was stronger for that.

Probably the second thing that I would talk with other principals about is the notion that it takes time. You’re not going to get results if you think this is going to be a short quick fix. This took us a great amount of time. One, working through action plans, working through goal setting alone took a term and a half, two terms. By the time we got into our individual inquiries the year was nearly over, we rolled into the next year. Again, we wanted rich outcomes so we valued that with a slow, careful thoughtful journey. 

Another aspect that I would suggest would be that not all teachers work at the same level. We looked very closely at differentiated support of teachers and we, as senior leaders, looked at how best we might support teachers at whatever level of their learning. Some teachers just got into it. You know, really had a clear understanding of what the outcomes were going to be and didn’t need a great deal of support. Other teachers, we worked alongside them all the way through the process, and by we I mean other senior leaders in the school.

Another important aspect is the notion of follow up. We found that by sharing of the practice that we were observing we were very careful that it didn’t just float into a hole of knowledge. We wanted others to follow up on some of the findings. So for example, one teacher had some very nice results with developing prior knowledge in reading, so she shared that with other teachers. Other teachers then trialled that in their own practice. So all the way through the individual inquiries, teachers were taking aspects as we discussed those and implementing those, trialling those in their own practice and that was an important part of our journey. In fact, it was a really rich part that people were very quick to look at what other approaches teachers were trialling. If we’re getting good news stories relatively quickly, teachers would say, ‘Oh, I want to be involved in that. This is looking good. Tell me what you are doing and how I might utilise that.’ So it’s a notion of that follow up, that we don’t inquire in a vacuum, that sharing the good news stories.

The inquiry approach is very much a story, a narrative approach. We had lots of rich discussions about what was working, what wasn’t working and that was key as part of that - the talking and the discussion - but with a really focused purpose to those discussions. Previous years we’ve had our quality learning circles and our discussion groups and analysed readings but again they were just general discussions and didn’t they impact so strongly on classroom practice. I found with the inquiry approach that it was we could see measurable gains in student achievement by the change in strategies and by the inquiries that teachers were undertaking.

Setting up a school-wide inquiry

This resource outlines advice for school leaders in implementing an inquiry approach in their schools.

  1. Know what you are doing. Understand the theory behind teaching inquiry, and what it looks like in practice. You may need to engage in further professional learning to be able to lead the process. Or there may be someone in your school community who can help you to lead inquiry.
  2. Aim to build inquiry about teaching and learning into the day-to-day work of your school. Don’t think of teaching inquiry as an add-on.
  3. Set up systems to support this way of working. Remember that it will take time to learn how to inquire effectively. It’s not a short quick fix. It’s a slow, considered process that uses evidence every step of the way.
  4. Not all teachers learn the same way and at the same rate. They bring different experiences and expectations, and require differentiated support. Some may be able to offer support to other teachers while some will need much more targeted support and guidance:
  5. Follow-up. Don’t inquire in a vacuum. Use the inquiry process to:
    • Encourage teachers to share their practice with others.
    • Generate meaningful opportunities for teachers to observe others and provide feedback.
    • Build a culture where conversations about glitches and problems are as valued as conversations about what is working well.
    • Help teachers to focus their discussions on evidence rather than assumptions.
    • Demonstrate how changes in practice can be linked to changes in student achievement.

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