Leading inquiry at a teacher level: it’s all about mentorship

by Mike Fowler


This article from set: research information for teachers is described by NZCER chief researcher Rosemary Hipkins as “a well-grounded, practice-informed look at conditions that support teachers to be learners when they inquire into their practice. The importance of strong leadership is emphasised, with a focus on 'walking the talk' by being an active inquirer yourself”.

The article is based on deputy principal Mike Fowler’s own experience and practice. It is short and easy to read and includes New Zealand resources and research as well as international sources to support its discussion and applications.

Mike Fowler suggests that teaching as inquiry needs to be the centre of teachers’ practice, as it is at the heart of the New Zealand Curriculum. Inquiry, he says, is necessary to ‘oil the wheels’ of all learning and teaching, “teachers … are not simply delivering a curriculum: they need to build their professional knowledge by inquiring into their curriculum area and into the art and science of teaching”.

However, his review of ERO reports in 2011 and 2012 showed that overall only 26 per cent of New Zealand schools had highly supportive processes in place for promoting teaching as inquiry, and only 3 per cent of secondary schools had highly supportive processes in place. He suggests that while it is complex, it is not impossible to make inquiry teaching and learning more effective in all schools, particularly secondary.

The article contains practice-based strategies for how inquiry can be made to function in schools at both a strategic and operational level. Mentorship of those facilitating the inquiry process is seen as key to it being initiated and sustained.
While middle leaders have a central role in facilitating inquiry-based teaching throughout a school, he stresses that senior leaders have to empower middle leaders to do this by investing time, resources and creating opportunities for them to have one-on-one interactions and professional conversations with the teachers they are mentoring.

Reflective questions

  • To what extent does your school use teacher inquiry to improve the learning of your students? What are the next steps you need to take to develop inquiry teaching and learning in the school?
  • How could you adapt the practical suggestions made in the article for use in your school? For example, how would you use Box 1 or 2 in your situation?
  • What can you do in your role as a senior leader in the school to improve the professional learning of your middle leaders? Are you satisfied with how you and they go about working with the teachers to improve outcomes for your students?


Fowler, Mike. (2012). Leading inquiry at a teacher level: it’s all about mentorship. In set: Research Information for Teachers, 3, NZCER PRESS, Wellington.

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