Inquiry at Albany Senior High School

Inside view of Albany Senior High

All staff at Albany Senior High School engage in rigorous professional inquiry with student learners and colleagues on an ongoing basis. The process has developed over a number of years but the purpose has been the same - to ensure academic success for everyone.

Each staff member’s inquiry is designed to challenge any problematic beliefs they may hold about student learners and to help them to search for effective teaching and learning solutions that might be different from what they have done in the past.

The process demands a high degree of challenging collaboration, data literacy, and research to inform their decisions, as they learn about students and about the effectiveness of their teaching.

Framing ideas

These key ideas underpin the process they use for professional inquiry:


Meaning teachers are in charge of their learning, and it fits with the needs of their students.


In ways that challenge and critique teachers’ theories and share professional knowledge with cross-curricular teams, departmental teams and students.


In the sense that it is an integral part of their teaching practice.


So it makes a difference to the learning of the students in front of them.


In the sense that it informs future planning and professional learning journeys.

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Professional inquiry process

This summary of the inquiry process is structured around the spiral of inquiry to provide consistency with the recommendations of the Professional Learning and Development Advisory Group, but the structure staff use at Albany Senior High School (ASHS) is slightly different.

Scanning and Focusing

ASHS prefers the term “Analysing” to “Scanning” as teachers examine the student data from each of their classes.

Teachers identify those students who are not achieving as well as they might. So the question of “What is going on for our learners?” is always focused on this particular group of students.

Identifying these students is the starting point as teachers ask themselves:

  • Where is the underachievement?
  • Who are the actual students? (Name them.)
  • What information do we have on these students, including data that can be exported from the student management system?
  • How did the students perform in this subject or similar subjects last year?

From asking these questions teachers identify the crisis they will focus on and the data they have used. They deliberately call it a crisis because any under-performance from a student’s perspective is a crisis and needs to be treated with urgency.

Developing a hunch

ASHS prefers to call this phase of the spiral “Developing your hypothesis” to capture the systematic, evidence-based nature of the process used at the school.

Teachers realise that their first attempts to explain any under-performance will often be inadequate to describe the complexity of what is really going on for learners.

So, after writing down their initial theories, teachers are encouraged to seek alternative theories by asking the students what is going on for them, and asking their colleagues and team leaders. Each teacher records and considers these alternative theories and selects the one they believe will be most likely to solve the under-achievement problem.

The idea behind this process is to promote “double-loop learning”. This kind of learning requires the staff to question their underlying assumptions and beliefs about particular students and the impact of their interactions with them.

New learning and Taking action

Teachers are provided with a rich range of resources to help them to identify what they need to learn in order to solve the under-achievement problem for the students of focus. These resources take the form of research, mentoring, and conversations with leaders and colleagues.

Arrangements are often made for teachers to observe one another to find out more about how to implement new strategies and to have feedback on their own efforts to try new things.


During the learning phase, staff must identify how they will measure changes in the learning outcomes for their students. They are encouraged to use a range of evidence including formative assessment, student feedback, observations, external experts and summative assessment – such as NCEA – to answer the question “What happened for the students of focus as a result of changing our practice?” They record a summary of the learning outcomes for students for the inquiry.


Deep inquiry into what is happening for one student or a small group of students gives insights into how to change things for others. Teachers consider in their portfolios what sustained changes they will take into their future practice and how the learning might impact on their next inquiry, their professional learning and appraisal.

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A school culture of professional learning

Each teacher’s inquiry is focused on their own students, but the process is highly collaborative. Teachers are expected to discuss and critique each phase of the inquiry with their colleagues and mentors.

Opportunities are provided every week to consult with one another. Teachers also present the process and findings of their inquiries to each other and their leaders more formally.

The collaborative inquiry culture also extends to the students of focus, as they are consulted throughout the process about their beliefs and what is working, or not, for them.

Together these processes build a school-wide culture of collaborative professional learning.

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Further information

Albany Senior High PLD story - Assessment Online on TKI

Developing professional inquiry at Albany Senior High School.

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