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What is collaborative inquiry?

Started by Tessa Gray 01 Jun 2016 10:45am () Replies (15)

By now, teachers in Aotearoa have become familiar with or are engaging in Teaching as Inquiry (NZC) - a process of reflection and action to improve outcomes for students. Some of us might also be more familiar with The six parts of the spiral of inquiry (Timperly, Kaser and Halbert , 2014). One of the important differences in this new approach is involving learners, their families, and communities in inquiries.

The shift in thinking here is; teacher reflection is not an isolated activity

Nick Rate has recently completed his professional inquiry paper, focused on Professional Collaborative Inquiry and Technology. In his blog post on, Collaborative Inquiry he writes,

The driving force for the inquiry was to support my belief that professional inquiry (aka teacher as inquiry in NZ), is significantly enhanced through a collaborative model where teachers and school leaders work alongside each other to share, discuss and analyse problems of practice and together, using their collective expertise, plan, implement and review a range of approaches to improve outcomes for their learners. Especially relevant too in schools adopting a team teaching/innovative learning environment approach.

And the kicker…

Problems of practice should be owned by the whole school, not by one teacher!

Makes sense. We’re not in this alone and as Hattie writes in, What works best in Education: The Politics of Collaborative Expertise

Task 7: There is a tremendous amount of consistency across education - each year, students face challenges similar to the students before them, and we have a wealth of knowledge about how to best address those challenges. Teachers should therefore be encouraged to use existing approaches and ideas that have already been proven to be successful with students. 

John Hattie talks about the collective role of collaborative action in schools (including parents/students)

Collaborative inquiry to raise student achievement will require:


  • An understanding of what collaboration looks like – beyond connecting, co-operating 
  • Knowing who we're collaborating with – teachers, students, parents/whānau
  • Having a clear purpose for collaboration – Is it One year input = one year progress?
  • Engaging in ongoing inquiry processes to:
    • collect and analyse data 
    • problem solve
    • develop theories of improvement
    • plan and set goals
    • make observations and give feedback
    • team teach
    • reflect and review
    • development and sharing of replicable approaches.

Adapted from Collaborative Inquiry, Nick Rate April 8, 2016

Have you or your colleagues realised the benefits of engaging in collaborative inquiry? We'd love to hear more! smiley

Examples of collaborative practice in Enabling e-Learning:


  • Andrea Tapsell (View all users posts) 06 Jun 2016 8:19pm ()

    Within our school, all teachers are currently engaged in TAI's.  I have read your post with interest as, our team is currently doing a collaborative inquiry around writing.  Essentially we are following the ALL model, however each teacher has selected a specific area from Michael Absolutes arch - one teacher is looking at clarity around learning outcomes while another is looking at reflective practice.  As a team leader, it is refreshing to see that we have all but engaged in most of what Nick Rate suggests is required in a collaborative inquiry to raise student achievement.  

    As part of our team meetings we discuss and collaborate our findings, support and suggest ways to develop learning around the specific clarity in the classroom aspect.  Using the ALL model, this make our collaborative inquiry manageable as teachers we are able to use this as a model for teaching, yet be able to adapt, change or modify from any observations, discussions or feedback given.

    The benefits I have seen from our collaboration are:

    1. We all see the same picture with regard to data.
    2. Clear goals have been set with specific time frames
    3. Team members able to discuss where everyone is at
    4. Problems identified and teachers supported
    5. Successes shared/modelled so can be replicated
    6. Teachers engaged in active reflection
  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 09 Jun 2016 4:49pm ()

    Andrea thanks for sharing your model for inquiry. This sounds like a positive way to learn from each other while keep the momentum going - and still keeping it manageable as you say. I see this is very valuable when working in teams. 

    Are there any protocols or coaching methods/models you and your colleagues use as well? smiley

  • Andrea Tapsell (View all users posts) 18 Jun 2016 7:45pm ()

    Hi Tessa, We are currently using a 'reflective' coaching model.  After visits teachers are given the opportunity to engage in reflective practice and record these reflections, then this forms the basis for our coaching sessions.  We are working with Nga Poumanawa e Waru and about to engage in some PD around reflective questioning.  We are also moving to teachers videoing their own lessons, or choosing who they wish to video the lesson.  Eventually we hope we will have teachers visiting, coaching each other.  Still a way to go but we are slowly moving that way.


  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 15 Aug 2016 3:38pm ()

    This sounds like some invaluable PLD, where teachers can develop some sound listening/coaching/reflective skills Andrea.

    If you want to share some of your own thoughts around collaborative Inquiry, please feel free to join us this Wednesday for the following live event with guest presenter Rebbecca Sweeney. As well as hearing from Rebbecca, we try to build in time for participants to share their own experiences as well.

    cool LIVE WEBINAR: Understanding collaborative inquiry, 15:45 - 16:45, 17 Aug 2016. As more schools start to cluster as communities of learning, we ask, what is collaborative inquiry, what does it look like and how can it impact on teaching and learning outcomes? Come join us as we talk with guest presenter Rebbecca Sweeney (CORE Education) about this more in-depth. Support threads will take place in the Professional Learning group. REGISTER NOW!

  • Lisa (View all users posts) 17 Aug 2016 2:23pm ()

    Hi Tessa - I would love to attend this but have another meeting booked in for that time - is there anyway to get a recording of this later? 


  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 17 Aug 2016 2:35pm ()

    Hi Lisa

    Yes the webinar will be recorded and placed on the Webinar recordings page.


  • Nathaniel Louwrens (View all users posts) 17 Aug 2016 5:08pm ()

    We were privileged today to have Rebbecca Sweeney share with us in the Understanding collaborative inquiry webinar a clear picture of how collaborative inquiry can occur amongst teachers in schools.

    Watch the webinar recording >>>

    The slide deck and a Storify of the tweets from the webinar are embedded below.



  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 12 Oct 2016 4:30pm ()

    Nice to see ERO paper on School Evaluation Indicators has diagram/framework that looks like Collaborative Inquiry on page 16. 

    Framework for considering Māori Educational Advancement

    Outcome and process indicators are very clear. As a leader, how are you using this document in your school?

  • Gretchen Cocks (View all users posts) 25 Oct 2016 8:23am ()

    Hi Tessa

    This year, we've had Rebecca Sweeney leading us through Spirals of Inquiry. I find Spirals to be quite different to the 'teaching as inquiry' we've done in the past using the Ministry of Education's TAI model. For starters, doing it as a team has been really beneficial. The depth of discussion we've had this year under Spirals has surpassed previous discussions.

    The aspect that myself and my team like about the Spirals process, is the fact that we are looking at the children more holistically. Previously, it was more data focused, but under Spirals and during the 'scanning' phase we used kids' voice, learning maps, observations etc and have found so much more out about our learners other than their National Standards OTJ. Using the Nature of Learning document alongside this inquiry has also been useful for team members and has really required us to unpack this document and look at it properly, and has kept us referring back to it during the process. 

    Some of the benefits I have seen around Spirals is the joint accountability for this inquiry, the depth of discussion around the children, the intensive finding out about the learners  and looking at them as 'the whole child', identifying a shared and common 'problem', teacher understanding around the 'problem' and knowing what we need to do collectively as a team to change our practice in regard to what we are inquiring.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 28 Oct 2016 1:09pm ()

    Thanks for sharing this post Gretchen. smiley Your comments have helped me to imagine the collaborative conversations that are going on amongst your teachers about your students' strengths and learning needs. 

    One question when you say, "....the depth of discussion around the children, the intensive finding out about the learners and looking at them as 'the whole child', identifying a shared and common 'problem'" - how are you identifying the students? Is this individually or are there groups with similar strengths and learning needs targeted? Love to find out more about this part/phase of the inquiry process...

  • Gretchen Cocks (View all users posts) 05 Nov 2016 4:18pm ()

    Hi Tessa,

    Last year at our school, the TAI was related to Student Achievement Targets. This year is the first year our school has embarked on the Spirals of Inquiry process. We were given the freedom as teachers this year, to look at any child who stood out to us for whatever reasons. The priority learners we chose could be Maori, Pasifika, Sen, low socio-economic or learners struggling with emotions, cognition or biology. This meant, that we did not only focus on students who were necessarily low academically but students who appeared disengaged or switched off, lack of self-management/agency, lack of attention/focus or children who struggled with social issues, or, children who were not making the kinds of progress in their learning that they could be.  Previously, our target students had been those who were below standard academically in the student achievement area. We found during the scanning phase that some of the students we chose to focus on were low academically but that some weren't. Each teacher in my team chose 2 students and that began the scanning process. We then endeavoured to find out through various methods to really know these learners, understand them as a whole child rather than from just from an academic viewpoint, to get more of the learners voice and their family's voice also. Further down the process, we looked at our students against the 7 Principles of Learning from the Nature of Learning document, to find out where they fitted in. We found some strong commonalities with our target learners, in that they mainly fitted into the Social nature of learning and Emotions are integral to learning. From there, we developed our team inquiry.

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 09 Nov 2016 9:07am ()

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply Gretchen, this makes a lot of sense. The reason why I asked, is... because like you've mentioned, we might naturally go for the target students achieving below standards etc and miss the other clues - meaningful parts of the jigsaw picture that tell us more about our students from their perspective and their parents' perspectives.

    I'm now thinking the scanning stage is really important when we dive into conversations in the focusing and developing hunches stages of inquiry to try and understand how these have become issues for our students. I can now see how having collaborative conversations with peers and fellow colleagues can help find some clarity here. Having understandings about the science of learning (7 Principles of Learning from the Nature of Learning) must be a really helpful guide at this stage too. Finding commonalities for target learners (groups) and a team inquiry focus no doubt makes this process more manageable and achievable.

    Thanks again for sharing Gretchen. I'm really starting down this track myself, so having guidance from someone who's already engaging in collaborative inquiry, is really helpful for the rest of us who are currently  imagining how to embark on this journey too - if we don't have someone like Rebbecca Sweeney sitting next to us. Your sharing has been magic! smiley Any more tips greatly appreciated.

  • Rebbecca Sweeney (View all users posts) 13 Feb 2017 11:18am ()

    Kia ora Gretchen for sharing your journey last year! I hope that as we work together this year, you can further share your experiences here for others. In the meantime, if anyone else wants to jump in on this thread and ask questions of Gretchen or myself or others, I'll be here!  It is really important that we all focus on "target students" in strengths-based ways and that as a whole system of teachers and leaders in education, we continue to ensure we are helping these learners to succeed on their terms and on their whānau terms. How are people genuinely involving learners and their whānau in collaborative inquiries as partners? How are you doing this in positive ways that invite involvement and partnership? I've been working with schools and ECEs for a few years now, helping them to engage with Spirals of Inquiry and I've seen teachers showing their vulnerability with whānau and learners - asking for their help to improve teaching practice - after all, inquiry is all about teaching practice changing! :)

  • Tessa Gray (View all users posts) 03 Mar 2017 11:27am ()

    I'm loving this page in the educational leaders website, Spiral of inquiry: leaders leading learning, particularly the video where Linda Kaser (below) talks about the phases of spirals of inquiry. So easy to follow and makes a lot of sense.

    Linda Kaser screenshot

    Note: Image hyperlinks to educational leaders website

    As well as her clear interpretation of each phase, I found the following set of a questions in every phase very useful too (find these in the transcript):

    • What’s going on for our learners, broadly and specifically?
    • How do we know what’s going on with them? 
    • Why does it matter in each case?


    ...and the idea that we're in this together and we can do so much more for student learning as a collective:

    "We have found that this spiral, this way of thinking about inquiry, collaborative inquiry in every case – cause that’s the only way you can get equity and quality – is lifting more learners than what we used to do before, which was individual inquiry." Linda Kaser.

    I'm also finding it interesting that we're not alone - professional inquiry is happening around the rest of the world as well. Is this happening at your place too?


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