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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:


  • 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.

  • 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.

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