The Inquiry Sandpit

When we ask teachers and leaders what stops them from trying something new or doing something different, they inevitably identify that it is the concern around failure or judgment.

Teachers are often fearful of deviating from the norms when it comes to their classroom practice. Leaders are often accused of always leading in the same way. There is an intrinsic fear of failure - and of judgment - that take a grip on teachers and leaders and prevents them from stepping outside of their comfort zone. There is sometimes a perception of loss of control when trying something new. The outcome of this is that teachers and leaders operate in a state of stagnation around their toolkit of strategies that work.

Children in a sandpit - learn and grow through exploration. They try out new things and learn from the process. A sandpit is a safe place for children to explore and find what works and what doesn’t. We expect our students to learn through an inquiry lens - why not expect the same of Teachers and Leaders.

A constraint for teachers to try something new is the fear of failure. Inquiry - when framed in the right environments - can be a space in which teachers and leaders can innovate and create within their practice without fear of failure. Remove the word fail, and teachers and leaders will continuously examine their own actions. Inquiry builds effective teachers and leaders who continuously examine their own actions and how they are impacting on those around them. There is a culture of being inquiring. There is no fear of failure. Perceptions are shifted from fearful to innovative. In-depth inquiry methods facilitate the shift of teachers fear of failure for trying something new to feeling safe resulting in innovative growth. The inquiry process provides a safe space in which teachers can use new strategies and measure the impact of these new strategies -something that can be likened to a sandpit at primary school.

Here is an example of how the inquiry journey for one teacher became an opportunity to try something new and was perceived as a safe exploration of what may make a difference to one boy learning experiences. 

John teaches at a special school. He has a class of students with fairly challenging learning and behaviour needs. John - when planning the inquiry - had a particular student in mind. This student has Aspergers and often disrupted the learning of all of the other students with his behaviour. John had read about activity stations - a station that his student could go to help him refocus on his learning by being able to focus on kinesthetic tasks. However, John was unsure if this activity station would work for this particular student and had some reservations about trying it.


John - in his inquiry planning - planned to measure the number of times this boy was off task over a week before he had the activity station and again after the boy had access to the activity station. John found that the boy’s off-task behaviour decreased considerably when he had access to the activity station.

John’s reflections on the process of carrying out an inquiry that was well planned and actually measured the impact were that the inquiry project was perceived as giving him license to try something new. It seemed to decrease the risk of failure because it had been framed up as a project.

The inquiry sandpit encourages new ideas. In-depth inquiry methods encourage teachers to use or test new teaching strategies or leaders to look at research for new and innovative solutions to problems. In-depth inquiry methods such as action research learning projects provide safe spaces - or sandpits -  in which teachers and leaders can explore alternative methods and solutions to identified problems. When framed up in the right environments, inquiry becomes about exploring new methods and strategies.  

Inquiry encourages the process of exploration and makes this exploration achievable. In-depth inquiry methods encourage teachers to be innovative and creative and encourage leaders to explore their leadership. The outcomes of the process energise teachers and leaders around change.

Inquiry energises teachers to take action through its measured impacts.  Through the process of in-depth inquiry, teachers and leaders become addicted to KNOWING their impact.  The exploration of new and innovative ways of doing things and the measured impacts makes the whole inquiry process energizing and addictive. When teachers and leaders determine the impact of their teaching strategy or their leadership project,  teachers and leaders become addicted to the process of completing an inquiry and are energised to make changes to their practice.