Deepen Teacher Inquiry Series - Part One

Over the next few weeks, I will be exploring ways leaders can deepen evaluative inquiry and teachers can deepen teacher inquiry and what would be the outcomes if they could.

This week we will take a look at the focusing inquiry part of the inquiry journey.

"What is important (and therefore worth spending time on), given where my students are at?"  - have you ever wondered how to answer this question? This is the question that prompts teacher reflection on the Teaching as Inquiry model in the NZC.

The TKI online curriculum support identified - as a summary of the process - that teachers "Identify the outcomes they want their students to achieve. They consider how their students are doing in relation to those outcomes, and they ask what their students need to learn next in order to achieve them".

I find it interesting - as I speak to teachers - that their schools have mandated a year-long inquiry. As a result, teachers are in a state of overwhelm when it comes to their inquiry and as a result, they don’t do it well. I have heard principals who are frustrated with teachers inquiries say “Teachers implement, but it's a bare minimum. My staff are not contributing to their full potential”

When I hear that, I begin to wonder why that may be.

I find when it comes to reflecting and designing an inquiry, there is a tendency to look at the surface of what is happening. Very rarely would we,  as teachers - for various reasons -  go deep into what is really going on -  how that is impacting on students learning, what does that mean in terms of student learning and how can we make a change that will elevate student outcomes.

When I work with leaders and teachers we use a supporting framework that encourages depth of thinking when we look at what is happening for our students and - ultimately - their learning. Together we unpack what is happening in order to gain some clarity on how to best move forward from that point.

A depth of thinking can be achieved in a number of ways, one of these ways is approaching the learning inquiry through the lens of design thinking. Teachers and leaders are able to explore deeper into the causes of what is happening for the students in their school/classroom. An empathy map will dig deeper into your inquiry wondering - focusing inquiry step.

When teachers begin to reflect on their students or the content they are going to teach,  they can gain depth of thinking by working through a process of empathy mapping. The empathy mapping process facilitates the unpacking of underlying thoughts. The wonder phase or focusing inquiry phase of an inquiry is intentioned to determine what we think, feel, see and do about the student data or about the impacts on student learning.

This empathy mapping process is about the students and their learning. When working through the wondering phase of the inquiry, it always starts with the students.  When you wonder and reflect, you "wonder" across a wide range of areas. These areas being the child, the content or the context.

Out of the process of wondering,  a teacher may identify either a child, curriculum content or context that becomes the centre of their inquiry snapshot.

How deeply do you reflect when designing your teaching as inquiry - Could you - with the right support and tools, explore deeply the needs of your students and their learning?

I help leaders and teachers to unpack and reflect deeply on what is happening for the learning of their students. We then plot a journey through the identified constraints to elevate what is working and empower teachers to make a change to what is not.

How is your capability for deepening your inquiry?



Fichtman Dana, N. (2013). Digging Deeper into Action Research. California: Corwin

Hook, P., Leonard, T., and Venning D. (2016). An Action Research Project with SOLO Taxonomy: How to tell if it is making a difference. Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited. New Zealand.

Timperley, Wilson & Barrar (2007) Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration [BES]. Inside cover and p. xliii Wellington: Ministry of Education.


Tabitha Leonard