BUILDING YOUR INQUIRY LEADERSHIP THROUGH INQUIRY COACHES - Part Two
Building Your Inquiry Leadership Through Inquiry Coaches
As a school leader, how do you have your staff inquiry support structures set up? Is it working? Who is it impacting the most - is it impacting in a way it is intended to impact? - What does a positive inquiry impact look like anyhow? - at the core of it is the question - why do we inquire?
In the past, as a department leader, I have found conversations with staff about their classroom practice challenging. Admittedly I cringe when I think about some of the conversations I had with my staff - in the early days of my leadership experience. With a reflective lens, I now see that all I was doing was modelling what I had done to me.
Who is best to be an inquiry leader/coach?
Support of your school's inquiry practice is orientated through decisions around:
Who would be the best teachers to be inquiry leader/coach?; How the culture of inquiry is going to be embedded into teacher practice?; What are the key character strengths of the inquiry leader/coach that would encourage teachers to inquire and participate in collaborative dialogue to bring about professional growth and improved student outcomes?
Do you know who on your staff would make great inquiry coaches?
Changing cultures to make teacher inquiry a centrepiece of practice in your school
As a leader, Jane finds it challenging to support the teachers in her team and their inquiries. Jane finds that the kinds of conversations needed to coach her staff through their inquiry - planning and analysis - never end as well as they could. She gets frustrated with the dual aspects of her role. These aspects seem to be misaligned. She finds it hard to flip-flop from manager to leader to coach.
Jane finds the accountability aspect of her role - to ensure that the quality of teacher inquiries is maintained at an expected level and that her team/department keeps to the designated timeline of checkpoints - is disconnected to the other aspect of her role of inquiry coach. Jane has a timeline she is expected to keep to and she only has a certain amount of allocated time slots in which to support her teams' inquiries. However, on the flip side of this - for teachers to plan quality inquiries that are informed from rich dialogue and reflection about students in their classes - Jane needs to allow her staff more time for their planning. The cultures around collaboration that are needed for rich dialogue between teachers about their inquiries needs an environment in which to foster trust and collegial relationships. - Which takes TIME!
Jane has some staff who struggle to design deep and relevant inquiries, and she desires to learn the skills required to coach her staff to improve the quality of the inquiries occurring - and to meet the accountability requirements - while facilitating professional growth.
Shifting the Inquiry Practice of teachers from teachers 'do inquiry' to teachers' own inquiry'
Have you, as a leader ever felt frustrated when trying to bring about change in your school, or had to lead a project that others didn’t seem to have any interest in or see the value of?
What we don’t always think about when we are in the midst of leading a project or a school-wide initiative, is fail to realise the bigger picture.
In a number of schools I have visited, there is a level of teacher inquiry practice occurring, but there is always the tail-enders who “drag the chain” - don’t want to engage in the process and complete the inquiry - only because they have to, not because they want to. These staff, don’t see the value in doing inquiry - they are excuse driven and lack any motivation.
Have you - as a leader - ever stopped to ask why these teachers are the way they are? What is happening is there is a misalignment in their values and purpose for inquiry, and the school's values and purpose for inquiry. There needs to be a shift in the culture of inquiry.
The Inquiry Sandpit
The New Zealand education council feel it's important, the latest research identifies that it is important for educational change to occur and leads to improved student outcomes1 (Sinnema & Atkin, 2016), so, why is it that schools and teachers don't give it the time it deserves?
So why should schools allocate time and energy for teachers inquiry?
In many schools, the inquiry is a tick the box process - the true value of inquiry is not completely understood. In some schools - where systems and process are in place - teachers ‘do inquiry’ but don't ‘own the inquiry’. Is it time for your school to make that shift for teachers?
The Impact Of An Inquiry Culture
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.
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.
Creating An Inquiry Culture – Find Your Inquiry Genius
The inquiry is about teachers knowing they helped their students learn. By engaging in an inquiry, teachers shift their stance from “I think” I helped my students learn to “I know” I helped my students learn. “I Know” because the inquiry processes help facilitate the collection of impact evidence of students learning.
An inquiry is the formula for success. Deep reflections, responsiveness to student learning needs, the gathering of data and data analysis with an inquiry lens will energise teachers to change their practice. Teachers will KNOW they have helped students learn. It will be a known fact.
Well Structured inquiry Models – Find your Inquiry Genius
The purpose of an inquiry into teacher practice is to develop deeply reflective teachers. Deeply reflective teachers who are actively reflecting on the learning needs of their students and exploring new ways of doing things that might have better outcomes for students. In the process, they are also making measures into the impact of these changes on student learning. In essence, they will know their impact. – Hattie (2012).
The professional growth that comes out of inquiry is facilitated by Action Research Learning Projects which makes links to the Professional Teaching Standards, creating conditions in which these skills and attributes can be fully expressed and developed with in everyday practice. By adding Action Research Learning Projects to teachers’ toolkits, teachers are empowered to shift their practice up into the zone of inquiry genius.