Preparing for teacher inquiry groups

Collaborative inquiry, professional learning communities, professional inquiry, teacher inquiry groups – a rose by any other name…rosa_evratina_001

We are currently preparing to begin teacher inquiry groups for the first time at our school. In my research, five key issues keep arising as central to the success of teachers engaging in professional inquiry with each other:

  1. Time
  2. Choice
  3. Shared vision
  4. Team formation
  5. Competence with digital tools

On top of that is my over-riding goal, which is to make it a positive experience that helps teachers understand the inquiry process better and builds on our culture of collaboration.

Time is the one issue we don’t have here, as we have an early finish on Wednesdays, giving us 2 hours every week to devote to TIGs (we’re calling them teacher inquiry groups here).

We are struggling to determine how much choice is enough choice. In previous schools where I’ve run TIGs, we gathered information from the teachers about their interests and which areas of their practice they’d like to improve, but we did not use student data to drive the decisions about what we should improve. We were thinking that this year all teachers could select an area of their teaching to improve – group them based on area of interest/self-chosen professional need – and require that they gather and use formative data to determine their starting point and end point.We can also provide the groups with any school wide data we have which will help clarify their position. What are your thoughts? Is this enough choice – too much choice?

A shared vision or goal came through strongly in the literature for sustaining the group’s focus. We feel it is important that the teacher inquiry groups choose topics that fit within our school mission and pedagogy of teaching. What strategies have you used to help ensure the teams are spending their time on topics that are of value to your school community?

We have just spent the last year working in mixed groups to complete our CIS self-study, so I’m hopeful there won’t be many team formation issues. We are going to share Tuckman’s stages of team formation and Garmston and Wellman’s 7 norms of collaboration with the staff during the TIG induction sessions.

I suspect that technology will be one of our biggest hurdles. We are sending out a survey to staff to see which digital tools they are most comfortable with, and then encourage them to use these tools in their inquiry. However, our school is just beginning to use technology for learning, such as google classroom and google docs for collaborative planning. I would like to mandate that the teams uses a digital platform for tracking their learning and create a digital product for sharing their learning with the rest of the staff as I think this will help them understand how these tools can be used more effectively in the classroom. What digital tools do you use in your schools? Which ones have you found to be particularly effective?

Which of these factors have been the biggest impediments to teacher inquiry groups at your schools and what solutions have you trialled?

3 Thoughts

  1. Hi Sonya,

    Great to see you are instilling the value of self directed learning. After all it is what we ask our students to do every day! I too am on a similar path, having introduced PLCs through low stakes teacher sharing last year, this year I have pushed teachers into full fledged inquiry into their own practice (on the back of CIS recommendations). This is a big leap and not easy.

    One thing I would be aware of is the different learning styles of adults (see Kolb’s learning theory) and the personalities of different teachers and their stance toward product vs process learning. A good bank of resources to support your journey is the National School Reform Faculty bank of protocols (http://www.nsrfharmony.org/free-resources/protocols/a-z). Hopefully, you have others in your school who are supporting you in leading this initiative, otherwise it can be a lonely journey. If you would like to collaborate further, please do reach out – Best of luck!

    Gareth

    1. Hi Gareth,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and the National School Reform Faculty resources. I’ve used some of these in workshops, but have never seen the whole bank of them.
      I would love to find out more about how you are structuring your teacher inquiries, particularly how/if you are using school data and how you are helping the teams develop a shared vision.

      Thanks again for reaching out,
      Heidi

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