Teacher Inquiry – have we got the right timeframe?

We made a deliberate decisions this year to split our professional inquiries into two distinct parts, aligned to the professional development we were engaging in as a staff. Term 1 & 2 – an inquiry focused on literacy, Term 3 & 4 – an inquiry focused on maths. As we have wrapped up our literacy inquiries and transitioned from one inquiry to the next, the conversations have centred around the legitimacy of short term inquiries vs annual inquiries and whether either of these approaches are an authentic approach that really enables teachers to inquire into an aspect of their professional practice and result in embedded change. The question I pose is:

Are we limiting the effectiveness and impact of our inquires by constraining them to set timeframes?

Some background first… When I reflect on the professional inquiries I engaged in as a teacher, these were tied into the annual process of appraisal, starting in Term 1 and concluding in Term 4. The following year a new inquiry commences and so on. Similarly, as a principal I have facilitated teachers inquiring into their practice on an annual cycle as part of their performance management. I would suggest that this is a common approach in many NZ schools.

Constraining learning to time limits is a habit in education… but one that is increasingly being challenged in a more flexible and personalised approach to learning and how learning is managed. Not sure what I mean? Just think of your classic daily timetable in a classroom, 10 minutes silent reading, then 45 mins for reading, followed by 15 minutes of handwriting after which we go out for 15 minutes of fitness. Or perhaps think of the times your students are so engaged and focused on their learning only to be interrupted by the bell or ‘needing’ to move to the another area.

Sometimes time is the enemy, it constrains or limits what we can do. What we can learn.

Let’s transfer that thinking to our professional inquiries which generally go from Term 1 to 4, aligned to a similarly scheduled appraisal process. It makes sense, an individual inquiry is often focused on a target group of students which are in your class, its relevancy is based on the now, related to recently collected and analysed data. Its convenient, it fits with how we organise the school year, works with fixed term positions, allows us to come together as teachers on the same pathway and summarise our findings at the end of the year.

I just wonder though that we are pushing through inquiries too quickly and that changing the focus on an annual basis takes away what could be a richness and depth of inquiry leading to greater outcomes of effective teaching and impacts on student learning. That is not to say that a Term 1-4 inquiry does not have depth and impact, it is a prompt to consider what would happen if we keep building on our developing knowledge over time and at the saturation point we move on, not just because it is the end of the year.

So this may lead to a diversity of inquiries, with agentic teachers driving and managing their own learning. There would be multiple inquires, starting and finishing at different times, adapting to needs, responsive to mastery.

Sounds pretty much like our expectations for learners and learning in our future focused classrooms…

More questions than answers here but a good space for further thinking and investigation. Thanks to Bede for a conversation that prompted some of the thoughts above.

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