Collaborative Inquiry: Teachers Working Together

Kathryn Starke
Kathryn Starke
Professional development expert; MA in Literacy and Culture

What is Collaborative Inquiry?

Collaborative inquiry is a process through which individuals come together to examine educational practices using research. This type of professional learning has existed for many years with different names and different formats. Collaborative inquiry can be positioned as an example of a professional learning company. In education, the process of collaborative inquiry is executed when a group of professionals identify common challenges, analyze relevant data, and implement a variety of instructional approaches. It can consist of classroom teachers on the same grade level, team leaders in the same school, or subject leaders in the same district. Educators identify student learning needs, identify common issues, and prioritize the issues. The goal is to hone in on an issue that everyone at the table has a stake in throughout the process.

The educators participating in collaborative inquiry are engaged in a cycle revolving around collecting data, observing trends, and reflecting on their practice. Commitment to the cycle is imperative to yield results. This includes reading current research, sharing perspective, collecting evidence, guiding discussion, shared thinking, and reflecting upon teacher delivery and student learning.

What are the benefits of collaborative inquiry?

Research says that a major benefit of collaborative inquiry is the increase of teaching and learning. The focus is relevant, personal, authentic, and manageable. Collaborative inquiry is meaningful when educators establish and share a vision. While it can be difficult to implement, when teachers commit to using collaborative inquiry, student learning increases. When teachers pose questions based on data, their knowledge base increases, thus resulting in practice changes. Collaborative inquiry helps teachers gain understanding of student reasoning, which gives teachers a new perspective when creating lesson plans. Using formative assessment results to guide instruction is a powerful benefit of collaborative inquiry.

As implied in the name, inquiry is the root of the process, and the level of questioning used makes an impact. Questions that require an explanation or action-oriented response are much more powerful than a question that can be answered with a simple yes or no. The process, which is based on evidence collected through data, can also be more valuable when a triangulation of data is present. In this manner, team members can use a variety of data points to compare, contrast, and analyze to understand the issue at hand more deeply. In addition to formative or standardized assessment data, data may also include surveys, interviews, observations, student work samples, report cards, lesson plans, or attendance records. Finally, the term ‘collaborative’ explains how the team will work together to discuss, analyze, and interpret evidence collected to identify the focus and determine a measurable, strategic implementation plan over a specific course of time. It is suggested that a team commit and focus on one solid vision for a semester or school year rather than attempting to address multiple issues in one school year. It is also suggested that collaborative teams remain flexible, rather than stagnant, throughout the academic year so a committed group of educators is focused on issues that are pertinent and relevant to them and their students. Each new team of educators should establish new norms, create a meeting schedule to adhere to, and create an agenda to keep everyone on task.

How Leadership can Support a Collaborative Environment

Leadership can support a collaborative environment when they identify teacher leaders within the school who are open to not only sharing their reflection process and teaching practice but also have the ability to engage and motivate their educational colleagues. Strategically creating small groups of educators who can share their expertise while asking thought-provoking questions for colleagues to learn from is the key goal of school administrators. In addition to choosing teacher leaders with these characteristics, it is essential to select educators who are committed to the process. When educational leaders are actively supporting their teachers through the process, teachers will feel supported and are more likely be true to the process, constantly increasing their knowledge while improving their craft.

Sustainability is the ultimate goal of any process in any industry. Education is no different. When collaborative inquiry has been used effectively to identify trends and address instructional practices, school leaders should focus on how to maintain and sustain the value of the case study. Leaders can make collaborative inquiry a regular practice of their teachers, which when done with fidelity can leave the biggest impact on their school community.

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