Collaborative Inquiry: Teachers Working Together

  (Updated September 21, 2022)
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Kelly Nelson-Danley
Elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction
Group of adults seated at a table together.

Collaboration is a natural part of education and takes many forms within schools. Some types of collaboration occur between students, others between teachers and students, administration and teachers, and more. Often behind the scenes, teachers work together to explore and reflect on their instruction. We call this collaborative inquiry.

What is Collaborative Inquiry? 

The collaborative inquiry definition refers to educators working together to examine their instructional practices by looking at data to identify problems, plan lessons, monitor lessons and outcomes, and to think about next steps after outcomes are examined. This process often requires teachers and educators to ask many questions to reflect on their practices through teacher collaboration.  

Such questions might include: 

  • What went well?  
  • What did not go well?  
  • What data will we use to determine next steps? 
  • What evidence will we collect moving forward?  
  • What are the learning needs of our students?  

These are, of course, only samples of what questions educators may ask through collaborative teaching. As we know, inquiry is the act of asking and gathering information. There are no limits on what questions can and should be asked to practice collaborative inquiry successfully. 

There are many models and cycles of the collaborative inquiry process. Each have similar themes and steps. An example of a collaborative inquiry model is: 

  • Framing the problem 
  • Collecting data and evidence 
  • Analyzing data and evidence 
  • Celebrating successes
  • Developing a plan for moving forward

What are the Benefits of Collaborative Inquiry? 

Collaborative inquiry is a very beneficial practice for educators to participate in. Some of the benefits include, but are not limited to: 

Sense of Trustworthiness and Increase in Growth Mindset 

When teachers have the opportunity to explore their lessons and ask questions about their practice and their colleagues, a culture of trust and understanding develops. Growth mindset also naturally increases due to the questioning aspect of Collaborative Inquiry. When teachers habitually and consistently share what is going well and not so well in their lessons, they begin to develop a level of trust, as well as confidence that they can learn from past mistakes and provide their colleagues with “feed forward” as future plans are made.

Increased Student Performance and Learning 

As teachers meet to discuss student data, they can collaborate and share success that may help their students grow. Any time teachers use data to inform instruction, differentiation should be taking place as students are always on various learning levels.

Increase in the Awareness of Common Goals and Gaps in Instruction 

Anytime professionals come together to ask questions about their work, common goals are either formally or informally addressed. For example, when discussing student performance on a fifth-grade fraction assessment, teachers may ask questions about what was done for students who struggled and for those who already knew the content.  

They may decide that the common goal of their math instruction is for students to show mastery and to be challenged and able to move on in the curriculum when they have done so. Teachers discussing this may not necessarily say to each other that this is our team’s common goal, but they understand what they expect from each other and students.

Increase in Reflective Practice of Educators 

Meeting together to ask questions about instruction creates an environment where reflection is a regular part of work. This places importance on reflection as a key practice in education and increases the occurrence of reflection among teachers.

According to the ASCD (2008), collaboration adds both value and motivation to teaching. In a study involving nine high schools, it was reported that teachers are more likely to collect and analyze data when working as a group than individually. Considering this, collaborative inquiry needs to take place in schools regularly and in a thoughtful manner.

How Leadership can Support a Collaborative Environment 

School leaders also play an important role in collaborative inquiry as they can greatly influence the culture of their school. Principals who place importance on asking questions about instruction can increase the occurrence of collaborative inquiry in their schools.

Leaders can increase and support collaborative inquiry by modeling collaboration and asking questions about their practice. For example, principals might send out working conditions check ins periodically, review data, ask questions about the data in a school improvement meeting, and make plans using the data and feedback on how they can improve their leadership.

Additionally, administrators should set aside specific times for teachers to collaborate and set norms and procedures for doing so. This will show staff that an environment of collaboration is important within the school and provide teachers with clear expectations on how this can be done through professional development. While school improvement plans help school staff work together to meet common goals, they often revolve around whole-school issues and concerns rather than grade-level specific examples and opportunities for reflection. A culture of valuing collaborative inquiry is key in follow through of staff and success of the inquiry process.

Leaders have the opportunity to model and promote what they think will be most effective and beneficial to their staff and students. In the case of collaborative inquiry, administrators who are aware of student and teacher needs and encourage teachers to sit together and reflect on needs so that a plan of action may be developed and implemented.

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 *Updated September 2022 
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