Findings

Schools’ processes for guiding, informing and supporting teaching as inquiry

Leaders create the forums for inquiry to take place. The key to effective inquiry is that it happens in a systematic and continuous manner, and that it leads to changed and improved thinking and teaching. Inquiry is not a discrete act such as a one-off action research project. It is a ‘tool [that is used in an ongoing manner] in the service of the professional learning [of teachers] to build the kind of knowledge that will change classroom practice in a way that responds to the students’ learning needs.’ [8]

ERO investigated what school leaders did to establish and maintain systems in schools that increased teachers’ understanding of the process of teaching as inquiry, and how leaders helped teachers to inquire into the impacts for learners of their classroom practices.

Fifty-eight percent of schools had processes in place that were either highly, or somewhat informative and supportive in promoting teaching as inquiry. In 42 percent of schools, there were minimal, or no processes in place to support teachers’ inquiry.

Effective practice was seen where school leaders had worked with teachers to build an understanding about teaching as inquiry. They had progressively established systems to support inquiry, and were monitoring how effectively inquiry was impacting on learning. ERO found that this was happening in only a few schools.

ERO compared the data from each of the evaluation phases and noted a disappointing drop in the current evaluation in the extent to which schools’ systems guided, informed and supported teachers to inquire into their practice, and also the extent to which teachers were inquiring into the impact of their teaching on students. In the previous evaluation [9] 72 percent of schools were either highly, or somewhat informative and supportive of teaching as inquiry, while percent of schools had no processes or processes were minimal. See Figure 3 which compares the findings of the two evaluations.

Figure 3: Comparison of levels of support and guidance for teaching as inquiry from the 2011 ERO report and this 2012 report

figure 3 is a bar graph called Comparison of levels of support and guidance for teaching as inquiry from the 2011 ERO report and this 2012 report. The y-axis is labelled percentage and is range from 0-100 at intervals of 20. The x-axis has four labels; High, Some, Minimal and None. Each label has two bars which represent the percentage for the 2011 year and the 2012 year. For High the percentages are 26% and 21%, for Some 46% and 37%, for Minimal 24% and 29% and for None 4% and 13%. width=

This and other recent ERO evaluation data were further analysed to investigate any differences in the samples that could account for this outcome. [10] Only one difference was found between the samples. In the previous evaluation observations were carried out in 100 primary classrooms and 100 secondary classrooms. In this evaluation ERO reduced the number of secondary schools in the sample because the disruptions in Canterbury schools, caused by the ongoing earthquakes, meant some secondary schools were not included in the review schedule.

It is interesting to note that data collected for ERO’s report Working with National Standards to Promote Students’ Progress and Achievement (2012) showed more evidence of schools using teaching as inquiry in those schools that were working well with the standards than was found in schools that were still developing processes to work with the standards.

A continuum of support and guidance for teaching as inquiry

ERO noted that there was a continuum in the way leadership was being exercised in schools where systems to support and guide inquiry were less and more effectively developed.

In 42 percent of schools there were limited or no systems or processes established by leaders to support and guide teachers with their inquiry. Specifically, leaders had done little, or nothing to:

  • provide opportunities for teachers to engage in inquiry with their colleagues
  • develop expectations, guidelines and processes to support teachers’ inquiry practice
  • develop systems by which teachers were accountable for students’ learning outcomes.

In a few of the schools lacking processes to support and guide teachers’ inquiry, some individual teachers were nevertheless inquiring into their practices. The level of inquiry used in the school was therefore solely dependent on the individual teachers. Teachers had few opportunities to collaboratively talk about successful practices that could also benefit students from other classes.

In schools that were somewhat informative and supportive of teaching as inquiry, leaders had established systems for inquiry. For example, they had set up the performance management system. Nonetheless, there was still some work for leaders to do before inquiry happened consistently and well in these schools. Specifically, teachers were not routinely, and critically, reflecting on their teaching practices. Leaders can help to embed inquiry practice among teacher communities by helping them to make links between the theory of inquiry and the contexts in which it can be applied.

In these schools, inquiry was also practiced by teachers in a less systematic manner. Specifically, there was less effective use of data as the basis of decision making, and limited use of data in reviewing outcomes. Once again, there is a critical role for leaders in promoting the notion that high quality inquiry is founded on the effective use of evidence about students’ outcomes.

Typically, in the 21 percent of schools where teacher inquiry was highly informative and supportive, school leaders had established processes for professional learning and reflection. These typically included some of the following:

  • performance management systems (PMS) that included a requirement for teachers to reflect on their professional practice [11]reflective journals or portfolios that sat outside the PMS system
  • professional development programmes [12] that incorporated opportunities to use an inquiry approach
  • research projects in self selected areas that were carried out by individuals and groups of teachers
  • self-review processes such as end-of-term programme evaluations and department curriculum reviews that informed planning
  • groups of teachers analysing student data, setting targets for priority learners whose progress needed to be accelerated, and reviewing the outcomes for these students.

The value of these processes was in the opportunities they provided for teachers to use inquiry in many aspects of their teaching practice, and to progressively develop the skill and disposition to be reflective and responsive to students.

In these schools, there was a sense that inquiry was well on the way to being embedded and sustained within the school culture. This happened because leaders had helped teachers to build communities where inquiry could happen. For example there were regular meetings to talk about students’ achievement and progress, and to strategise about how to help priority learners. As the following example illustrates, collaboration brought momentum and direction to teachers’ work.

The teacher is part of a team that has established a school culture of professional learning and critical reflection on programmes and practices. She contributes to self review through her own class learning reviews and through team analysis of achievement patterns. Teachers collaboratively develop achievement targets for groups of at-risk students, and plan how to meet these priorities. Three times a year they review progress towards meeting these targets. (Full primary school, Years 1-8)

Differences by school type

There were some differences in practice by school type. Teaching as inquiry was practised more effectively in primary schools than in secondary schools. [13] Twenty-eight percent of primary schools had highly informative and supportive systems and processes to support teaching as inquiry, compared to three percent of secondary schools. Similarly, substantially more secondary schools compared to primary schools had no processes in place to support and guide teachers in their inquiry. In secondary schools there was less likelihood that inquiry was incorporated into the performance management system or underpinned professional development programmes. Teachers had fewer opportunities to collaboratively analyse student achievement data and to set and review targets for priority students. [14] Figure 4 illustrates these findings.

Figure 4: Levels of support and guidance for teaching as inquiry by school type

Figure 4 is a bar graph called Level of suport and guidance for teaching as inquiry by school type. The y-axis has two labels Secondary and Primary. The x-axis is labelled percentage and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. Each bar off Secondary and Primary is split into four and represents High, Some, Minimal and None. These percentages for Secondary are 3%, 35%, 35% and 27% respectively. For Primary they are 28%, 35%, 27% and 10%.

Challenges for school leaders and teachers

ERO found that, even in the schools where there were highly informative and supportive systems established to promote inquiry, there was seldom a strategic focus on building the capability of teachers to meet the specific identified needs of students. [15] Given that teachers will not always be equipped with the content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge or pedagogical content knowledge to address all of the emerging needs of students, it is important that leaders support the development of each teacher’s capability to respond to the students in their class.

Illustrative of the gaps in current practice is the use of teacher inquiry goals in the performance management system. Generally these goals were not linked to a focus on lifting the achievement of identified priority learners, but instead focused on an aspect of practice that had captured the teacher’s attention.

Some schools used inquiry as a form of action research undertaken through the performance management system. Teachers selected an aspect of their work they wanted to improve, developed an action plan, and then reviewed their progress. Sometimes the process led to sharing the findings with other teachers as the following examples show.

The teacher had an inquiry goal as part of the performance management system. The aspect was chosen by the teacher who developed a teaching action plan. Outcomes of the inquiry were shared with other staff at the end of the year. This resulted in the school having a “bank” of inquiry good practice examples. (Full primary school, Years 1-8)

Teachers identified a teaching as inquiry goal as part of the performance management system. They developed action plans to improve aspects of their teaching. At the end of the year they presented these to their syndicates showing the progress made and how it had benefited the students. (Full primary school, Years 1-8)

Missing from the thinking associated with this approach was an understanding of the personal and specific focus of teaching as inquiry. In particular, that each teacher’s learning and teaching context is unique, and therefore requires the deep and personal reflection and problem solving of the individual teachers involved. [16] In reference to the first example of inquiry described above, solutions to individual problems of teaching and learning cannot necessarily be “cherry-picked” from a bank of effective practice examples.

The challenge for school leaders is to consider how information about students’ learning needs can be used to focus on building the capacity of teachers to improve their students’ learning. This might mean that school leaders have to rethink their approach to how professional learning and development happens so that the needs of teachers can be met at an individual level.

Teachers’ inquiry into the impact of their teaching on students

The extent of teachers’ inquiry

ERO looked at how teaching as inquiry was carried out by individual teachers. To do this information was gathered from talking with 200 teachers about their inquiry practices, and through observing teachers working with students.

In 63 percent of classrooms there was high or some teaching as inquiry happening. Of concern were the percentages of teachers who were either using teaching as inquiry minimally (29 percent), or not using teaching as inquiry at all to decide which teaching practices would impact positively on their students (8 percent). The relatively large proportion (37 percent) of teachers in these latter categories indicates the need for additional support to improve some teachers’ understanding of the processes, and benefits for learners, of teaching as inquiry. Figure 5 shows the findings for inquiry in the classroom.

Figure 5: Levels of inquiry in the classroom

 figure 5 is a bar graph called levels of inquiry in the classroom.  The y-axis is called pecentage of classrooms and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20.  The x-axis is called levels of inquiry and is labelled as follows; High 20%, Some 43%, Minimal 29% and None 8%.

In the schools included in ERO’s 2011 evaluation, more teachers were engaged in high or some teaching as inquiry than was found in this evaluation.

The nature of teachers’ inquiry

Inquiry in the classroom took the following forms:

  • collaborative inquiry (such as data analyses, discussions about best practice, peer observations and peer feedback)
  • self review (programme reviews and action research)
  • documented personal reflections (such as journals and portfolios)
  • reflection in action.

The merit of these inquiry practices lies in the extent to which they are used to improve outcomes for all students, and how they are used to focus on the acceleration of priority learners. As such, the practices should not be applied in an ad hoc or irregular manner, but should become part of a toolkit that is drawn upon as part of the everyday practice of teaching.

Collaborative inquiry

Collaborative inquiry was most commonly practised when groups of teachers explored assessment data or achievement findings and made links to possible provision for students. Here is an example of this:

Student assessment data and progress is formally discussed two to three times each term. Teachers share with their colleagues information about the progress of students. There are regular discussions with peers about this, including which strategies will be trialled to improve students’ learning and engagement. (Contributing school, Years 1-6)

Collaborative inquiry has the potential to activate teacher’s prior knowledge, to encourage reflection, and to challenge entrenched thinking. [17] Through the collective critical thinking of the group, new insights can be gained. However, in this evaluation ERO found that as teachers considered future strategies for students they relied on their own teaching experience rather than a critical evaluation of a wider range of teaching and learning strategies. Teachers should expand discussions to include a wider range of teaching and learning strategies, such as published research, and develop the disposition and skills to debate constructively the evidential basis on which strategies and practices should be adopted.

Self review

Self review was one of the most prevalent inquiry activities undertaken by teachers. Typically, schools described their self review in terms of one-off or stand-alone evaluations such as departmental curriculum reviews in secondary schools, or programme evaluation in primary schools. Where this review was carried out well, evaluation was ongoing, and there were clear links between the analysis and interpretation of review information and changed practice at a departmental or classroom level as shown in this example.

The teacher looked closely at the analysis of the practice exams and at which areas were poorly taught and which needed to be the focus of revision. Leaders collated information at the departmental level so teachers could collectively talk about the gaps in teaching. (Secondary school Years 7-15)

Several schools thought their performance management system, with its focus on observation and feedback was a form of inquiry:

The principal and the team leader each do a walk through that results in constructive feedback. Teachers who are in the same curriculum groups visit each other’s classes to give feedback. (Full primary school, Years 1-8)

However, missing from their appraisal models was the necessary link between particular practices teachers were focusing on in their peer feedback, and measurement of improved outcomes for learners. To strengthen performance management systems, data about student achievement needs to be the basis for the professional learning goals teachers set, and the reference point against which teachers and leaders measure the improvements that have been made with respect to professional growth and impacts for learners.

Many teachers felt that by using formative assessment practices (for example, goal setting, providing feedback to students, and making assessment information available to students) they were engaging in teaching as inquiry. For these formative assessment practices to be lifted into the sphere of inquiry they should also include a necessary focus on the practices that teachers will use to bring about improved student learning. Many teachers still have some thinking to do with respect to how these practices, commonly referred to as “student voice”, actually align to a cycle of inquiry that is fundamentally about teacher reflection and action.

As a starting point, it would be useful for teachers to map onto their teaching as inquiry models the points at which student involvement could usefully contribute to their inquiry process. For example, students might contribute to the learning inquiry phase by providing their perspectives on learning – the progress they have made, and the extent to which learning activities have enhanced their engagement. In classrooms where inquiry was being implemented very well, some teachers were encouraging this practice, as this example shows.

Students are active partners in the inquiry process in this class. They have full access to their assessment information and understand and use this to lead their learning in mathematics. They are able to talk about their learning strengths and next steps and are proactive in accessing the support they need. The teacher conferences with students routinely about their progress and achievement towards their learning goals. The learner and the teacher are partners in a reciprocal learning partnership. (Intermediate school, Years 7-8)

Documented personal reflection

In their discussions with ERO, teachers commonly referred to reflection as an example of their inquiry activity. Teachers’ interpretation of reflection varied across schools according to the inquiry context in which it was being used. At one end of the continuum were teachers who filled in reflective diaries because this was a requirement of their performance management system. At the other end of the continuum were teachers whose disposition to make learning and teaching better saw them observing students closely, constantly monitoring students’ responses, and adjusting the programmes instantaneously.

The latter practices will make the most differences to students’ achievement and progress in schools. These teachers had taken up an ‘inquiry habit of mind’. As Earl, Timperley & Stewart [18] observe ‘an inquiry habit of mind is the habit of using inquiry and reflection to think about where you are, where you are going, how you will get there, and then turn around and rethink the whole process to see how well it is working and make adjustments.’

Typically, where teachers were using the most robust inquiry processes they were also engaged in the most robust reflective processes. Specifically, teachers:

  • were reflective whether they were working with their colleagues or teaching in their classrooms
  • attempted to make sense of aspects of their practice that were perplexing or challenging, and sought to identify areas of practice that could be improved
  • had an orientation to be creative, innovative and responsive about how to solve teaching challenges
  • engaged in inner dialogue or self-talk that had a clear focus on improving learning
  • were aware of the principles of effective teaching, and used these to evaluate their programmes and to make choices about next teaching steps
  • saw reflection as a necessary and ongoing aspect of their professional growth.[19]The intent of the teaching as inquiry approach is to build amongst teachers a sense of self‑responsibility for professional practice. In this evaluation, ERO found examples where teachers viewed inquiry as a predominantly formal process required by school leaders. Reflections were documented, or at least shared orally with others in collaborative forums.

The undertaking inquiry is formalised and embedded in school systems. For example, teachers undertake an inquiry project as part of the performance management system. These projects are linked to strategic goals and they are shared school-wide, including to the board of trustees. (Full primary school, Years 1-8)

Better practice was seen where teachers took self-responsibility for thinking about the impact of their teaching practices on students, and did this in an ongoing way. ERO found that where inquiry was practiced well in the classroom, teachers reflected frequently on their practice, and responded with changes to the programme or teaching approaches. Action included re-teaching aspects of a lesson where learners needed more support, and reorganising mathematics or reading groupings on the basis of observations about students’ learning. A key element of teachers’ practice was that they responded promptly to what they saw happening for learners. The following example illustrates this.

The teacher is constantly monitoring students’ understanding and making decisions about whether to go on or spend more time on a concept. She has several strategies for doing this, one of which is to check in with students from time to time. (Secondary school, Years 9-13)

Reflection in action

Reflection in action, originally conceptualized by Schon, [20] is the process of drawing on knowledge ‘to make spontaneous decisions about events as they happen.’ [21] It involves inner dialogue or self-talk about teaching practice. Morin [22]asserts that internal dialogue or self-talk is a “cognitive tool the individual uses to reach a solution”. The features of this self-talk include:

  • the identification of a problem of practice (“this student does not understand”)
  • thinking about what might be done to address it (“I could explain the ideas again or maybe she just needs more time to practise”)
  • prioritising approaches that might work (“which option will I choose?”)
  • evaluating the effectiveness of the approach (“he understood when I explained the ideas again, so that was useful”)
  • readjusting the approach (“I will need to take time to explain new ideas to her”).

The practice of reflection in action was less frequently spoken about by teachers in this evaluation. There are two qualities to reflection in action. Firstly, it is dispositional. Teachers take up a reflective stance that involves constant inner dialogue about the link between teaching and students’ learning. Secondly, there is usually only a small gap in time between what a teacher observes students doing, and their teaching response.

Reflection was observable in the ways teachers responded promptly to what students were doing. For example, where a student clearly did not understand something, a teacher tried an alternative approach or used a particular prompt to help the student. Responding in-the-moment is the essence of good teaching inquiry, as exemplified by this example.

The teacher is a close observer of students’ learning in progress. She constantly adjusts her approach as she assesses students’ understanding and application. She has a clear outcome in mind and, while learning might go in different directions during the session, she maintains that focus and stays tuned into what she sees students doing and their emerging needs. (Contributing school, Years 1-6)

ERO considers that using reflection in action represents the most advanced phase in the development of inquiry as a way of operating in New Zealand classrooms. Over time, and with good support from leaders, reflection in action could become the norm in New Zealand classrooms thereby leading to more responsive and successful teaching and learning.

High levels of inquiry

In 20 percent of classrooms, teachers were using teaching as inquiry to a high level. Typically this inquiry was characterised by:

  • close observation of students as they were learning, and responding immediately to their emerging needs
  • routinely using a range of data, including feedback from students, to assess the impact of their programmes and practices, and then adjusting these accordingly.

However, inquiry did not just happen within the four walls of a classroom. It also happened amongst groups of teachers working at similar year levels. These gatherings were regular events, and there was a clear structure to the meeting that kept teachers focused on the:

  • achievement and progress of groups of priority learners
  • strategies that could be used to accelerate their learning
  • teaching and learning factors that were likely to have contributed to, or detracted from, students’ outcomes.

The aspect of practice most likely to impact positively on the achievement of priority students was that teachers kept these students on the agenda, and there was close attention to improving their learning, as this example shows.

There is a lot of teacher dialogue about student achievement data. At team meetings particular students with particular achievement related concerns are discussed and strategies to help these children achieve better are agreed on. Information is kept for each child and they are regularly assessed. Achievement gaps at particular year levels are discussed. (Contributing school, Years 1-6)

A few teachers trialled new strategies. Nevertheless there was a tendency to plan for these priority learners using practices that teachers had used in the past rather than looking wider to see what the best practice literature and research indicated was effective. In a few secondary schools there was evidence that information was being used to alter course content to meet the needs and interests of students. Primary teachers used assessment information more effectively than their secondary colleagues for the purposes of improving student outcomes. They regrouped students (particularly in mathematics and reading), or adjusted their planning so it better aligned to what they had observed about student’s learning.

Some levels of inquiry

Forty-three percent of teachers used some inquiry in their classrooms. These teachers differed in their practice from those teachers who were using high level inquiry practice. Specifically, their inquiry was:

  • less likely to include all phases of the inquiry cycle
  • less likely to be used routinely in class
  • more focused on tracking and monitoring groups of students rather than on looking at the achievement and progress over time of individual priority learners
  • more variable across classes, year levels and departments
  • more likely to be programme review, rather than responsive classroom teaching (especially in secondary schools).

Minimal or no inquiry

In classrooms with minimal or no inquiry, there was a tendency for inquiry to be focused on compliance, for example undertaken as part of a performance management system, or to be treated as a one-off activity. The need to cover course content in some secondary schools meant that teachers felt that they had little opportunity to use assessment and evaluation information to interpret the curriculum flexibly and responsively for their students. This is likely to have impacted on their inclination to engage in meaningful inquiry.

In the small number of schools where expectations for inquiry had been developed, most teachers were not following these, or leaders were not following up with support so that good quality inquiry could happen. In a few schools teachers simply did not understand what teaching as inquiry was about, or had made little progress in implementing an inquiry approach. The positive leadership features noted in schools where inquiry was well developed were absent in these schools.

Where school-level support is high, teachers can use inquiry better. In 72 percent of classrooms where inquiry was happening well, there were also corresponding good levels of support and guidance for teachers to carry out this inquiry. By implication, leaders have a significant role in ensuring that high quality support and guidance is in place for teachers and for the benefit of students.

Differences by school type and subject area

Some differences in practice were evident by school type. Teaching as inquiry was being used more effectively in primary classrooms than in secondary. In approximately 30 percent of primary classrooms, teachers were engaging in high levels of teaching as inquiry, compared to seven percent of secondary teachers. Almost half (46 percent) of secondary teachers engaged in some or minimal inquiry indicating the need for some focused support for this sector. Too many of our secondary students are leaving school without the necessary qualification to enjoy economic success. [23] It is vital that secondary teachers use inquiry to identify:

  • who needs help
  • what support should be given to them to improve,
  • whether the support given them has worked.

Figure 6 illustrates the findings about teaching as inquiry by school type.

figure 6 is a bar graph called Levels of inquiry by school type.  The y-axis has two labels called Secondary and Primary. The x-axis is called percentage and is ranged from 0-100 at intervals of 20. Of both Secondary and Primary the bar is split into four parts they are respectively, Secondary - High 7%, Some 46%, Minimal 38% and None 9%. For Primary it is High 30%, Some 40%, Minimal 24% and None 6%.

It is likely that the organisational structure within primary schools facilitated greater opportunity for inquiry practice than in secondary schools. Evidence suggests that in primary schools teachers had more frequent occasions to meet and discuss student achievement across a range of learning areas, and to plan for students’ learning. Nonetheless, it would be useful for leaders in secondary schools to consider ways that they could encourage collaborative inquiry, and more frequent individual teacher inquiry. It would also be worthwhile for secondary leaders to consider the ways that inquiry could complement existing school self review, particularly how teachers could gather information for review in their daily work in the classroom using an inquiry approach.

Eighty classrooms were visited in secondary schools during this evaluation. ERO looked at a range of subjects (see appendices for details) [24] during these visits. Analysis was undertaken to see if there were any differences in inquiry practice by subjects. There were no statistical differences in practice between subject areas. Similarly, 120 classrooms were visited in primary schools, and there were no clear differences in the quality of the inquiry undertaken by teachers at different year levels in these schools. There were no apparent patterns in the extent to which primary and secondary schools were using teaching as inquiry practice when analysis was carried out by decile group.

Discussion

Evaluation practice

ERO identified some areas in which teachers’ inquiry practice could be improved. While teachers had anecdotal information about the effectiveness of their teaching, they seldom based their claims on evidence of improved outcomes for students. Evaluation documents were typically descriptions of learning and teaching activities, and students’ reactions to them. Both of these forms of reflection have limited potential to inform teaching practice. [25]

A lack of guidance and direction from school leaders about what was effective evaluation, and how to carry it out, impacted on teachers in some schools. In other schools, there were very clear expectations, and teaching as inquiry was integrated into school-level systems such as monitoring priority students and accounting for their progress through the performance management system and collaborative inquiry.

However, some teachers viewed these systems of accountability as a requirement that had to be met rather than an activity that they took up voluntarily, as the following examples show.

Through the appraisal process, the teacher set an individual teaching goal that was linked to student achievement targets, but it was done as “implementation” rather than as a desire to know how well students had achieved. (Full primary school, Years 1-8)

The principal and deputy principal have “chat and track meetings” with each teacher to monitor student progress, however evaluation is not an integral part of teachers’ regular classroom practice. Teachers are not intrinsically motivated to use inquiry in their classrooms. (Contributing school, Years 1-6)

ERO found that requirements for end of term unit evaluations and contrived inquiry as part of the performance management processes did not necessarily foster high quality teacher inquiry of the kind that improved teachers’ practices or ensured that inquiry happened routinely in classrooms.

Leaders could play a more helpful role in improving inquiry practice by ensuring that:

  • tools and processes used in evaluation appropriately focus teachers on outcomes for students, particularly priority students
  • information gathered through evaluation is used as the basis of decision-making (thereby conveying to teachers the usefulness of evaluation and inquiry)
  • teachers understand that evaluation information is a resource ‘for increasing the validity of their own and others’ assumptions about their students, how to teach them, and the effectiveness of current practice”. [26]

Planning future learning and teaching

The New Zealand Curriculum states that the teaching inquiry phase involves teachers in using ‘evidence from research and from their own past practice and that of their colleagues to plan teaching and learning opportunities aimed at achieving the outcomes prioritised in the focusing inquiry’. [27]

A small number of schools used their own practice and made use of research and best practice literature in deciding what to do for priority learners. However, most teachers drew heavily on their own routine practices and their experiences in the classroom, rather than looking wider to what practice could be adapted. This is not necessarily a problem if there is a good fit between the needs of students and the ideas, strategies and solutions offered by teachers. However, this will not always be the case.

Inquiry is not about preserving the status quo, unless this is known to be working well. It is about possibility thinking and being ready to explore new ways of doing things that might have better outcomes for students (Ministry of Education, 2008). [28]Reid [29] states:

Inquiry can be an exercise in navel gazing, or it can offer a powerful means to look outwards, engaging with ideas, innovations and research that are circulating in wider society. Questions such as: how do others see this issue? What are others doing? What does the research tell us? – are all ways of expanding the possibilities of inquiry.

Another area that teachers could expand their thinking and actions relates to deep reflection about teacher practice. There is a strong body of literature [30] indicating the benefits of dialogue in which teachers unpack their taken-for-granted beliefs about teaching and learning, reflect on the merits of their habitual practices, and explore alternative ways of operating. The sheer intensity of teachers’ work in the classrooms means that some teachers are operating in ‘a doing environment [rather] than in a knowing environment’. [31] In order to develop a critical awareness about themselves as practitioners, teachers need opportunities to talk about their work and why they do things certain ways. This self awareness includes looking at ‘one’s own behaviours and practice in a professional practice context... to monitor and inform teacher’s pedagogical actions’. [32] In a very small number of schools, there was a sense that this was beginning to happen.

As indicated in the excerpt below, change will happen when teachers are given permission, by leaders, to be innovative and are encouraged to critically reflect on how well initiatives have worked.

The school’s learning culture supports risk-taking amongst teachers. There is permission from the school leaders for teachers to try new things. The teachers are reflective and responsive to information they gather about student achievement. (Contributing school, Years 1-6)

In fostering this culture, there is a role for leaders in:

  • providing teachers with opportunities to evaluate new ideas, practices or approaches, to understand them in the context of their work, and to see how they might be applied in their classrooms
  • encouraging a critical stance in evaluating the solutions that are put forward in collaborative inquiry
  • fostering a culture of openness and trust, where teachers can challenge each other, and exchange ideas freely.

ERO encourages schools to use the following sources to further develop their knowledge of The New Zealand Curriculum:

  • Ministry of Education regional offices – contact them to ask for support from aNew Zealand Curriculum facilitator
  • The New Zealand Curriculum Online and Key Competencies online to access information and support
  • New Zealand Curriculum Updates published in the Education Gazette.