Inquiry and Collaboration

“As teacher-inquirers begin formulating their initial wonderings, they often ponder in a similar fashion.”  The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research


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Teacher inquiry always involves collaboration.  Why is collaboration key?  

  • Research is hard work
  • Teacher talk is important
  • There’s safety in numbers
  • There’s strength in numbers

The question is how?

Options for collaboration

  1. Shared Inquiry:  when two or more practicing teachers or prospective teachers pair or group to define and conduct a single teacher research project together
  2. Parallel Inquiry:  Teacher pairs conduct two parallel but individual teacher-research projcest, working collectively to support each other’s individual endeavors.
  3. Intersecting Inquiry:  Two or more teachers are engaging in inquiry on completely different topics with similar wonderings or the same topic with different wonderings.  Collaboration occurs at the juncture.
  4. Inquiry Support:  Prospective or practicing teacher-inquirers can take full ownership of their inquiry project but invite one or more professionals who are not currently engaging in inquiry to support their work.

A growth mindset matters………………..for students and teachers.  Let’s make it happen in a way that supports relationships, collaboration, and practice change.

 

Dana, Nancy F. & Yendol-Hoppey, D. The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research.         California:  Corwin, 2014.

 

Inquiry in the Age of Evaluation

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Teacher inquiry is a viable way for educators to improve their practice.  It can lead individuals toward collaborative, supportive relationships with peers and meaningful change in practice.  It is professional learning with an internal locus of control that is focused on an individual and their context.    It begins with a question.  The question, or wondering, becomes the focus and goal.

 

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Ties to the evaluation process  To make professional learning both meaningful and relevant for educators, it seems wise to connect goals and growth to the evaluative process that exists for everyone.  With the educator creating their own goals, energy and effort can be focused with intent; progress is almost guaranteed.

Teacher “Evaluation”

Indeed, the new teacher evaluations have caused much grief to more than a few educators.  The word “evaluation”, alone, infers many uncomfortable things.  The deficiencies of the traditional view of teacher evaluation includes:

  • Outmoded evaluative criteria, usually in the form of checklists.
  • Simplistic evaluative comments, such as “needs improvement,” “satisfactory,” and “outstanding” without any consistency as to what those words mean. Many teachers end up being rated at the highest level on every item, with no guidance as to where they might focus their improvement efforts.
  • The same procedures for both novice teachers and career professionals— no differentiation that reflects veteran teachers’ experience and expertise.
  • Lack of consistency among evaluators; a teacher might be rated at the highest level by one administrator and much lower by another. This makes it much easier to attain tenure in some schools than in others, a violation of a fundamental principle of equity.
  • One-way, top-down communication. Evaluation is a process that’s “done to” teachers, and it often feels punitive, like a “gotcha.”

The purpose of evaluation often gets lost in the series of observations and checklists, causing much fear and general harm to the teaching profession.  The real purpose needs to be made visible:  Evaluations should be about helping teachers learn.  “Evaluations” should be inextricably tied to the educator’s personal professional learning plan.

According to Learning Forward’sStandards for Professional Learning ,

Professional learning that increases educator effectiveness and results for all students occurs within learning communities committed to continuous improvement, collective responsibility, and goal alignment and aligns its outcomes with educator performance and student curriculum standards.

 

The State of Michigan and the Michigan Council for Teacher Effectiveness has approved several tools to assist administrators in supporting the growth of the teachers.  The Danielson Framework is frequently used.  It is characterized by Four Domains:

  1. Planning and preparation
  2. Classroom Environment
  3. Instruction
  4. Professional Responsibilities

 

Connecting passion and growth to the evaluative process

 

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A continuum of professional learning that provides surface learning in the eight passions along with opportunities to engage in deep, collaborative inquiry with other educators would seem to be the most meaningful way to help educators learn and grow.

 

In this evaluative age, collaborative inquiry is an empowering way for educator’s to own their own learning.  Focusing on one of the eight areas of passion, their growth can easily be tied to the evaluative process.  The benefit, though, is the sense of empowerment that comes from inquiry.  Teachers lead their learning; direct their “evaluation”.  No fear.

 

Teacher Inquiry: It Begins With A Question

 “Where teacher inquiry occurs, there is a radical, but quiet kind of educational reform in process.”

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I am fortunate to have the opportunity to join inquisitive educators engaging in classroom inquiry.  The Job Embedded Professional Learning Network (2014-2015) at Oakland Schools is several years in, facilitated by Lauren Childs.  Our textbook is a guide.

Teacher inquiry is about growth.  It is a systemic, intentional study of one’s own professional practice. The following also holds true:

  • Purpose:  to improve classroom practice
  • Focus:  to provide insight into teaching in effort to change
  • Owner:  an insider
  • Impact:  local

It differs from mere reflection in that it is intentional, problem posing, visible and collaborative.

The inquiry process begins with a question or “wondering”:

Eight Passions

  1. Help a student
  2. Improve the curriculum
  3. Develop content knowledge
  4. Strategies/techniques
  5. Beliefs/practices
  6. Personal/professional identities
  7. Social Justice
  8. Teaching/Learning Context

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‘As a teacher-inquirer in charge of your own learning, you become a part of a larger struggle in education  – the struggle to better understand, inform, shape reshape and reform standard school practice.’

 

It all begins with a question.

 

 

 

What is Collaboration (part 1)

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As I wrote earlier , I had the very fortunate luck of attending  a mini-session at the Project Zero Summer Institute 2013:   “Effective Professional Learning Communities:  Supporting Learning in Staff Rooms and Classrooms” by Daniel Wilson.  The session aimed at identifying the key features of learning communities while discussing the common roadblocks that impede progress.

Group work and collaboration can be chaotic, frustrating and laborious.  Done well, it produces better products that are more responsive to group needs than those created by a lone cowboy.

True collaboration is not simply

  • communicating your plans without care for others
  • coordinating parts in an additive fashion that is not fluent
  • cooperating in a passive fashion without discussion and agreement on the big ideas
Daniel Wilson:    Effective Professional Learning Communities:  Supporting Learning in and Staff Rooms and Classrooms  Project Zero Summer Institute 2013,   Harvard Graduate School of Education

Daniel Wilson:
Effective Professional Learning Communities:
Supporting Learning in and Staff Rooms and Classrooms
Project Zero Summer Institute 2013, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Ideally, collaboration is the highly developed and dynamic process whereby more than one person comes together to create something truly unique and creative.  This process is democratic; with everyone’s voice heard.  The parts are reciprocally interdependent and the outcome a melodic blend that fits together well. Individuals design together, as equals, for the greater good.

This is true for all groups.