Posted by: darcymullin | July 8, 2013

Structuring Collaborative Inquiry

In the Spring, two teachers (Carol Barton and Anita Berekoff) attended an Inquiry training session put on by the BCTF.  They came back excited, not so much about what they had learned – since both have been involved in multiple inquiries, but more about their idea for our school.  They thought adding a couple of minutes to our school day in order to create early dismissal days where we as a staff can engage in Professional Development based on inquiry could have huge benefits for our school.  I had to agree…it sounded like a pretty good idea.

I took their idea forward and after presenting to our PAC (twice), our parents (in an open meeting) and finally the School Board and trustees our plan was approved as a pilot for next year.  So for six afternoons next year students will be dismissed at 12:15 and our teachers will have the afternoon to collaborate and learn from each other.  Needless to say, we are pretty excited.

As a principal (and parent of two students) of Giant’s Head, I am excited about the professional learning that will happen next year, but at the same time I feel some pressure for our school to do well.  I think there are huge opportunities if the model gets approved beyond next year – perhaps opening the door for other elementary schools in our district to follow suit.

Our staff is very excited about the opportunity and about 75% of them have been involved in the inquiry process, so we are going into it with our eyes wide open.  I know there will be a lot of learning going on, but there is a question that has been weighing on me:

How do I encourage teachers to pursue areas of interest while maintaining some cohesive vision of where we are going.  How do I provide structure while allowing the teachers freedom of choice.

which way to go

After much thought and a number of conversations with some knowledgeable colleagues I came to the conclusion that the answer was right in front of me.  As I mentioned in my last post, my inquiry next year is looking to formalize a pyramid of interventions for our school.  I am going to ask teachers to keep this work in mind when choosing their inquiry.  In doing so I can create a framework for people’s learning, but allow them to enter it where they want.

Once teachers establish their inquiry question when we reconvene in August they will decide where it fits within the pyramid – the preventative phase, program phase or personalized phase.  My guess is that most classroom teachers will focus on learning that will be preventative, since that is the world they live in.  If that is the case, I will ask them to consider the 20% of the students that struggle?  How are they going to get a second chance at success in the classroom?

If we have a vision that is focused on quality instruction that helps those with minor struggles before they become chronic, I think we can make meaningful improvements in learning for our students.  Focusing on our most vulnerable learners is a good place to begin our journey.



  1. Hey Darcy,

    Another challenge that you need to tackle is, “How are you going to document the learning that is done by the teachers on your collaborative teams?”

    What happens in far too many circumstances is that individual teams learn really cool things, but that learning stays isolated inside those teams. That’s no better, really, than the status quo where teachers rely on their own thinking.

    Does this make any sense?

    Like what you’re doing here…

    • I agree Bill – it’s something I’m thinking about. There has to be a balance. I want people to share their learning, since we are a pilot our district will want to see some evidence, but I also don’t want it to be onerous. I want teachers to focus on learning. My hope is the sharing wil happen in a way that is natural and does not add significantly to their workload.

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