Collaboration: Inquire using evidence for change & improvement (and transformation?)

In this post I am sharing some more of my expertise from my research on collaboration. Later in the post I reflect on transformation - a new area of interest over the past year that is challenging my thinking and practice about inquiry, change and improvement. I welcome your comments on my thinking as I am still learning in this space.

In my last post I talked about the use of certain inquiry-based practices at a "macro" level to set common, needs-based goals for your network or cluster. This post emphasises the need to use evidence for change and improvement. The “inquiry and knowledge-building cycle” (Timperley et al., 2007) can be used to promote change and improvement. This is a framework that will move a network beyond sharing. Positive change is more likely through the use of the inquiry cycle as it enables a network to determine what they need to learn and do to promote students’ learning. Timperley, Kaser and Halbert (2013) have developed the Inquiry Learning and Action Spiral (which is a development of Timperley’s 2007 work) that focuses on all learners in the networks, whether student learners, adult learners or network leaders as learners. The spiral has a focus on both design and process, enabling network members to ask questions about process and to see what that might involve (e.g. the question: "what is leading to this situation?" can involve the development of a hunch to be explored further) (Timperley and Earl, 2012, p. 24). 

In a useful self-review tool for identifying “evaluative capability” (2010, p. 31), Timperley et al. refer to typical activities within each dimension of the inquiry and knowledge-building cycle and describe what practice looks like if a network is at “basic”, “middle” or “integrated” levels of capability (pp. 40-46). They also explain that without evaluative capability school leaders are less likely to be able to support the development of teachers as their schools may not be “organised to maximise instructional time” (Timperley et al., 2010, p. 30).

The “BES Exemplars” (downloadable from provide teachers and leaders with practical, evidence-based examples of how practice can be improved using the inquiry and knowledge-building cycle. Using real case studies to illustrate what it takes to “work smarter, not harder, through the use of evidence for continuous improvement” each exemplar explains in detail what participants did to ensure positive outcomes for students. Actions are clearly linked to the different dimensions of the inquiry and knowledge-building cycle (Alton-Lee, Timperley, Parr and Dreaver, 2012, p. 5).

Practices schools should and should not use to facilitate change and improvement
Ensure focused teacher learning.

Use evidence during teaching and learning.

Focus on learning rather than teaching.

Ensure that teacher practice is referenced to impact on students.

Have a common needs-based focus in your network.

Learn and discuss strong content that is useful to improve student outcomes.

Ensure that underlying concepts and thinking in inquiry based practices are understood by all.
Assume that change leads to improvement in student outcomes without checking for evidence.

Use teacher and leader self-assessments as the only indicator of successful change in practice.

Set goals without involving teachers, students and communities.

Set goals without ensuring a detailed analysis of next steps for student, teacher and leader learning using evidence.

Transformational Change 

The challenge for me now is to move forward as a facilitator to think more about Spirals of Inquiry and how these relate to transformational change in clusters and schools. I am still learning here in terms of defining or explaining transformation - but bear with me and let me know what you think!

I have recently had the opportunity to engage in some professional learning with Dr Louise Taylor, Senior Researcher at CORE. Louise helped me to explore transformative learning from many angles and apply that to my role as a facilitator in the Future Focused Inquiry team.

Louise introduced me to the connections between conforming, reforming and transforming, which are terms that represent three corresponding approaches, teacher-centred, student-centred and equity-centred. When focused on conforming, teachers and students are learning about knowledge. When focused on reforming, teachers and students are learning in improvement cycles as they change and review (this has been a key focus of inquiry). 

When focused on transforming, equity is at the centre of learning. The learner is viewed as socially constructed and they are supported to create new ways to be and know. Learner voice, agency and marginalised views are really important in transformative learning. This is a key focus of the the way we now need to work if we are to enable and empower each school or cluster or teacher or student to lead their own inquiries towards success.

The table below is a work in progress that Louise developed from her thesis and the work of Glenda MacNaughton (2003). I recently introduced this to some cluster leaders that I've been working with. We have been using spirals of inquiry to work towards setting common, needs-based goals and when I introduced this table, the cluster leaders realised that we were firmly focused on improvement. The challenge now is to look at how we might set goals and plan cluster work that is more focused on transformation.

Some of the questions that the cluster leaders and I will be asking ourselves and others are:
  • should we be in all spaces in the table? (my view is that all spaces are okay for different purposes)
  • why? 
  • where does inquiry fit? 
  • is inquiry flexible enough to be used in the transforming space? how? 
  • as a cluster, are you mainly engaged in reform and improvement or are you engaged in transformational change? How do you know?
  • what IS student agency? (the quote from Dr Brian Annan in my very first post is being explored and is changing our definitions of agency)
Louise challenged me to think about transformative research and how that applies to work in education settings. We need to ask ourselves in our work: Who are the people that are typically most affected in our work? Kids are often the most affected but least involved - so if you include their voice, their perspective and their ideas, you are half-way towards transformational learning.

“Both consciously and unconsciously, educators support or challenge prescribed values through the inclusion and exclusion of voices, and the manner in which divergent perspectives are presented” 
(McMahon, 2003, p.259)

Linking Transformation and Spirals of Inquiry

Fortunately, Timperley, Kaser and Halbert have already written about transformation and spirals of inquiry - so I don't need to repeat it all here!

"Dignity, purpose, options, curiosity and social responsibility for each young person – for us, these are the hallmarks of a transformed school." 
(Timperley, Kaser & Halbert, 2014 - full article which is worth reading here)

Each phase of the spiral is grounded in the principles below from The Nature of Learning (summary of the book by Dumont, Istance and Benavides, 2010) which is also worth reading:

I am now exploring the new learning I've experienced with Dr Louise Taylor and from Timperley, et al. I'm thinking about how that applies to my practice and the practices of the clusters I am working with on improving their collaborative practice.

I'd already started to work with clusters this year on gaining the perspectives of a much wider group, including their learners through some exciting and interesting processes. We will now be exploring even more ways to do this in order to focus on transformation. Two quotes that I particularly liked from Timperley, et al. are below. We will be exploring these further at our next cluster workshops:

"Innovation floats on a sea of inquiry and...curiosity is a driver for change. Creating the conditions in schools and learning settings where curiosity is encouraged, developed and sustained is essential to opening up thinking, changing practice and creating dramatically more innovative approaches to learning and teaching." (Timperley, Kaser & Halbert, 2014, p. 4)

"One of the important differences in this new framework is the involvement of learners, their families and communities, underpinning and permeating each of the phases shown, from the beginning and throughout the whole process. This requires a shift from student voice to developing learner agency, as the students help to identify and address issues in their learning environments." (Timperley, Kaser & Halbert, 2014, p. 5)

My next thoughtmongering session on this site will focus on explaining some of the ideas we (me and my clusters) have trialled. In the meantime, here is a cool video highlighting how different adult perspectives can be from childrens' perspectives.

Shout out today to the two clusters I am currently working with, Hereora in Christchurch and Porirua East Group. I have been amazed at how far we have come in a few short sessions to refocus goals and vision for 2015. Also a big shout out to Liz Maclennan and her colleagues at Breens Intermediate in Christchurch who have been working with me to develop spirals of inquiry related to some priority learners. They have been learning the exact same processes of inquiry at the micro teacher-learner-whānau level for 2014, while their leaders have been operating at the macro level with me for 2015. Dots will be joined!

Please comment with your thoughts about transformative education and how you might enable it!

Reference List:

Alton-Lee, A., Timperley, H., Parr, J., and Dreaver, K. (2012). BES Exemplar 3; Ngā Kete Raukura – He Tauira 3; Teacher and student use of learning goals. Ministry of Education.

Dumont, H., Istance, D., and Francisco, B. The Nature of Learning: Using research to inspire practice (2010). Practitioner guide from the Innovative Learning Environments Project.

Halbert, J., and Kaser, L. (2013). Spirals of Inquiry.
MacNaughton, G. (2003). Shaping early childhood: Learners, curriculum and contexts. Berkshire: Open University Press.

McMahon, B. J. (2003). Putting the elephant into the refrigerator: Student engagement, critical pedagogy and antiracist education. McGill Journal of Education, 38(2), 257.

Sweeney, R. (2011). An exploration of the collaborative practices within learning networks of New Zealand schools. Unpublished Master of Education thesis. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Taylor, L. (2007). Re-imagining professional learning in early education. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Melbourne.

Timperley, H., and Earl, L. (2012). Learning and Change Networks: A Background Paper on Designing Networks to Make a Difference: University of Auckland; Ministry of Education

Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Seminar Series 234, April 2014. Centre for Strategic Education.

Timperley, H., and Parr, J. (Eds.) (2010). Weaving Evidence, Inquiry and Standards to Build Better Schools. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., and Fung, I. (2007). Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES). Wellington: Ministry of Education.


Thanks Rebbecca for a thought provoking and interesting read. I love how freely you share your ideas and thinking. You are definitely "walking the talk of collaboration"
Andrea Wylie