Using Spirals of Inquiry to Reflect on my Facilitation Practice

I try to practice what I preach. That's why this year, when I was asked to take on a small team leader role for the Future Focused Inquiries team, I asked the team what they thought about us developing a collaborative team inquiry into our own facilitation practices. They were keen as mustard (because they are so fabulous) and we began a journey to explore our practices using Spirals of Inquiry

We set up a private GoogleSite for the team and we nutted out the process together. We then spent all of the first term and a lot of the second term this year observing each other in action, and asking any other colleagues to observe us too. We kept observations loose with no specific criteria to begin with - that was a risk but it has paid off. As we were observed and given general feedback we gathered our reflections on our own pages within our team site. 

This was our initial WHY:

Team Inquiry: Building our capability to facilitate FFI clients to utilise the spirals of inquiry as a tool for equity and innovation

Our Team Inquiry emerged from our scanning phase and is underpinned by the Vision, Principles, Key Competencies, and Values of the New Zealand Curriculum. Our work also aligns to the 7 Principles for Innovative teaching and learner success (The “Seven Principles of Learning” are taken from the Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI), a subsidiary of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).)

We realise the power of professional learning and its impact on learning communities (leaders, teachers and learners, whānau/aiga etc)

Half way through the year I worked with the team to look over all of our reflections and observations and other notes and thoughts in order to try to focus our inquiries. We spent time together looking across our own data and each other's data about our practices to look for themes. We found HEAPS to work on so we needed to think about how to prioritise. 

We found common themes across all of our data about our facilitation and narrowed down to several areas where we could work together. We summarised them into these two key areas:

  • developing our facilitation skills to help FFI clients to use cultural frameworks (such as the Talanoa model) in a range of practical contexts, adapting and extending the Spirals of Inquiry framework to include Pasifika or Māori frames and contexts
  • build our capability to translate theory into practice and vice versa and to help our FFI clients to do this

Since this focusing of our team inquiry, we have continued to work with our schools and services. We've used Story Hui to evaluate using narrative inquiry and we've continued to have others observe us but this time with a narrower focus on our two team inquiry areas.

I've seen enough evidence from these continued processes of observation to feel ready to consider the Spiral phase called "Developing a Hunch". This phase is about getting deeply held beliefs and assumptions out on the table about our practice. So today I used a practice analysis process to reflect on what I have been seeing in my schools, services and clusters. This is where, as a team, we can all start to really sharply focus our inquiry because strong evidence is now bubbling up from the people we facilitate (our learners, if you like). In my case, as you read the "Hunchwork" below, you will see that what has bubbled up from my "learners" seems to be confirming the need for me to focus on building my capability to translate theory into practice and vice versa. This is so exciting for me! I am now hoping that my team mates are ready to do something similar as we deliberately move through the Spirals phases towards taking some specific actions within the Learning and Taking Action phases.

Of course, a lot of Learning and Taking Action is already taking place, but the whole point of engaging in deliberate Spirals of Inquiry is to do this in a far more disciplined and highly reflective way.

I am blogging this out to show that I practice what I preach but also to seek input from my "learners" themselves. This is the truly exciting part. I want the leaders that I work with to know that this has emerged and that I want to do something about my own practice to help to address it. I'll be sharing this blog with them at my upcoming sessions to get their input. I'll name them in this post if they give me permission but for now they will stay anonymous.

As always, I welcome your thoughts if you are reading this post!
The use of Story Hui with two of the clusters that I facilitate has revealed a common
pattern that comes back to my practice. The pattern relates to our collaborative 
facilitation team goal around translating theory to practice. Many of the cluster 
leaders have reported struggles in taking the cluster work done at leadership level 
back into their own schools or services and communities. I realise now that schools 
need more support in how to translate theory into practice. Below is a situation 
analysis to help me to understand the problem better:

PROBLEM: Cluster leaders state that they have experienced difficulty in taking cluster thinking back to their schools or services and communities. Some leaders have also explained that if they came into the cluster work later they struggled to understand what was happening and some even felt "stupid" or on the back foot. The latter issue relates to the lack of work done to spread the cluster work beyond the leadership sessions with me.

 My Practices     Reasons for using those practices    
 I have purposely created and delivered sessions in ways that require the leaders to think about what effective practice is but the actual doing is left to them to decide, plan and create back in their own schools or services.  I plan and facilitate to enable leaders to be the drivers of the cluster work, not me. I give advice but let them know that it is them that have full agency over the cluster vision, design and practices.
 I focus my facilitation on theory & research, interspersed with practical ideas for how to gather other perspectives (such as Design Thinking tools); how to lead change; basically a bunch of "how to's" to support all the "why's"I assume that the cluster leaders are ready and/or confident to take the theory and some of the ideas back into their places to spread the cluster work and to gather others into the development of the cluster. (Reflection: does it feel too soon for them? or do they need more help? - I should never assume anything!)
 I don't check in to see what each school or service has done. I ask leaders to share that with each other - I rarely step down into that detail to check that leaders are doing things back in their schools/services to spread cluster work as appropriate. I don't check to see if they are doing this, or if not, I don't check to see why they are not doing this.  I assume a lot about the spreading of the cluster work beyond leaders. I don't check for the real reasons cluster work may not be spreading below leadership level. Therefore I don't address the real issues behind the problem. (Reflection: I don't even know what the issues are!)
 In my facilitation work I make it clear to the leaders that I am not holding them accountable - they need to hold each other accountable. I also make it clear that it is not my role to involve others, it is my role to facilitate their ideas and thoughts aligned to the theory and research about effective clustering. I sometimes bring examples of other clusters to help.     I don't address role clarity for cluster members while we are creating the cluster vision. I don't introduce much accountability while there is no role clarity or strong relational trust in a cluster. I try to remain a neutral, external expert by not enforcing any accountability. I explain what peer-to-peer accountability is and why it is needed and leave the cluster leaders to decide how and when to hold each other accountable.

CONSEQUENCES:I'm not effectively addressing the age-old issue of espoused theory vs theory in action - the enactment gap! The practical ideas are not enough - leaders may not have time to plan for how to involve and inform others in the cluster. I don't know what the leaders think or feel about spreading the cluster vision work back in their schools - are they confident to do this? Do they get enough time to plan for it? Are the ideas enough? Do they need more help? Are they comfortable in creating a vision with others and in learning with others?Role clarity may need to be something we address early on? Or accountability may be all that is needed?

There is a clue in this quote from one leader's story hui: We need to get comfortable as a leadership team about what is going on before we can feed back properly to staff.


Nick B said…
Hi Becc - this is a comprehensive review that has heaps in it of value for discussion in the development of your SA Professional Practice role. Thanks for sharing in this way. Additionally, it could provide a springboard for a series of cross organisational snapshots of practice and be a part your knowledge base in the role. Anyway, good to see this thinking.
Exactly my thinking too Nick! We're always lined up like that! I have been hearing of other amazing teams and am definitely planning to capture what they do in various ways. Chrissie B helped me in that thinking yesterday too. Exciting times :)
Shane Buckner said…
As a leader who is profoundly aware of the huge change that is currently being undertaken in schools, I feel at times quite hesitant to push too hard in introducing too many things in any one year. We have to embed quality before engaging in "new" things and our staff are working very hard in ensuring children are supported in their learning pathways.
This however, doesn't mean that we don't try to initiate a groundswell of new energy, especially from those in the middle leadership and engage them more and in hindsight, probably earlier.

Your honesty about your reflective practise is so evident and as a critical thinker, you challenge yourself often. You are a real role model in this.
thanks for your comment Shane :) Keep initiating the groundswell!!