Teaching as Inquiry

According to the latest research by Dylan Wiliam, the effective use of Teacher Learning Communities (TLC) has an impact on student achievement (outlined in my last blog). According to the latest research conducted by John Hattie, (Visible Learning, 2018) the strongest factor connected to student achievement is Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE). So, what’s the difference? Well, to start let’s take a look at side by side definitions:


To my mind, they are different, but interdependent. How do you have one without the other? If you are committed to collective action then the best way to achieve that is through a focused community of practice. Sounds simple, but we all know it is not. There is an amazing amount of research out there that talks about both of these factors. Plus a plethora of books, templates, and other resources you can spend your hard earned money on to learn how. Please don’t. Not because I think these factors are unimportant (they most certainly are) but because you can find all you need for free (check my resource page).  The real work is creating opportunities for everyone to see just how effective CTE and TLC are. One place to start? TIN!

A teacher here in NZ that I have been visiting was preparing for an upcoming staff meeting, which would be followed by an observation the following day. I asked about her preparation and she kept referring to her “TIN”. The look on my face let her know I was clueless. TIN stands for Teacher Inquiry Notebook (Kiwi’s shorten everything!) She kindly sat with me and went over this amazing resource telling me: “Years ago, I just collected stuff in folders and file cabinets, that I hardly looked at again. Sometimes, I used my planner as a catch all, and probably lost half of it. About five years ago, the principal bought us three-ring binders, and each year we crammed more stuff into it – data, procedures, grading, etc., it was a mess. This year the person hired to give ongoing PD asked us to use a TIN. In my 16 years of teaching I have never found a tool as useful to me as this notebook. It’s for me – just for me – my observations, my relevant student data, my development as a teacher, my goals, my plan. We all use them. We bring them to every staff meeting to show evidence, or write down next steps for student learning. Some areas we commit to as a group, other areas we work on individually. But I keep track of it all here – just the most important things for this month and this year. I’m really happy because I can use it as evidence for my evaluation cycle. Each school year you start a new one, and we’ve already decided to use them again next year.”

This. Is. Genius! Straightforward, simple, collaborative, meaningful, personalized, timely, and as far as the teachers at this school are concerned – effective! It works like a science inquiry notebook where you write, draw, glue in, whatever you feel is important evidence to monitor student outcomes. In her notebook she had data on reading scores, observation notes, and RTI plans. So… the teacher inquiry notebook supports and enhances the teacher learning community and creates collective teacher efficacy.  How awesome is that?!

The Ministry of Education has a whole area dedicated to teacher inquiry.  Here are two links:  Professional Learning and TKI

This an excerpt that succinctly defines the TIN + TLC = CTE concept really well:

In the teaching inquiry, teachers select teaching strategies that will support their students to achieve these outcomes. This involves asking questions about how well current strategies are working and whether others might be more successful. Teachers search their own and their colleagues’ past practice for strategies that may be more effective, and they also look in the research literature to see what has worked in other contexts. They seek evidence that their selected strategies really have worked for other students, and they set up processes for capturing evidence about whether the strategies are working for their own students.

The learning inquiry takes place both during and after teaching as teachers monitor their students’ progress towards the identified outcomes and reflect on what this tells them. Teachers use this new information to decide what to do next to ensure continued improvement in student achievement and in their own practice.

Although teachers can work in this way independently, it is more effective when they support one another in their inquiries. We all have basic beliefs and assumptions that guide our thinking and behavior but of which we may be unaware. We need other people to provide us with different perspectives and to share their ideas, knowledge, and experiences.

Finally, for those visual learners out there – the teacher gave me permission to take pictures of her TIN and share them:  Teacher Inquiry Notebook.  The last two pictures are of a learning plan for one of her RTI students called ALL (accelerated literacy learners). 

I will definitely be giving this a go next year…who’s with me?

As always, I welcome any thoughts, questions, or comments.


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