How to realize the value of inquiry: Collaborative Inquiry 3 of 3

Collaborative Inquiry

When done right, collaborative inquiry(CI) engages participants in deep reflection on, and discussion about evidence and artifacts relating to the organization's goals and the individual's practice. CI participants challenge each others' practice and points of view in pursuit of positive change.

Calling a collection of people a, "collaborative inquiry group" however does not mean that they will really be engaging in collaborative inquiry. So how do you know if your groups are off track, and what can you do to make the groups more effective?

In this three-part blog series, we look at three common reasons CI groups are dysfunctional and what the research suggests for improving group function. This is part three of three.

Realizing the Value of Inquiry

If participants see neither the need for, nor the purpose of collaborative inquiry they are likely to be disengaged, even angry about having to do something for which they see no value. Participants do not see how the process will help them or their students, and feel their time is better spent in other ways.

Ground inquiry in teacher experience (Bruce, 2013).

  • Allow participants choice in group and inquiry focus.
  • Understand the purpose of each stage of inquiry, and how to determine the next best step in the process.
  • Pursue needs arising from the examination of student learning (Nelson & Landel, 2009). This creates authenticity and relevancy as it relates to participants’ daily teaching and student learning.
  • Take time needed to examine the data carefully and to create a problem that all participants agree upon.
  • Embed inquiry into classroom experience taking ideas from the meeting room into the classroom and back again:
    • define the problem,
    • explore solutions / strategies / actions, and
    • continuously reflect on evidence with the inquiry group to determine if the strategy is working.

Encourage questioning of both content and process (Nelson, Deuel, Slavit, & Kennedy, 2010).

  • Research the purpose of collaborative inquiry together before beginning.
  • Invite others who have participated in collaborative inquiry share their successes with others beginning the process.
  • Ask probing questions for clarification relating to the discussion, and relating to the inquiry process. The more participants understand, the more likely they are to find value in collaboration.
  • Value conflict when it arises because it challenges participants to view situations from another point of view.
  • Keep dialogue focused so there is sustained attention to the inquiry question.
  • Identify inquiry question that are:
    • open ended, and
    • relevant to classroom practice.
  • Engage with inquiry questions that are reasonable and achievable given time, resources and effort (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2010)

This paper was created as part of my participation in the graduate course Collaborative Inquiry at Queen's University as part of the Graduate Diploma in Professional Inquiry leading to a Master of Education degree. This work, shared with permission, was a collaborative effort with this group of passionate fellow learners and leaders. 

  • Scott Dowling, Student Achievement Officer with the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat in Barrie Ontario
  • Erin Elmhurst, Principal, Forest View Public School in Oshawa, Ontario
  • Chris Elliott, Intelligence Officer, Canadian Armed Forces in Windsor, Ontario
  • Kristin Harding, Teacher at Maani Ulujuk Ilinniarvik in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
  • Brendan Lea, Vice Principal, Curriculum at The Bishop Strachan School in Toronto, Ontario.
  • Miles MacFarlane, Teacher, Leila North Community School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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