Teaching as Inquiry: A mechanism for leading meaningful and manageable pedagogical change

NB. This was first written as a position paper for Waikato University, hence the 'novel-esque' lengths. 
Source: http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-documents/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/Effective-pedagogy
An important leadership issue that exists at a micro (school) and macro (systemic/national) level is that school-based, episodic and initiative-focused professional development does not support meaningful and manageable pedagogical change to occur.

This is particularly important as many New Zealand schools have been expected to design and implement a school curriculum based on the New Zealand Curriculum from 2010 and Te Mauratanga from 2011, whilst also introducing National standards from 2010 and the newly aligned NCEA standards from 2011. At the same time a number of schools have also been working on implementing e-learning across the curriculum.

My position is that pedagogical change can and must occur. With the ‘right tools’ school-based professional development can result meaningful and manageable pedagogical change. I believe one of the most effective ways that leaders can help educators to achieve the required pedagogical changes is through the implementation of ongoing school wide professional development framed around the ‘teaching as inquiry’ cycle.

Literature Review
Recent educational literature highlights both the issue of episodic, initiative-focused professional development and the position that ‘teaching as inquiry’ can support teachers in achieving both meaningful and manageable pedagogical change.

In the summary section of the ‘Teacher professional learning and development: best evidence synthesis iteration (BES)’, Timperley (2008) highlights “the strong, mostly anecdotal, evidence that much professional development has not been effective in terms of achieving change in teacher practice” (p.x). PPTA President Robin Duff (2007) also suggests in the BES that the current professional development is not enough, stating, “For many teachers, one-day workshops are all the professional development they experience because of the cost and unavailability of better options. These are not the ideal form of PD, although they may still have their place to share new information or to enable teacher networking.” (p.xii).

Timperley (2007) also suggests the importance of setting up conditions that are responsive to the way that teachers learn. She emphasises the need for teachers to define and monitor their goals and progress towards them. Now, more than ever, teachers need to see themselves as life-long learners who are adapting to changing needs of students (Bolstad et al. 2012). As Timperley (2007) states “an essential element of this inquiry is that teachers see themselves as agents of change - for their students and their own learning” (p.xliv). ‘Teaching as inquiry’ allows a teacher to align their learning to meet the demands of their curriculum and the needs of their specific students. This assists in making the professional learning authentic and personally meaningful in a way that initiative-focused sporadic professional development does not.

Another reason ‘teaching as inquiry’ provides such effective professional development is its focus on student learning outcomes. Alton-Lee (2003) and Timperley (2007) promote the importance of clear learning outcomes as goals, which then inform teachers’ learning goals which ensures the focus is on the student from the outset. This is reinforced by Fullan (2001) who states that “the key to system-wide success is to place educators and students at the centre” (p.1). He highlights the importance of educators focusing on the student and not just the educational initiative of the moment. This also means that teachers can appreciate the links between how and what they teach, how learners respond and what the students actually learn for ‘teaching as inquiry’ to be effective and actually lead meaningful change (Timperley, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2008).

One of the key reasons that pedagogical change is often challenging to achieve in schools is due to the way schools deal with the introduction of ICT tools and strategies as a singular focus. As Fullan (2011) states “no successful country became good through using technology at the front.” (p.5). Without the focus on pedagogy and student outcomes, technology has the potential to become a distraction (Fullan, 2011) detached from the student’s learning. Using a ‘teaching as inquiry’ model to support ICT professional development ensures the focus remains on the student outcomes, not ICT tools in isolation. Noeline Wright (2010) highlights the importance of embedding “technological tools into the natural flow of schooling” (p.14). Educators need to use the ‘teaching as inquiry’ cycle to ensure they are examining the effectiveness of ICTs and online learning (Means, 2009). Similarly, Alton-Lee (2003) highlights the need for “curricular alignment: The use of resources, teaching materials and ICT is aligned with curriculum goals to optimise student motivation and accomplish instructional purposes and goals.” (p.ix). ‘Teaching as inquiry’ becomes increasingly important as it supports educators to trial new teaching interventions and measure the impact that teachers have as knowledge-generator (Robinson, 2003).

One reason why episodic initiative-focused professional development fails to result in meaningful and manageable change is because there is often inadequate time and support provided. As Aitken (2008) states “while research and inquiry can powerfully illuminate the impact of practice on students and take us forward, the process may involve discomfort” (p.31). Timperley also (2007) highlights the importance of organisational conditions and support, suggesting that teachers are unlikely to engage in inquiry if these are not present. As Alton-Lee (2008) states “the challenge for us all is to create systemic conditions that support teachers in their learning and inquiry” (p.31). Therefore, for learning and inquiry to be meaningful and manageable, school leaders have a responsibility to develop and sustain a school-wide learning community and are responsible for supporting and sustaining a continuous culture of learning amongst staff (Bolstad et al., 2012). The 2012 Education Review Office (ERO) report on ‘teaching as inquiry’ also reinforces these ideas, observing, “effective practice was seen where school leaders had worked with teachers to build an understanding about ‘teaching as inquiry’. They had progressively established systems to support inquiry, and were monitoring how effectively inquiry was impacting on learning.” (p. 9). However, ERO also highlighted that this was happening in only a few schools, which would suggest that whilst ‘teaching as inquiry’ has been identified as a meaningful and manageable way to enable pedagogical change, schools still struggle to make it a priority. As Justine Driver (2011) states in her thesis “teaching as inquiry is a tool for implementing change within schools and managing change is challenging for school leaders and teachers” (p. ii).

Assumptions, justifications and the larger educational picture
My position is that ‘teaching as inquiry’ is a process that has the potential to facilitate pedagogical change. However, one assumption is that appropriate time and support is important in making the inquiry successful and effective. Aitken and Sinnema (2008) highlight that teachers need to inquire into the impact of their actions on their students and into interventions that might enhance student outcomes. The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) also states that effective pedagogy requires that teachers inquire into the impact of their teaching on their students. ‘Teaching as inquiry’, if implemented across the school, can be an effective way for teachers to evolve their pedagogical practice whilst focusing on the needs of their learners. This process also addresses school wide goals, which often focus on improving student learning and achievement.

Findings gathered from a study I undertook (having implemented a school wide professional development model framed by the ‘teaching as inquiry’) support the assumption that appropriate time and support is important in making the inquiry successful and effective. During 2011 and 2012 I was responsible for leading and reporting on a school wide ICT professional development contract for over 150 teaching staff at Epsom Girls Grammar School (a large girls secondary school located in Epsom, Auckland). It was during this time that I observed first-hand the pressures teachers felt due to the simultaneous implementation of the NZC, newly aligned NCEA standards and the introduction of ICT tools and strategies. This process provided a range of new understandings of the issue and it was during this time that I also saw first hand, how ‘teaching as inquiry’ could be used as a mechanism for achieving meaningful and manageable pedagogical change.
Figure 1
Arriving at the end of the first year of a three-year school-wide ICT PD contract, feedback from the teaching staff suggested (as assumed) that teachers were feeling overwhelmed by ‘yet another’ educational initiative (ICTPD) that had been added to an already busy professional development programme. There was also a level of frustration with the first year of the professional development being sporadic and having focused (as it does in many schools) on the ICT tools and strategies in isolation, highlighting the issue episodic, initiative-focused professional development. It was therefore necessary to change the focus to their students’ learning outcomes, not just the ICT tools and strategies alone. The way this was achieved was through the development of an ‘E-learning Action Plan’ (refer to Figure 1) that used used the stages of the ‘teaching as inquiry’ cycle to inform an action research project which was completed by curriculum based professional learning groups (PLGs).

The aim of this inquiry process was to provide all curriculum teachers, with a process to guide their integration of e-learning tools and strategies that was directly related to student outcomes and aligned to school-wide and personal learning needs. This provided a mechanism for pedagogical change that felt both manageable and meaningful to both the teacher and learner. The contextualisation and personalisation that ‘teaching as inquiry’ allowed meant that teachers could also focus on implementation of the newly aligned NCEA standards within the same cycle, which added to the sense of achieving pedagogical change (by introducing ICTs tools and strategies) in a way that was meaningful (as it was focused on the student) and manageable (as it integrated student learning outcomes, NCEA and ICT needs to be addressed in a single contextualised cycle) way.
Figure 2
It was in the second year of leading the school wide professional development that feedback was gathered that further justified the assumption that manageable and meaningful pedagogical change can be achieved using ‘teaching as inquiry’. This time the model was adapted to more directly address the demands of the NZC (with a particular focus on thinking, collaboration, differentiation) as well as focusing on the implementation of ICT tools and strategies. It was this adapted model that highlighted how ‘teaching as inquiry’ could be used to address the many challenges teachers are facing, including the implementation of the NZC, the demands of the newly aligned NCEA achievement standards as well as the need to be integrate ICT tools and strategies. The use of ‘teaching as inquiry’ allowed all of these topics to be aligned within a single cycle of school wide professional development. (refer to Figure 2)

The feedback from teachers was again very positive, with many highlighting how this process made implementing aspects of the NZC and introducing ICT tools and strategies manageable and ensured that the focus remained on the student throughout.

The experience at Epsom Girls Grammar School, I believe, reinforces how effective ‘teaching as inquiry’ can be in supporting teachers to navigate their way through the demands of the NZC, assessment and ICT tools and strategies that results in pedagogical change that is both meaningful and manageable. This however, can only be successful if the school provides the time and structures to enable inquiry and learning to take place.

Over the last two years I have also shared this strategy, through platforms such as EdTalks, NZC Online, Ulearn and a series of national conferences and online communities. Several schools have now adopted this model and feedback would suggest that this approach works well across the wider New Zealand educational landscape. There are a number reasons why I believe through using teaching inquiry, professional development can be meaningful and manageable in today’s learning environment. Firstly, it is based on effective pedagogy as outlined in the NZC. Secondly, it can be personalised to meet teacher professional needs and to encompass a range of educational initiatives. Thirdly, it can be contextualised into any curriculum area. It also provides a plan of action that provides structure and a level of accountability (if plans are shared and reported on). The final reason I believe ‘teaching as inquiry’ is so effective, is that it puts the focus on the student outcomes, not just the initiative of the moment.

Adaptive experts also know how to continuously expand their expertise, restructuring their knowledge and competencies to meet new challenges. 

(Darling-Hammond, 2006)
In a time when teachers are juggling a number of demands it is important that we provide them with strategies and processes for becoming adaptive experts who can achieve pedagogical change in a manageable way. As Earle (2008) states, “action research and focused inquiry both contribute to professional learning for teachers” (p.11) reinforcing the idea that ‘teaching as inquiry’ can be used, at both a micro (school) and macro (systemic/national) level, to guide not only professional learning but can also become a mechanism for achieving meaningful and manageable pedagogical change.

Aitken, G. & Sinnema, C. (2008). Effective pedagogy in social sciences/tikanga a iwi: best evidence synthesis interation (BES). Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education.

Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: best evidence synthesis. Wellington, N.Z.: Ministry of Education.

Bolstad, R. & Gilbert, J. (2012). Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching: a New Zealand perspective. [Wellington, N.Z.]: Ministry of Education.

Driver, J. (2011). Teaching as inquiry: Understandings and challenges towards a professional way of being. Unitec Institute of Technology. Retrieved from

Education Review Office. (2011). Directions for learning: the New Zealand curriculum principles, and teaching as inquiry. Wellington, N.Z.: Education Review Office.

Education Review Office. (2012). Teaching as inquiry: Responding to learners. Wellington, N.Z.: Education Review Office.

Fullan, M. (2011) - The wrong drivers.pdf. Retrieved from http://elearn.waikato.ac.nz/pluginfile.php/523311/mod_forum/attachment/1235832/Fullan%202011%20-%20The%20wrong%20drivers.pdf

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning. London, U.K.: Routledge.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers. London, U.K.: Routledge.

NZ Curriculum Online. (n.d.). National Standards. Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/National-Standards

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development & Education Review Office. (2010). OECD review on evaluation and assessment frameworks for improving school outcomes: New Zealand country background report 2010. [Wellington] N.Z.: Ministry of Education.

Schleicher, A. (2011), Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the World, OECD Publishing. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264113046-en

NZ Curriculum Online. (n.d.). Teaching as inquiry. Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-stories/Case-studies/Teachers-as-learners-Inquiry/Teaching-as-inquiry

TeachThought - Learn better. (2013). Retrieved July 18, 2013, from http://www.teachthought.com/

Timperley, H. (2007). Teacher professional learning and development: best evidence synthesis iteration (BES). Wellington, N.Z.: Ministry of Education.

Timperley, H., Wilson, A., Barrar, H., & Fung, I. (2008). Teacher professional learning and development. Retrieved from http://www.orientation94.org/uploaded/MakalatPdf/Manchurat/EdPractices_18.pdf

Wright, N. (2010). e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: a literature review. Wellington. N.Z.: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/77667/948_ELearnLitReview.pdf


  1. Hey Claire
    Great piece! Well researched and written (of course)
    I think its all very well for Timperly, Alton-Lee, Wilson, Barrar, & Fung, 2008 et al ERO etc to bang on about teaching as inquiry as being the panacea to all PLD and student achievement ills..my concern is that in reality, in my experience (having been in schools widely, range of deciles over the last 18months) there are very few teachers who are using the teaching as inquiry cycle effectively if at all. In fact I can not name any...other than those whose hands have and are being held (tightly) to lead them through the process tiny steps at a time and once we let go of their hands I have my doubts about the sustainability aspect.

    I know teaching as inquiry is hugely powerful to lift student achievement and raise teachers' self-efficacy because I have seen it first hand. The issues that I continue to grapple with are a) how do we make teachers care enough to want to change what they do b) once/if they do care enough, support them to break poor pedagogical habits that are sometimes years in the making. (it takes as long to break a habit as it did to make it). There are so many teachers so far away from effective pedagogy, responsive teaching, assessment for learning, knowing a literacy strategy, appropriate scaffolding...etc that it makes my heart ache! The NZC is now old... and still the number of teachers who can explain the use of effective pedagogies is tiny... and teachers confuse inquiry learning with teaching as inquiry...strewth! Where is the accountability and professionalism? It is not ok for teachers to say we don't have time for this or we are already doing this or Im too busy..because this is the very essence of teachers teaching effectively so as to maximise engagement and learning.

    How did you measure the effectiveness of the inquiry cycle...did the teachers measure achievement before and after a teaching intervention and see positive change?

    Anyway great food for thought here. Thanks for putting it out there.

    1. Hi Cindy,

      I hear you that Teaching as Inquiry in itself is not a panacea but I think you hit on the 'why' later in your comment. Well led, supported and resourced Teaching as Inquiry is as close to a panacea as we are going to get. Quite simply because it context bound and born out of the specific needs of the learners. Teachers rarely do it effectively - this is an issue and most likely because no one has helped them to do so. They do need to be lead and supported through it and it needs to be well resourced. The times I have experienced it being effective (as an HOD and as PD facilitator) was where there was someone leading and supporting teachers through the process, and thats where the issue that PD for the most part is not sustained and resourced well enough to do this. You touched on a whole lot of other issues in your comment and I, like you, saw them first hand as a facilitator - where accountability and professionalism is lacking, any kind of sustained change, let alone improvement, is nigh on impossible (that for me is where the 'leading' of it is so important). In terms of how we measured change (and sometimes improvement) - at EGGS the ICTPD was focused around increasing student centredness and engagement. Levels of both we measured through a mix of qualitative methods in the focusing and learning inquiry phase. Some PLGs did this very thoroughly through focus groups and surveys. When I used it as an HOD we actually turned it around and teachers looked at an NCEA level and looked back over several years to see if there was a specific standard that was comparatively lower than others (so identifying a standard they may be teaching less effectively...or not prioritising), so for them the effectiveness was measured by their current classes results in that standard. A sort of backward way of doing it, by flipping the focus on the teacher needs rather than the student, but it was effective.

      The leading and accountability is as important as the inquiry itself. I just like it because it is (if done properly) an innately personalised model of PD. Hope that makes sense. We can of course debate this more next term. Looking forward to it!

  2. Hi Claire and Cindy...
    Thanks for your posts. I completed an internal self-review of the teaching as inquiry PLD structure that I had a hand in implementing at WSC over the last three years and the results show that many teachers struggled to do meaningful inquiries over this time. It often came down to 'time' to do the job well but it was also clear that the effectiveness of the facilitator of their group (or dept) was crucial as was the extent to which they 'bought' in to the purpose of their inquiry and how much they invested in it. Also - too many were not well linked to student achievement but ended up being about the teacher's own learning rather than about the impact on student achievement which many found difficult to measure meaningfully as well. We are continuing with it and I believe in the potential of it if done well - but the reality is that many will do it in a cursory fashion unless it is incredibly well planned and structured and monitored and it is really really hard to do that across the board. It will be interesting to see how well EGGS has been able to sustain this approach without the time provided under the ICT contract and/or once it is assumed that the understanding of the cycle is embedded into practice.

  3. It must be exciting designing a new school and curriculum. I teach in Wellington and I used to work at Global Focus Aotearoa. If you're not familiar with global education pedagogy you might be interested in this link, it lays bare some of the key aspects and it could be something your school is interested in.


    All the best,



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