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Teacher Inquiry - Lighten Up a Little!

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

Mention Teacher Inquiry and these characters come to mind:

  1. The senior manager who wants staff to tick bureaucratic boxes - who rabbits on about teacher inquiry citing every Ministry or Teaching Council reference (like we all care), drowning teachers in handouts (like there's time or inclination to read them) and insisting on paperwork for Africa.

  2. The senior manager who's supportive and realistic ... but doesn't follow through by really looking at staff achievements, and nor do they provide a place to showcase all the cool stuff their teachers are doing.

  3. The academic whose pompous vocabulary and ideas barely relate to any classroom reality but they'll look over their glasses at you anyway.

  4. The over-achiever who knows it all and has several inquiries going ... all of which they're nailing of course.

  5. The teacher who has their head in the sand thanks to ... all of the above.

  6. The teacher who's 'in' by default - who's marching to the beat of their own drum, bumbling though, trying this, that and the other, laughing at the disasters, whoop-whooping about successes, and chatting away happily to colleagues about it all.

Teacher Inquiry, as we all know, is simply about what teachers already do - probably every day if not every period. Teacher number 6 is the 'winner' - the one that's not being a plonker about it.

This is the natural scenario:

a. Teacher teaches something in class. Students didn't get it or weren't into it.

b. Teacher: "Buggeration! That was an epic failure."

c. Teacher runs to resource room to grab something for next class, sees a mate at the photocopier and says, "OMG last period was crap!" [A five-minute conversation follows where the two discuss what happened, have a bit of a laugh about it, and ideas are bandied about.]

d. Teacher leaves resource room and in that 20 metre walk back to their classroom, as a result of that 5 minute conversation, works out a plan for tomorrow - a different way to approach today's disastrous lesson.

e. Next day the teacher tries the new ideas, but realises they still need to tweak a couple of things so makes a quick note on their unit plan or just remembers it (because we can) for next year! Now, that teacher has up-skilled and the students will be better for it. What a gem.

And that ... is a Teacher Inquiry.

Teachers do it e.v.e.r.y d.a.y.

The trouble is that characters 1-4 from our list above there are always in ... your ... face! But you, you can't even 'think' about inquiry because you're so busy running around, oh, I don't know:

  • Writing a resource for the student with Down Syndrome in your class so that they can join in as much as possible.

  • Tweaking a handout to better cater for the Year 10 student with the reading age of a 6 year old.

  • Asking your colleagues how they introduce essay-writing to Year 9s.

  • Learning how to use Pear Deck to see if that will better engage your students.

  • Designing a Google Doc to share with students so that they can give you feedback about resources and lessons.

  • Investigating better ways to end your lessons with a punch because you think yours suck.

  • Encouraging students to join debating, not just because you need the numbers, but because Tom needs an outlet for his awesome critical thinking, Aroha needs to put her fantastic oratory skills to use, and Kimberly - well, you just want to see if you can get her to come out of her shell..

  • ...

And this is your job! And you love it. But every second staff and department meeting is about why you need to 'do' an inquiry and how you haven't got much time left to do one. So then you start to get stressed. Term 4 begins. Management is all over this. Why haven't you started your inquiry? You have to do something!! So now you're ready just to make something up from what you can remember, cut and paste a few things from the 'net, cite a few sources you haven't read, talk like whatever you say you did was a resounding success, and hand the blimmin' thing over! Box ticked, bring on the holidays!

Too busy to do 'an inquiry' because you're ... busy with inquiries.

Newsflash: those things teachers are rushing around doing? Most of them are inquiries! Certainly all the items listed above are. So, hang on a minute, teachers are actually too busy to do one of 'those' inquiries because they're wrapped up in ... inquiries? Yes! So many teachers seem to miss this point! Sometimes teachers feel as though they're running on empty but really, that constant investigation, creating, trialing - that's why they're are in the job right? It's why they don't want a mundane desk job! Inquiry is just teaching by another name. When I realised this - that 'inquiry' is my what I do, it was a huge mind-shift. So okay, the powers that be want to see I've identified a problem, thought about what I could do about it, researched a bit about it, tried out new ideas that ultimately 'fix' the problem. I do that all the time! So many teachers say, "we're doing this all the time anyway", but then proceed to kill themselves in the final weeks of the year making something up that looks like the type of inquiry management might want but isn't authentic at all. Teacher Inquiry is about the mess. It's about those moments when you're actually doing it. It's not about adopting the MSU policy later on just to tick the Deputy Principal's boxes!

'Tryflecting' - the crux of inquiry.

Many teachers believe their inquiry must end in success. It does not. This is another thing that puts many teachers off. It's about trial and error, trial and reflecting, tweaking, trialing again. It's about rolling with, and laughing at the stuff-ups and bragging about the "Nailed it!" moments. It's about being a normal person giving it all their best shots! I call this 'tryflecting', and it's the crux of inquiry - a portmanteau of 'trying' and 'reflecting'.

Being DAFT

So teachers just need a quick way to record one, or even a few, of these things either at the end of the year or as they go. Fed up with the 'pomp' and 'demands' one afternoon, I decided to do it my way - a realistic way. I knew what inquiry was all about, the steps, the process, but I'd never seen anything that put it all together in a form that could be grabbed and filled out. I'm a 'templates kid' - hate the blank page, happy to fill in boxes. So, on a scrap of paper...on top of piles of junk ... I figured out a way to be DAFT about inquiry. Here's the resulting template, and it's so easy to complete. Rows can be added or deleted, and of course, being electronic, boxes can go to any size so there's plenty of room to write more. This template has been used by teachers in several schools and it works.

Freedom and 'calm' came with making up my own 'DAFT' acronym to have a little fun to lighten the mood, and with making up my own vocabulary - 'tryflecting'. It came with the realisation that I didn't have 'nothing' for an inquiry, but many, many things I could record. It was really just a case of choosing which one. Done! Sorted. Easy. Fun. Meaningful.

But wait, there's more.

Teachers record their authentic inquiries, but where's the authentic audience?

What's EVER done with this information? And don't say it's proof for schools that their teachers are reflective. Any Head of Department or Senior Manager worth their salt is having constant conversations with teachers, so they know their staff is performing - learning on the go, striving to do it better, helping each other. Teachers shouldn't be recording inquiries just to tick boxes. That's a waste of time. It's also a waste of valuable strategies and resources when all that recording is lost.

So...what if there was a quick way to record inquiries (and upload resources if desired) online? Such a website would be a strategy and resource bank that, with a quick search, could provide teachers with exactly what they need just when they need it - real ones, doable things that have been proven to work by Joe Bloggs teacher in your average classroom. Email addresses could be added if teachers were comfortable so that if others wanted to know more the 'author' could be contacted. Subject associations, have you considered organising a website like this? Schools - how about designing your own? How inspiring would it be to be able to look at what your colleagues are doing? (Okay, it might be a little bit scary.)

Food for thought! Meantime:

  • If you want to grab the flashed up version of the Teaching Council's Quality Practice Template for your Department or Staff Meetings (meant to be completed collaboratively) get it here under Administration on our page of FREE stuff.

  • If you want to grab an easy guide to teacher inquiry (includes the DAFT template) for you or your staff get it here. Yes, you can share one purchase with all your staff because I think it's important to get real about inquiry!

Don't be a plonker about Teacher Inquiry. It's about experimentation and FUN!

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