Professional Inquiry to Improve Practice in Education

It can be very daunting and challenging to make real changes in our practices as educators.  One way that we can do this is to actively engage in the process of Inquiry.

Inquiry is a creative endeavor where teachers do not have to be the ‘experts’. The answers are not necessarily in a textbook, yet are creative and collaborative results of unique and challenging situations in our learning environments.

The main tenet with Inquiry is that success will depend on deep and sustained changes with learners.

HOWEVER, Inquiry is NOT comfortable! It not only takes time, it also takes a great deal of focused energies to recognize urgent student needs. In fact, it forces us to actively challenge our pre-existing beliefs to ultimately create positive changes in our learning environments. This is not a natural human instinct. The nature of human behaviour is such that we feel that need to hold on to our schemas of the teaching and learning processes. The following questions are natural

Here are some key questions that educators often ask themselves:

  • How can I possibly choose a focus within the current contexts of accountability and standardization?
  • Why should I engage in professional inquiry if I am already comfortable with my existing knowledge and ideas of teaching and learning processes?
  • How do I begin to choose a meaningful learning focus?
  • What is the process by which I decide upon an issue that needs to be brought to the forefront?
  • Will my inquiry mean that everything else that is important in my class will be forgotten?

How can we engage in important inquiries that will result in systematic and lasting changes to our practice?

Steps to creating a Successful Inquiry:

  1. Identify a key focus, or an urgent learner need. As Stephen Katz from OISE states, a learner need is actually a teacher need.
  2. Engage in collaborative relationships with key people who can help you with your inquiry, including other professionals, colleagues, parents, and other key community members. For instance for First Nations, Metis & Inuit students, collaborative inquiry should include families and community members, including Elders and traditional teachers. This benefits the whole learning environment as well. It is through collaboration that new knowledge is created.
  3. Venture beyond generalized focus of self-improvement, and learn to make the focus specific according to our specific situations and needs.
  4. Access appropriate technologies
  5. Give yourself permission to be creative with your own interpretation and application of new knowledge
  6. Move from a position of ‘sage on the stage’.


It is difficult to admit sometimes that student learning needs are also teacher learning needs. There are always going to be learning needs for students and teachers. But, the fantastic news is that there are also going to be new ideas, new solutions, and new knowledge available. These can be found by collaborating with other educators, parents, community members, and students; accessing technology and placing importance on your own creativity, and not assuming that the answers are always to be found in a textbook.

New ideas and knowledge will always exist and we also need to give ourselves permission to seek collaboration, new ideas, and new knowledge when are faced with new learning needs with our students.


Deborah McCallum

© Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education, 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Deborah McCallum and Big Ideas in Education with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.



6 responses to “Professional Inquiry to Improve Practice in Education”

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