The Benefits of Implementing Inquiry-Based PD

Focus on Teaching Edthena tips for teachers and coaches about professional development and professional learning

  • Presenting teachers with choices during professional development can increase engagement and provide an archetype that they can use in the classroom.

  • Exposing teachers to inquiry-based PD experiences provides a strategy that could be used to drive student learning.

  • Giving teachers the opportunity to brainstorm key questions encourages inquiry and establishes autonomy and ownership of the PD process.

  • School Founder, Carla Meyrink, provides an example of how to use the inquiry cycle to create professional development sessions.

  • The inquiry cycle is a five-step process that includes: conducting research, devising a plan, reflecting on implementation, making improvements, and formulating a new question.

Every educator can tell the story of a professional development session gone wrong. But how can schools avoid those common pitfalls? A lack of engagement is just as fatal in PD sessions as it is in the classroom. Relinquishing control of the PD session increases engagement and creates a model the teachers can use in their classrooms.

Carla Meyrink, founder of a small school in the Dominican Republic, has used the inquiry cycle to guide her schools’ professional development. In her blog, The Teaching Experiment, Meyrink describes how her team has created inquiry-based PD sessions for teachers.

Determine What Teachers Want to Learn About

Inquiry-based learning requires that the teachers have a choice in their PD. It is important to conduct research about what teachers’ interests are. One solution for this is to send out a survey to determine what teachers want out of professional development. After collecting the responses, group interests into related categories that the teachers will ultimately choose to focus on.

An example of a requested topic could be student engagement. Teachers could then choose from categories such as how technology, project-based learning, or visual representations increase engagement. This allows teachers to suggest a topic that is specific to their own students and classroom, promoting teacher engagement in their own professional learning.

Allow Teachers to Choose PD Sessions Based on Peer Responses

Set up the categories and let each teacher their choice. One recommended avenue is to place all of the resources that were collected for each category onto a table. Then, let your teachers browse and determine what they may need to study to benefit their classroom. The teachers’ choices will allow them to be grouped with peers that have a common professional learning goal to allow collaboration.

Encourage Teachers to Formulate Questions on Their Chosen Goal

Once the groups have been created, it is time to investigate further. As the teams dive deeper into their topic, they will begin to develop strong questions pertaining to their topic. Questions should be detailed and go beyond the surface. If a group’s topic is differentiation, an example could be; “How will students feel if they realize they are completing a less challenging task than their peers?” or “How can I come up with different activities for each student’s level and still have the same end goal?” Creating strong questions will help guide the teacher’s inquiry.

Plan of Action

As a team, teachers will discuss their research, what they’ve learned, what strategies they would like to try, and create a plan of action to launch in their classrooms. Giving teachers ample time to research, collaborate, and devise a plan is critical to completing the inquiry cycle effectively. Through peer collaboration, teachers are able to interact, support, and encourage one another through their own professional learning.

Strategy Implementation and Reflection

Teachers will return to their classrooms with their plan of action and implement the strategies that they chose. In their classroom they will be able to observe and record the effectiveness of their strategies, allowing them to be in control of their own professional development.

Towards the end of the classroom strategy observations, teachers will have enough information to discuss, reflect, and modify strategies with their peer group. Sharing results, findings, and discussing how the strategies can be improved lead teachers on the path discover the answers to their focus question and engaging them in their own learning.

Introduce the Inquiry Cycle

Replacing boring PD with inquiry-based PD can help guide teachers in finding answers that pertain to their own classroom. When introducing the inquiry cycle to teachers, explain the inquiry cycle includes conducting research on their question, devising a plan to test in their classroom, reflecting on how the plan went, improving as needed, and starting the cycle over again by creating a new learning question.

Increased engagement in PD sessions is something all schools should be working towards. One way to increase engagement is to expose teachers to inquiry-based learning in which they are given a choice about their own PD. By using the inquiry cycle, teachers will dive deeper into their own questions, build, and reflect on the teaching strategies and effectiveness in their classroom.

Like what you’re reading? Check out a recent article in this series about Whole Class Vs Choice Texts.

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