Making a difference through teaching as inquiry

By Garry Taylor on February 10, 2016 in Leadership

Teaching as inquiry, in my mind, is a relatively simple concept that has been made more complex and less effective by the perceived demands of compliance.

From my point of view, if teaching as inquiry is effective then the classroom teacher:

  • has the goal of improved student learning as the main and central focus

  • is professionally curious

  • is a practical, pragmatic and yet creative problem solver

  • is able reflect on his/her own practice and consider whether he/she is part of the problem

  • is prepared to build his/her own professional knowledge if necessary.

I would like to explain these points a bit further.

Student learning as the main and central focus

Teaching as inquiry is all about making a positive difference to the students in your school or class. In the New Zealand Curriculum, teaching as inquiry is under the Effective Pedagogy section. This is no accident because it is all about how well your students are learning.

“The fundamental purpose of the Teaching as Inquiry cycle is to achieve improved outcomes for all students.” – TKI, Jan 2016

So the focus must be on the impact you have made through your teaching, and the identification of ‘problems’ that will naturally occur.

The following is a good way to test whether you are truly practising teaching as inquiry in your school. If the focus is on student outcomes, then it is most likely a teaching as inquiry cycle. If the focus is more on a change of programme and implementation of new tools (i.e. introducing a new app into your programme) this may be better described as action research. Both are worthy activities but the latter doesn’t have the same emphasis on student outcomes.

Professional curiosity

This is a term that I believe fits very well with the concept of teaching as inquiry. If you are curious you always want to know what is going on and why. This is a great disposition for a teacher to have, as it means you are constantly reflecting and evaluating on the happenings in your class. It means that the teacher identifies what has worked well, what has not and why that may be the case. Even more importantly it prompts questions in the mind about how skills could be taught or learnt better. A professionally curious teacher has the learning of the students at the heart of teaching practice and is constantly monitoring whether his/her teaching is causing effective learning.

Problem solving

An effective problem solver is able to clearly identify an issue, propose different solutions, and identify the best course of action. Sometimes the best way forward is to try something different but at other times it is to refine what you have done before (i.e. do it better). A practical and pragmatic approach to problem solving will not only help you look for new pathways but also give you the option of making the same path better.


In working through an inquiry the teacher must consider why the learning is not occurring as well as expected and why this might be. When ineffective learning takes place there is a tendency to look to the student as being the issue. It is more difficult to focus the lens on yourself and consider that you may be central to the problem. It is important to consider all angles of a problem as sometimes you may identify that your own level of knowledge or misconceptions may be at the heart of the issue. This can be hard to admit on a personal level, but it is essential that you consider your role in the problem if you want to address the concern fully.

Knowledge building

I think we too often look for different solutions in education, rather than looking first at the effectiveness of our current practice. Improving your knowledge of subject content, terminology, progression and elements of a teaching area is a very effective way to improve the learning outcomes of students. For example, if the teacher is able to improve his/her understanding of multiplicative thinking in mathematics by looking at the reference material and resources available, he/she will better understand the progression of learning within this aspect of learning and know how to help students get through the challenges in learning they face. This type of improvement will not only benefit the immediate learners but will also make the learning better for students in the years to come.

During the OTJ workshops in 2015 we shared the essential components of moderation with attendees.

Components of moderation

Mitchell, K., & Poskitt, J. (2010)

Many of the teachers in the workshop felt there were not shared understandings of reference materials, progressions and what to notice and recognise in learners within their school. This is understandable given differences in experience, areas of expertise and professional learning opportunities. However, if lack of understanding of curriculum material is the barrier to effective learning in core areas, then it is the responsibility of the teacher to develop this knowledge in order to increase their teaching effectiveness. In some ways this is best done by staff together so not only is knowledge built but shared understandings are developed together.

Being a teacher in the modern world requires the very same life-long learning dispositions that you are trying to develop in your students. Be prepared to keep learning and developing your knowledge in order to improve the outcomes for your students.


Teachings as inquiry is about improving student outcomes through a professional evaluative process. As you embark on your mission of improving student learning in the coming year consider:

  • the importance that teaching as inquiry plays in the process

  • putting student outcomes first

  • looking for solutions by increasing your knowledge and effectiveness prior to investigating different strategies or programmes.


Mitchell, K., & Poskitt, J. (2010) How do teachers make overall teacher judgements. Accessed at

Teaching as Inquiry. Accessed at

Ministry of Education. (2007). The New Zealand Curriculum for English-medium teaching and learning in years 1–13 (PDF, 7 MB) Wellington: Learning Media.

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