The Inquiry Method for Educational Coaching

Inquiry is a powerful tool used by teachers to foster curiosity and independence within students. Instead of spoon-feeding content, students reach their own conclusions. Popular options for incorporating inquiry in the classroom are 20-Time or Genius Hour where students explore a topic of their own choosing. Inquiry is about more than just student-driven projects; it’s also a methodological shift where you respond to questions with other questions instead of simply providing an answer. For example-

Student: Why does the character react like that?

Teacher: Let’s consider the character. Pretend that you are his same age and have his same motivations and fears. What would you feel like if your best friend betrayed you?

Inquiry is truly an art. Having seen the power of inquiry for students, I wanted to consider its application and impact when used by technology coaches to support teacher development. One component of ISTE Coaching Standard 2 is to “coach…and model incorporation of research-based best practices in instructional design.” (Iste.org, 2017)

Why Inquiry?

  • Avoid learned helplessness and empower teachers: Foltos points out that taking on the role of an expert who has an answer for everything can do more harm than good when coaching teachers: “Successful coaches realize that routinely taking on the role of expert with answers is the wrong path toward collaboration and capacity building.” (2014) A downside to simply providing answers without encouraging independence through inquiry is that teachers come to rely on the coach. Inquiry, on the other hand, is empowering.

Implementing Inquiry as a Coach

  • Begin with specific need: Instead of one-size-fits-all professional development, scholars like John Dewey encourage teachers to identify specific content-area problems and then explore possible solutions. This problem-solution method is effective because it “unleashes an inquiry process in which the quest first for definition, then for resolution becomes a compelling necessity” (Demetrion as cited in Ermeling, 2012). Coaches can play a valuable role in guiding teachers toward identifying needs and then creating plans to meet those needs.
  • The three lenses: Ermeling presents a fascinating argument for why educators seeking to grow with the inquiry method must learn to see their subject matter through three lenses. The first is the lens of the researcher which asks the teacher to “formulate hypotheses, collect data, rely on evidence for decision-making, and generalize from findings.” The second lens requires an educator to “sequence and connect students’ learning experiences.” The final lens, that of the student, “represents an educator’s capacity to view instruction through the eyes of the student, anticipate their thinking and use this knowledge to build experiences.” (Ermeling, 2012)
  • Creative data sources: To measure the efficacy of any newly implemented strategy, teachers are encouraged to collect data which can then be shared with a coach before planning the next steps in the inquiry cycle. Evidence should drive reflection, analysis, and next steps. Coaches can assist teachers in moving beyond traditional assessments in order to gather data. In Ermeling’s exploration on the features of the inquiry process, he includes “student work, student interviews, student questionnaires, checklists, self-assessments, portfolios, systematic classroom observations, test results, [and] audio or video recordings from the classroom” as valid data points for teachers and coaches to consider. (2012)
  • Give it time to stick: Inquiries that expand throughout several months or even the entire school year are preferable to short, brief inquiries. The reason for this is so that a coach and teacher can definitely state what cause produced what effect. (I would add the personal caveat that what works for one group of students may not for next year’s batch.) This investment requires a shift away from a focus on the “length of time or number of strategies” and towards “persit[ing] long enough to arrive at some important findings–tangible and explicit cause-effect connections between instructional decisions and student outcomes.” (Ermeling, 2012)

Tool of Inquiry: Probing Questions

Probing questions are an effective tool of inquiry which “are designed to get the teacher to think more deeply about and develop answers to the issues important to him or her.” (Foltos, 2013) Probing questions can and should be used at any point in the Inquiry process described in the previous section.

Do’s and Don’t of Probing Questions

Don’t ask if you have a preconceived answer in mind

Do paraphrase the teacher’s perspective before beginning

Do use open-ended questions

Don’t be afraid of simple questions

Original source: The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation by Elena Aguilar

Found via: “Effective Communication & Questioning When Coaching” by Ann Hayes-Bell

Conclusion

When I think about using inquiry in coaching, I am reminded of the following Proverb: give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The beauty of inquiry is that you can give a teacher the tools necessary to investigate and solve future problems for themselves.

 

Sources

Aguilar, E. (2013). The art of coaching. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

Ermeling, B. (2012). Improving Teaching through Continuous Learning: The Inquiry Process John Wooden Used to Become Coach of the Century. Quest64(3), 197-208. doi: 10.1080/00336297.2012.693754

Foltos, L. (2013). Peer coaching (1st ed.). Corwin.

Foltos, L. (2014). The Secret to Great Coaching: Inquiry Method Helps Teachers Take Ownership of their Learning. Learning Forward35(3), 29-31.

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 6 Oct. 2018].

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