Deputy Principal, Vicki Trainor explains why teacher inquiry was used as a method of professional development at Holy Cross School following the development of their e-learning strategic plan. Through the teacher inquiry process they developed a better understanding learning pedagogy. iPads are a device used to enhance teacher practice and student learning. Teachers select apps specifically for their students' needs.
We decided to use teacher inquiry as a means of good professional development, firstly, for many reasons but firstly The New Zealand Curriculum suggests that, that’s a really good practice for teachers to undergo to improve their reflective practice in their pedagogy. And then, one of the main reasons too was, we had just developed e-learning at our school and our teachers all had iPads, and they were thoroughly enjoying using them, and we wanted them to get a better understanding of how they could use them as learning tools. So, we decided to do an inquiry process around that. We also found that, that was really important because all our teachers were at different levels – some were confident users of e-learning, others were sort of learning the process – and the teacher’s inquiry model in the NZC allows teachers to start where they want to start, reflect on that process, look at where they are going and then take the next step. The process links back to the eLPF, and our school’s strategic plan. At our school we aim to raise achievement for all students, however, we do target our Pasifika and Māori students in particular, and we’ve just chosen this time around to use those target groups with our e-learning in mind to help raise the achievement of those students. From our e-learning framework, we decided that we wanted to move our teachers forward from just selecting tools for engagement to selecting tools that would enhance learning, and that was another key reason why we decided to do an inquiry learning process – for them to be able to reflect and decide which tools would be really best for that process. The inquiry process at Holy Cross has been quite multifaceted. We started off initially speaking with our facilitator, Anna Harrison, and with our e-learning team leaders. That was the first process. We knew it was very important to involve our teachers right from the beginning, and we provided release time for them so that they could come along and talk and understand. Although they had an understanding of the inquiry model we wanted them to really have a deep understanding of why we were doing this because why was really important, and it was to engage our students initially, and then to enhance their learning. So, the next step then was we did a whole team inquiry, we have three teams at our school and each team took on an inquiry, with the focus being on engagement. We realised that this was probably low risk for our teachers and through that process we met in our teams and we formed little professional learning communities. We engaged in discussion around e-learning, the challenges, the successes our students were feeling and shared little problems we might have found along the way. So, we had buddies and we supported each other. At the end of the ten week time, we got together in an informal meeting and we had a fantastic chat and sharing about what was going on and all the wonderful ideas that came forward. I think that was most powerful because the conversations that came from that meeting showed just how empowered our teachers were feeling and the successes that our students were sharing. I think the outcomes for our staff through doing this inquiry process for e-learning have been absolutely exemplary. Our staff that were really competent, confident users of e-learning have grown from strength to strength which, I guess would be expected, however – I think they have become our experts and not only with the e-learning but with their sharing of teaching and knowledge. I think the most impressive and I guess powerful experience for me has been watching the teachers who perhaps weren’t so confident and maybe even a little scared of these new devices that were coming into their classrooms. These are the teachers that have put in enormous amounts of time, energy, and passion. They’ve become such passionate users of devices for learning, and these are the teachers that are being truly empowered and I think their students have had wonderful success through them. The other very important facet that’s come out of this is that, most of our teachers were using apps to engage our students and we’ve moved. Through this inquiry process, we have learned that pedagogy, and we’ve always known this, that pedagogy is the most important of all learning and that these devices will just enhance our pedagogy and our practice for our students learning. So, our teachers have come to the stage now where yes we are using apps but we’re selecting them specifically for the students’ needs in mind. We’re using different programmes. We’re using different devices. There’s no right way for all students and it all varies. Our next steps for our inquiry, I would like to think, we need to focus on impact. We’ve done two inquiries now and, our first was engagement and that was a great success and it was of low risk. Our second one involved teachers selecting their own individual inquiry for a group of targeted students in their class and the risk was up a little higher and we had great success. However, it’s about measurement now, and measurement on the impact of the students learning. What have the outcomes been? And I think as a school we need to be aware that the devices are here to stay. They’re not going to go away. So, we need to look at our results, and if our results are all fantastic all well and good, where to next? However, the likelihood is that there will be some students that may not have moved as fast or as quickly as we would like them to have done, and as practitioners, we need to look and see what are our next steps, and that’s perhaps where our inquiry will become of a slightly higher risk. What are we going to do to further improve our students learning using devices?