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Teacher Newsmagazine  Volume 22, Number 5, March 2010 

Teacher inquiry

By Charlie Naylor and Nancy Hinds

In April 2008, the BCTF Executive endorsed an approach to supporting teacher inquiry that co-ordinated existing inquiry approaches in the Program for Quality Teaching (PQT) and in the Research and Technology (R & T) Division. This approach was built on analyses of current professional development literature as well as the BCTF’s experience in supporting a range of inquiry projects over time.

With a $315,000 Ministry of Education grant received in April 2008, the BCTF initiated projects in seven school districts (Coquitlam, Vernon, Central Okanagan, Surrey, Creston, Richmond, Nanaimo) each a three-way partnership involving the BCTF, the local teacher association, and the school district. Three provincial specialist associations (SEA, LATA, and THESA) of the BCTF were also funded to conduct inquiry. Some existing BCTF inquiry projects in Kamloops, Kootenay-Columbia, Cranbrook, and Sooke were continued from previous projects.

To support inquiry, the existing cadre of PQT facilitators was expanded. Teacher facilitators supported the seven new projects in school districts, the three PSA projects, and four ongoing projects, a total of 14 teacher-inquiry groups in all. At each site a more experienced facilitator was paired with a less experienced facilitator to encourage mentoring and skill development. Three two-day training and sharing workshops were provided to this group of facilitators in the 2008–09 school year. Two BCTF staff co-ordinated the project and offered mentoring and support to the teacher facilitators.

Approximately 210 teachers participated in the 14 projects. Each group of teachers reported their progress and learning at a celebration held at the project’s conclusion. Some made presentations for superintendents/senior district staff, trustees, local teacher association presidents, or executives, administrators, and teachers. One facilitator produced a film documenting the group’s approach to inquiry.

Some resources were purchased and provided to facilitators, while more have been developed by both BCTF staff and the facilitators. A range of technology was used to support communication, data analysis, and reporting.

Lessons learned are both logistical and conceptual. Much has been learned in terms of the logistics needed to support multiple inquiry projects at the central level (BCTF), and within local teacher associations. Partnerships with school districts have been positive and productive. While the BCTF’s co-ordinated inquiry work is still a work-in-progress, there exists an improved understanding of the importance of facilitation, and how to build facilitation capacity. A better understanding of inquiry approaches has also developed, with a variety of methodological approaches encouraged, including action research, focused professional conversations and book-study. Reactions from participants, facilitators, school district staff, and teacher association presidents have been uniformly positive. In their view, teachers have been engaged in productive professional development, and the collaboration between union and districts has been welcomed.

The BCTF’s inquiry work during the 2008–09 school year has stimulated discussion about inquiry approaches in districts where projects were not funded, when the BCTF responded to requests for presentations on inquiry from a number of districts and teacher associations across the province. In the 2009–10 year, six new district-based projects have been funded, with some existing projects re-funded for a second year. Three new PSA projects will also receive funding in January. Facilitator training/sharing will continue. There will be an increased focus on documentation and reporting in order to share the lessons learned. At least one major conference presentation is planned and links to Ontario and Alberta teacher-union inquiry projects will be developed.

The grant from the Ministry of Education has been combined with BCTF resources to build a level of co-ordinated approach to inquiry that has not been previously possible. It has provided the resources with which to build a foundation for inquiry. The second year will allow for some consolidation, yet there is a question of how sustainable this approach to teacher inquiry might be. There is a clear and somewhat stark choice—to build on the foundation currently developing or to revert to piecemeal and smaller-scale support for teacher inquiry as professional development.

Charlie Naylor, BCTF Research and Technology Division and Nancy Hinds, Professional and Social Issues Division.

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