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Collaborative Inquiry: Partnership Principles 1-3

In my first post, we covered the strategy of Collaborative Teacher Inquiry.

76754104_Thinkstock_RFIn a training I recently attended with Jim, he also offered seven ‘Partnership Principles’ as a way of thinking and being in helping relationships. These ideas resonated with me as they can be applied by all team members during a collaborative inquiry cycle to strengthen professional relationships (personal relationships would benefit from utilizing the principles as well). Since the work of school improvement relies heavily on the quality of professional relationships, educators engaging in collaborative inquiry would benefit from embracing the Partnership Principles in order to address the complexities of helping adults and strengthen relationships with colleagues. The seven Partnership Principles are outlined below along with implications for collaborative inquiry teams.

Principle #1 – Equality: Professional Learning With Teachers Rather Than Training Done to Teachers

By recognizing the critical role teachers’ play in school improvement, collaborative inquiry differs greatly from a model in which training is ‘done’ to teachers. Utilizing a collaborative inquiry design ensures that outside experts no longer transmit knowledge to teachers; instead, the team uses their collective wisdom and diverse experiences to generate knowledge and new understandings. Teachers are entrusted with the responsibility of shaping and enacting change initiatives, as their expertise and capability to lead are recognized and acknowledged. Everyone’s ideas and insights matter. During the collaborative inquiry process, team members do not tell each other what to do, they decide together.

Jim explains the Partnership Principle ‘equality’ in the following sense, “People may bring different skills and knowledge but what’s important to note is that everyone deserves to be counted the same – everyone’s opinion matters equally” (personal communication, July 21st, 2014). Jim suggests that people who embrace the principle of equality “listen to everyone with the same care and attention” (Knight, 2011, p. 29). Applying the principle of equality throughout the collaborative inquiry process will ensure that the ‘sum is greater than its parts’. Team members build healthy and stronger relationships by listening to one another and accepting each person as an equal.

Principle #2 – Choice: Teachers Should Have Choice Regarding How They Learn

Knight (2011) argues that “failing to provide real choice in helping relationships is a recipe for disaster” (p. 32) but also notes that “meaningful choice can only occur within a structure” (p. 34). Collaborative inquiry provides individuals with the autonomy to determine how they will learn. Once a team identifies the most urgent learning needs of their students, teachers then identify their professional learning needs. How to go about gaining additional knowledge and skills is left up to the participants to decide. Teams often turn to theory, reading research articles and/or engaging in a book study. Sometimes team members opt to observe each other’s practice, co-plan a lesson or unit of study, moderate student work, and/or develop common formative assessments. The structure depends on the focus which was determined based on students’ needs. Applying the principle of choice when it comes to acquiring new knowledge and skills will ensure that participants remain motivated to learn. Relationships are enriched as team members share new understandings and become accountable to one another to continually learn and grow.

Principle #3 – Voice: Professional Learning Should Empower and Respect the Voices of Teachers

In a collaborative inquiry cycle, team members are not told that they must implement step-by-step programs, rather their thoughts and suggestions count. Teachers find their voice as they are encouraged (and given permission) to explore, discover, and develop solutions to the challenges related to their craft. Their voice is honoured as they identify, select, test, and evaluate various teaching approaches and strategies. The transformational potential of collaborative inquiry lies in empowering teachers as change agents. Eliciting and respecting teachers’ voices is an essential aspect where this is concerned. In addition, relationships are enhanced as team members demonstrate that they value the perspectives of their colleagues.

There are four more principles from Unmistakable Impact, which we’ll cover in my post tomorrow.

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Jenni Donohoo is a best-selling author and Corwin consultant with more than 15 years experience in leading school change. Jenni and Moses Velasco’s latest book entitled The Transformative Power of Collaborative Inquiry: Realizing Change in Schools and Classrooms is available through Corwin.

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