Collaborative Inquiry for Impact

One of the more rigorous discussions I have recently been a part of was shared with leaders at school and concerned the formation of a Collaborative Inquiry for Impact. The Collaborative Inquiry (CI) is a school’s dynamic engagement with contextual needs. The CI is based on Helen Timperley’s Spiral of Inquiry (see image below), which is a “systematic process for investigating and improving learner outcomes; academic, social and wellbeing” (Earp, 2019). Furthermore, the CI process acknowledges complexity whilst addressing a problem of practice within the school. The collaborative aspect stems from all members of the school being mobilised to share in the the process of the inquiry. A Collaborative Inquiry for Impact is not an off the shelf program, nor is it an initiative that has bypassed the context of the school and its community through top-down directives.

The elements of Timperley’s Spiral of Inquiry are as follows:

  • Scanning – what is going on for our learners?
  • Focusing – what is our focus?
  • Developing a hunch – what is leading to this situation?
  • Learning – how can we learn more about what to do?
  • Taking action – what will we do differently?
  • Checking – have we made enough of a difference.

Designed to be more frequent and precise in its cycles, it is intended that where one spiral of inquiry ends, another begins by using the formative experiences and relevant data sets of the previous cycle to inform the next iteration of learning and inquiry. This gives the Collaborative Inquiry a distinctively iterative feel.

Essentially we have been working on this particular line of inquiry since November 2020, when the St Luke’s School of Foundations leadership team worked with Linda Bendikson from the University of Auckland Centre for Educational Leadership. However we have had a working relationship with Linda since early 2019 where she helped generate great success for our learners in the areas of oral language, guided reading, and shared reading. Through incisive facilitation of the courses Growing Great Leaders 1 and 2, Linda deepened our understanding of goal theory, school improvement science, theories of action, student centred leadership, and spirals of inquiry. The work Linda has facilitated has been nothing short of transformational at both a school and a personal leadership level.

So here we are, 4 months down the road and the leadership team are still in a process of discernment regarding our next steps. Not due to indecision or ambiguity, but rather we are highly motivated to nail a focus which really matters to our community within the context of a highly complex problem. Linda Bendikson notes that brevity, simplicity, clarity and focus are the hallmarks of a good improvement plan. What we initially had our sights on has been further refined in the focussing fire of candour and dialogue, and I believe we are almost about to identify what the factor is that matters most for our learners.

The process to this point has been exciting, with progress grinding away slowly during some discussions, whilst at other times the pace and focus has been furiously intense. What I am further looking forward to is the critical work that will be done side-by-side with teachers. As instructional leader for a team of passionate and highly reflective teachers, I will have the honour of being a part of their classrooms, planning sessions and documents, listening to their concerns, and celebrating their success stories. I look forward to sharing this journey with readers, beginning now with the cycle’s genesis and continuing throughout the ebb and flow of a hopefully less disruptive year.


  • Timperley, H., Kaser, L., and Halbert, J. (2014, April). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Centre for Strategic Education, Seminar Series Paper No. 234.