Professional inquiry  

Published: 04 Sep 2017
Professional development
Knowledge building
Evaluation indicators
Professional capability
Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua


“If it’s a true inquiry it’s a robust inquiry.”

Inquiry is at the heart of what drives improvement and innovation at McAuley High School.

Key messages:

  • Everyone including the principal has an inquiry to undertake throughout the year
  • Individuals having selected their area of inquiry investigate different strategies and gather evidence of impact including student voice and observation reports
  • At the end of each year inquiry findings are presented to the principal and next years inquiry is set. Individual results will also inform the direction of department or school wide professional development
  • Effective inquiries are those that are ‘robust’, sufficiently challenging that approaches may fail or the inquiry require modifying in light of results
  • The ‘freedom to fail’ is what make the cycle of inquiry worth while
  • Staff support one another within a collegial environment where everyone understands they have something to improve

Things to think about:

  • How does professional inquiry in your setting contribute to teacher capability and learner outcomes?

The evaluation indicators this video illustrates

  • Domain 6: Evaluation Inquiry and knowledge building for improvement and innovation 
    • Evaluation indicators
      • Collective capacity to do and use evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building sustains improvement and innovation
      • Coherent organisational conditions promote evaluation, inquiry and knowledge building


  • Domain 5: Professional capability and collective capacity 
    • Evaluation Indicator  
      • Systematic, collaborative inquiry processes and challenging professional learning opportunities align with the school vision, values, goals and targets


This video is part of a series

This video is part of the series Improvement in Action Te Ahu Whakamua. We created this series to inspire schools with examples of success in action. These examples highlight the benefits of fulfilling the evaluation indicators we use to review schools.

Remote video URL

ANNE MILES: The whole school is driven by an inquiry process. Teachers have their inquiries. I have my inquiry. And the students inquire into their learning. And that's part of the new curriculum documents that students actually own their own learning. And own your own learning, you must think about how you're learning. 

RACHEL WILLIAMS: You start with what you perceive as a problem or an area that you think I could do this a little bit better in my classroom. And throughout the year, you are then looking into different strategies, you're collecting data, you're trying different things in the classroom, you're having lesson observations, you're collecting student voice. And then at the end, you've got a really good document about what it is your inquiry has been for that whole year. And that is what you're presenting to the principal at the end of the year. 

ANNE MILES: Teachers are professionals. They should be allowed to behave as professionals. And if they see something's not working, you change it. 

RACHEL WILLIAMS: If it's a true inquiry, then it has to be a robust inquiry, and therefore, it could morph into something completely different than what you thought you were going to start with. You could get to the end and your conclusion is this isn't helped at all and I'm not doing this again. As a school, we've got to allow that to happen because otherwise, it just becomes a tick box exercise and that's not what the teaching is inquiry cycle should be about. It should be about giving the teachers the freedom to actually go through this cycle for themselves and seeing what it is that needs to be improved. 

ANNE MILES: You don't often hear staff complaining and saying, well, this is a dreadful class, or I can't get on with it. What I do hear is, what are you doing with this particular class? How do you find them? And what are you doing to enable them? It's like a support network comes on and suggestions are made, and there's no condemnation because failure is acceptable.