Why Inquiry in the act of coaching a Colleague?

By Jill Eurich

I have long seen the power of inquiry in effective teaching.

Through interactive read-aloud, having a pair share around author’s purpose, how a character changed and why, exploring author’s craft to discover what seems the same and what are differences across books by the same author.

Through reading and writing workshop, becoming familiar with characteristics of a genre by reading and discussing many quality examples that then informs writing in that genre.

Through word study, examining the way words work and applying that understanding to other words to strengthen meaning, spelling and grammar.

Through poetry, discussing meaning and noticing how poems are crafted.

Lately I have been thinking about the strong role inquiry plays in coaching as well, and will share some thinking that will strengthen the power of coaching in reflective teaching that leads to more effective practice.

As a coach, strive to get behind the thinking of the teacher. In this way you can learn what a teacher currently knows and how she is arriving at her understandings. Carefully chosen language allows you to build trust and openness in the relationship and inquire around her observations of students and teaching decisions. This allows the teacher to articulate her ideas and in so doing perhaps revise, deepen, or change her thinking. It also allows you, as a coach, to become familiar with her current perceptions and add new insights and knowledge.

If you do provide new learning, it is important to follow it up with such questions as, “What do you think about that?” “Is this something that might be helpful?” “How might that look in your classroom?”  This inquiry is powerful in several ways: it allows you to understand what the teacher thinks of the idea you have shared and if or how she might use it. By hearing her response you can clarify or extend the idea and it can lead to a productive conversation.

As you look to broaden ideas, professional resources play a key role. These texts provide an opportunity for teachers to develop understandings by becoming increasingly independent because the resource is readily available to them. As coaches you can go through an inquiry process using the resource that the teacher can then use on her own.

Here is an example: A teacher in her guided reading lesson reflects that the students are too literal and she wants them to be able to engage in higher-level thinking.  Together you might go to the guided reading section of The Continuum of Literacy Learning at the appropriate level and start by looking at the bullets in the Beyond the Text section. Ask her to identify bullets that she feels her students have under control and ones that would be a good next step for her readers to try. Then adapt those bullets as needed into authentic conversational questions or statements related to the book she has just taught or another book she will do next. Engaging in this inquiry around the goals in the guided reading section to identify what students have under control and what would be productive to learn next has two benefits: it is instructive in the moment, and can also be discussed in a generative manner as a process the teacher can use within the planning and teaching of future guided reading lessons.

There are so many powerful opportunities for an inquiry approach within teaching and coaching.  Katie Wood Ray puts it this way: “Inquiry does not narrow our perspective; it gives us more understandings, questions, and possibilities than (when) we started.” p. 243, Exploring Inquiry as a Teaching Stance in the Writing Workshop. Language Arts, Volume 83 No 3, January 2006

Pinnell, G.S. & Fountas, I.C. (2011).  The continuum of literacy learning grades pre-K-8:  A guide to teaching.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

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