Focusing the future of education through inquiry

By Sarah Whiting

“The future belongs to the curious. The ones who are not afraid to try it, explore it, poke at it, question it and turn it inside out.”
– Manifesto, Skillshare, Jan 2012


Can you cast your mind back to a time when as a child you were totally absorbed in the moment?

My early years memory of total absorption is of counting burger rings onto each one of my fingers — how many could fit each knuckle. Could I load up all fingers and eat them without them falling or leaving teeth marks?

If you don’t recall intense curiosity or absorption in a moment as a youngster, consider times you have sat alongside a young child and quietly watched how they interacted with the world around them, exploring, talking and learning from every movement, every noise, every sensation.  If you brought an adult lens to their curiosity and work what words would you use to describe what they were saying and doing? It is likely, that our wee inquirers will:

curiosity list

Our tamariki (children) are born curious – they are natural inquirers. They know how to scan the landscape, explore the situation, observe the discrepancies, trial possibilities and make changes happen, and eat as many burger rings off their fingers as possible in one mouthful! Humans are instinctive inquirers. They have an innate ability to create solutions to situations, to explore and improve — just think about Māui and his curiosity that led him to snare the sun Tama-nui-te-rā to slow the day.

Harnessing this innate ability characterises inquiry-oriented teachers and the teaching as inquiry process 1 , along with an interest in creating a better future for young people.  We know that schools designed in the industrial age are no longer ‘fit for purpose’ and need an overhaul. A transformational future, partly brought about by the speed at which technology is evolving, indicates rapid change and growth across all factors in society. According to Zach Sims (2014), it is time for education to catch up with this rapidly changing society. This means focusing on designing learning opportunities that respond to the learner needs and backgrounds, to harness and make the most of diversity. Teaching as Inquiry is a framework that invites educators to deliberately seek for evidence of what is happening for those not well served by current actions, and to do something about.

First things first: we need to tap into that innate characteristic of an inquiring mindset; embrace that inner curiosity that resides in all of us to embrace the process of change that is teaching and inquiry. Lorna Earl and Helen Timperley (2008), indicate that this allows us to explore the possibilities and fully engage with questioning, reflecting, and decision-making. Marilee Adams (2009), goes on to say that those with an inquiring mindset are curious by nature, and have the courage to ask open-minded questions of oneself and others. They discover, learn, resolve, and create.

Now, this is where the power of the framework comes into it’s own. It encourages use to look forward at what is possible alongside what needs to be, providing a powerful framework for change to develop an education system more suited to a collaborative, creative age. Teaching as inquiry encourages us to:

  • Scan the learning landscape
    • Be curious — look at the big picture.
    • Make space to explore perspectives. Include everyone's perspective, particularly those least often heard.
    • Slow down to speed up.
  • Explore the current situation
    • Challenge the status quo — not just tweak it.
    • Focus your energy and time on things that will make the biggest impact for your learners.
  • Observe the discrepancies
    • Adopt a sense of urgency — for young learners not succeeding in our school system year after year, Teaching As Inquiry is urgent, for them most of all.
    • Test your assumptions — about people, about your practices, about the world around you.
    • Utilise a learner mindset, where questions are asked and changes are made as opposed to assumptions driving the change.
  • Trial possibilities:
    • Co-construct, co- construct, co-construct — all of us are smarter than any of us. How might you involve students and their whānau (families)?
    • Prototype shared ideas — it doesn’t always work, but fail fast and fix faster.
    • Utilise a possibility mindset — what if constraints were removed, obstacles didn’t exist?
  • Make change happen
    • Develop strong ways of knowing.
    • Utilise an evidence-seeking or how-do-we-know mindset.
    • Ensure quality by checking our impact and the rate of change.
    • Reflect, revisit, refine.

So moving forward, here is your call to action!
As encouraged by Kaser and Halbert (2013), be curious about the following strong questions, which underpin the Spiral of Inquiry: 2

  • What’s going on for our learners?
  • How do we know?
  • How does it matter?

You are then invited to go forth, gently point the finger inwards, and ask these of yourself and others around you. Work together, think big, and stand in the future. We want our learners — young people, whānau, teachers, and leaders — to be energised by curiosity, have perseverance and grit, and develop adaptive expertise for the changes that continue to occur. Most importantly, keep asking questions and exploring new possibilities. Knowing that you will never have perfect conditions, be adaptive and creative — just do it — start now and keep going. What can you do to ensure that our kids leave our school system every bit as curious as they entered it?



Adams, M. (2009) Change Your Questions, Change Your Life: 10 Powerful Tools for Life and Work (Inquiry Institute Library) California: BK Publishers

Earl, L. & Timperley, H. (Eds.) (2008) Professional Learning Conversations: Challenges in Using Evidence for Improvement. Springer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Halbert, J and Kaser, L. (2013) Spirals of Inquiry for equity and quality Vancouver: The BC Principals’ and Vice Principals’ Association

Manifesto, Skillshare, Jan 2012 cited: retrieved: 29/2/2016

Sims, Z. (2014) Education Needs to Change as Fast as Technology on May 23, 2014 @ 12:22 pm on

Image references

Image of boy: by Philippe Put on Flickr under CC

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