Actionable Inquiry

Actionable Inquiry is a disciplined approach to building the knowledge necessary for a school, network of schools, or school district to move forward. With Actionable Inquiry there is a clear commitment to produce knowledge that shapes and guides practice, improves performance, and both contributes to and sustains accountability. Schools, networks of schools, and school districts looking: (a) to review their strengths and challenges, or (b) to evaluate how best they might move ahead in the next phase of their work, can draw upon either of the forms of actionable inquiry in which CEBE specializes:

  • Independent Actionable Inquiry

With this approach a team of CEBE associates spends between two and five days on-site, exploring where a school, network of schools, or school district is in their work, and advising on the next stage in their development. The visiting team either works to a framework of the school’s, network of schools’ or district’s choosing or uses CEBE’s Framework for Accountable Inquiry—one built on the evidence of inquiry, research, and analysis. The visit leads to a written report that can be supplemented with further advice, and/or support.

  • Collaborative Actionable Inquiry

In this instance, a smaller CEBE team works with a team brought together by a school, network of schools, or school district, to collaboratively explore, the work of the school, network, or district. The joint team either works to a framework of the school’s, network of schools’ or school district’s choosing or uses CEBE’s Framework for Actionable Inquiry—one built on the evidence of inquiry, research, and analysis. The visit culminates with a written document that can be supplemented with further advice, and/or support.

When working to a framework of a school’s, network of schools’, or district’s choosing, CEBE looks to how it: (a) clarifies what the school/network/district is attempting to achieve—its goals; (b) enables the team to explore the work in hand in light of those goals, and (c) results in the team developing a collective perspective on what they have explored, and sharing their perspective with the school, or network, or district, including sharing their reflections on the appropriateness of the goals.

CEBE’s own Framework for Actionable Inquiry has three interrelated dimensions:

  1. Learning
  2. Culture
  3. Leadership

In exploring the Learning dimension, CEBE gives close attention to: (i) curriculum, instruction, and assessment—what is to be learned, how is it best learned, how can we ensure it is learned that way and learning expectations—what are they, how, and how successfully, are they communicated; (ii) the quality of student learning, teaching, and assessment—is the quality high, are the students making good progress and achieving high standards; (iii) professional learning and strategic networking—are the staff up-to-date in their learning, and are their students benefitting from the networks of which they/the school/network/district is a part?

In the Culture dimension CEBE focuses on: (i) purpose and relationships—whether or not the staff and students have a clear sense of purpose, and the degree to which the hallmark of their relationships is mutual trust; (ii) uses of evidence (data) plus the  verification and evaluation of work—how does the school/ network/district verify it is doing what it has set out to do, and how, and when, does it evaluate its overall performance; (iii) community engagement—how, and how successfully, the school/network/ district works with parents and other key stakeholders.

When exploring Leadership, CEBE examines: (i) goals, values, and principles—what are they, how appropriate are they, and are they being achieved; (ii) systems, structures, and strategies—how successful is the leadership of the school/network/district in establishing systems, structures, and strategies that support the work, and does the management of the work add value to learning through the effective deployment of its human, operational, and fiscal resources—how they are organized and utilized in advancing the school’s, network’s, district’s work; (iii) presence, reciprocity, and innovation—are those with leadership responsibilities present wherever the work with students is taking place, is there evidence of both internal and external reciprocity in engaging in the day-to-day work of the organization, and is there a continuing, and deep, commitment to innovation?

Whether it is Independent or Collaborative Actionable Inquiry, CEBE pays close attention to the organizational/leadership context in which the school/network/district is working. In particular, it draws upon a slightly adapted version of the “Cynefin Framework,” originally designed by David Snowden, the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Cognitive Edge (See “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” Harvard Business Review, November, 2007).

In engaging in Actionable Inquiry, CEBE uses a variety of strategies and tools. These include:

  • Observing Practice
  • Exploring Students’ Work
  • Shadowing
  • Mapping
  • Photo Inquiry
  • School/Network/District Performance Analysis
  • Focus Groups/Conversations with Stakeholders

Assisting schools, networks, and districts, in knowing what to do, and knowing how to do it—to ensure that all students learn at high standards—are the twin foci of CEBE’s work in Actionable Inquiry.

CEBE often follows up its work in Actionable Inquiry by assisting a school, network of schools, or school district in the introduction of Learning Rounds—a strategy devised to:

i. explore professional practice—teaching and learning—on a regular basis

ii. build an actionable knowledge base to support the continuous improvement of professional practice

iii. support joint practice development (… a process that is truly collaborative, not one-way; practice is being improved, not just moved from one person or place to another. Joint Practice Development gives birth to innovation …”)

For further information on Actionable Inquiry and/or Learning Rounds, please contact CEBE.