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  • Writer's pictureJenni Donohoo

Collaborative Inquiry: Helping Relationships

This is the first post in a three-part series on Collaborative Inquiry.

Collaborative teacher inquiry is a promising strategy for improving students’ well-being and achievement. During a collaborative inquiry cycle, teachers come together to:

  • identify the knowledge and skills students need in order to succeed;

  • investigate and select promising practices to address students’ needs;

  • learn more about these practices by testing them in their classrooms; and

  • assess the impact of their actions in order to determine next steps.

The cycle is repeated as teachers reflect on and adapt their instruction based on the careful examination of evidence.

People learn new ways of working together as they provide support to one another during each stage in the process. They bring unique experiences and share their expertise for the benefit of the team as they co-construct understanding and create new knowledge. Together, they problem solve and develop solutions to address their problems of practice in order to ensure that students’ needs are met. Teachers lead and learn with and from each other. Shared ownership for school improvement and a sense of collective efficacy often results.

While there are many rewards and benefits, there is also a certain amount of ambiguity involved and collaboratively inquiring into one’s practice may seem risky for some. Inherent in the process is the expression of vulnerability as team members share ideas, reveal beliefs, uncover assumptions, expose their practice, and grapple with difficult challenges related to teaching and learning. Learning and improving become a collaborative and public endeavor. Therefore, the quality and nature of relationships is a fundamental aspect of this professional learning design.

In Unmistakable Impact, Jim Knight discusses the complexity of providing support within professional relationships, pointing out that “effective professional learning must be grounded in an understanding of how complex helping relationships can be” (p. 20). I recently attended one of Jim’s institutes in which he expanded on the complications that arise when helping adults. Jim suggested that we need to keep the following “five simple truths about helping” in mind as they impact our ability to affect change:

  1. People often do not know that they need help.

  2. If people feel ‘one down’, they will resist help.

  3. Criticism is taken personally.

  4. If someone else does all the thinking for them, people will resist.

  5. People aren’t motivated by other people’s goals.

(Knight, 2011, p. 27)

In my next posts, we’ll cover Jim Knight’s seven Partnership Principles.

Originally Published:

Donohoo, J. (2015). Three-Part Blog Series - Collaborative Inquiry: Helping Relationships, Partnership Principles 1-3, Partnership Principles 4-7. Corwin-Connect, July 29th-31st 2014. Download available from:



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