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An Enquiring Matrix

Click to download An Enquiring Matrix

Here’s something else which has been on my mind of late regarding practitioner enquiry that I would like to put out there. I know not everyone will be keen on this idea, but the more practitioners I speak to about it, the more I think it is worth exploring.

To me, there is a continuum to practitioner enquiry. I am still developing as an enquiring practitioner, however through the course of my MEd, my use, and understanding, of enquiry became more sophisticated. I would suggest that I am still learning when it comes to enquiry, and in the years since I graduated I have varied in the extent to which I have used the enquiring skills I have developed thus far, largely due to time.

To me therefore, some sort of progression of enquiry would be useful for teachers to support them to know how to progress as enquiring practitioners. However,  I also feel that it would be of value to teachers who are experienced in enquiry to make pragmatic choices when taking an enquiring approach to understanding an aspect of their practice.

I’ve therefore made an attempt at a first draft of just such a matrix. At any one time, a teacher could be making different progress, or choices, in the different components of enquiry.

What do you think? Would something like this be helpful? If yes, is this the right way of going about it? Can you improve upon this first draft?


There have been a few suggestions for improving on this idea on twitter since I posted this. I thought it might be easier to make an editable version of the matrix which anyone can contribute to. Click here to open the editable version and add your ideas.

Enquiry in the context of leadership, professionalism and agency


This is a conversation which I’m increasingly having, and I wanted to try and capture some of my current thinking. It centres on the nature and role of practitioner enquiry in the various domains of the life and work of a teacher.

Through my work at SCEL, I am focused on supporting teachers to develop as leaders. Our view is that all teachers are leaders of learning and practice and as such can develop as teacher leaders. Once again for clarity, here’s is SCEL’s definition of teacher leadership…

Teacher leaders are passionate about caring for children and young people. Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They model career-long professional learning.

Skills, qualities and professional actions demonstrated by teacher leaders can be identified under four main areas:

  • Values and commitment
  • Learning and teaching
  • High expectations and ambition
  • Communication and collaboration

From the SCEL Framework for Educational Leadership

During our recent engagement on teacher leadership, there was broad agreement of this view of teacher leadership, and many teachers expressed a need for more opportunities to develop their skills and confidence as leaders of practice in this sense. It was apparent to me that a programme which used an enquiring approach to support teachers to develop as teacher leaders could be an important aspect of SCEL’s response. We are therefore currently prototyping an online teacher leadership programme with 40 teachers across Scotland, supported by a group of 16 teachers who have significant prior experience of practitioner enquiry. The programme supports teacher professional learning towards the GTCS Standard for Career-Long Professional Learning and is being highly evaluated by the participants thus far. More on this in a future post…

A question which has come up a few times since the launch of the programme is along the lines of how practitioner enquiry relates to leadership, given that others often refer to enquiry in the context of teacher professionalism. In addition, I’ve just started reading Mark Priestley’s new book,  in which they distinguish teacher agency from the perceived definition of teacher leadership, but I would suggest that SCEL’s definition is closer to Mark’s definition of teacher agency. So how does practitioner enquiry fit into all three of these?

My developing view is that practitioner enquiry, and having an enquiring stance, is a key aspect of a teacher’s work and learning as a professional. I also see it as a route to developing the ecological agency in teachers and their contexts as defined by Priestley et al. I also see it as an approach for developing as a leader of learning and pedagogy.

What I’m thinking is that practitioner enquiry, and having an enquiring stance, can be a component of, and contribute to, all three of these domains of being a teacher. It doesn’t fit neatly into any of these boxes and can contribute to all three, and more…


Leadership ≠ Promotion

This is just a short post to capture something that I’ve observed over recent months. This is a sweeping generalisation which obviously doesn’t apply to everyone, but it’s occurred to me that quite often in Scottish education we use the words ‘leadership’ and ‘promotion’ interchangeably. And by that I mean, we use both words to mean ‘promotion’. I know I’ve done this in the past.

It has become apparent to me over the last year or so that leadership is actually quite a separate concept from promotion. By promotion I mean the appointment of teachers to promoted posts such as PT, DHT, etc. However, leadership is a much broader concept which involves leading people and pedagogy. Anyone, at whatever (un)promoted position, within the system can, or can not, be leading.

I suppose the real issue with using the word leadership to mean promotion is that if you are not promoted, you can assume that you can’t be a leader. But also, if you are promoted you can assume you are already therefore leading, which may not actually be the case in practice.

So the message I need to help get out there is that leadership is not the same as promotion. People in promoted posts can be leaders, but so can classroom teachers and everyone else involved in Scottish education.

There’s only one person who can raise attainment


In my work to support the development of teacher leadership, it’s important for me to reflect upon how this relates to other contemporary drivers in Scottish education, a key one being the National Improvement Framework. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t think that raising the attainment of the children and young people in their care isn’t important. This is equally true of closing the poverty related attainment gap. However, for many teachers, particularly those outwith the challenge authorities, the question often is more about what could they be doing differently in order to achieve these things. The first point I often make is that teachers in Scotland have been raising attainment and working to support children in poverty for years, and we should be seeing ourselves as working from a place of strength. However, it’s clear that for many of Scotland’s children there’s a lot more which could be done. So, what does this look like for teachers and what has it got to do with teacher leadership?

The point I’ve been increasingly making is that ultimately there is only one person who can raise attainment. In the context of this conversation I suspect that people think I’m suggesting that this is a teacher. However, what I actually mean is the learner. In my experience, the only person who can raise a child’s attainment is the child themselves. Only if a child is engaged, happy, ambitious and in possession of a growth mindset can they carry out the cognitive and physical processes required to successfully learn and then confidently share this learning. Attainment being a by-product of successful learning.

In this case, it is therefore those closest to the learner who can have the biggest impact on their ability to learn and succeed. Parents clearly have the biggest role here in terms of supporting and nurturing children, which is why schools are continually developing their approaches to involving parents in the life of the school and learning of their children. However, teachers have a big role to play here also. The relationships and interactions between the teacher and the learner can have a substantial impact on the learning, and the dispositions to learning, of the children and young people in that teacher’s care. And this is where teacher leadership comes in. Here is a section from SCEL’s definition of teacher leadership:

“Teacher leaders are passionate about caring for children and young people. Through informed and innovative practice, close scrutiny of pupils’ learning needs and high expectations they play a fundamental role in improving outcomes for children and young people. Teacher leaders are effective communicators who collaborate with colleagues, demonstrate integrity and have a positive impact on their school community. They model career-long professional learning.”

From SCEL’s Framework for Educational Leadership

Teachers who are confidently developing their practice to meet the needs of their learners, and influencing the practice of their colleagues, are clearly going to be more likely to successfully support their children and young people to achieve. Leaders at other levels in the system are crucial also in creating the right conditions and support to allow these interactions between learner and teacher to develop and flourish, but in the end it is the development of these interactions which is crucial to raising attainment.

In this context therefore, teacher leadership is not “another thing” but a crucial element in our collective drive to improve outcomes for children and young people in Scotland.

Inspiring Leadership #ILConf16


Wow, what a week. I’ve been tremendously lucky to be at the Inspiring Leadership conference in Birmingham this week. This is a high quality event aimed primarily at senior leaders in schools which provides opportunities to learn from inspirational leaders from a wide range of sectors.

One of the challenges however of events like this is that feeling you get at the end. It’s a combination of feeling inspired whilst also somewhat overwhelmed…

In order to help with this I’ve set myself a task as I return home on the train this afternoon. I tend to tweet my notes at events like this and so I’ve gone back through my timeline for the past few days and forced myself to choose just one tweet for each session. Not all of the tweets are mine, some are retweets. You can see each of these below and a short explanation for my choice for each.

You can view the many other Twitter contributions from the conference in the hashtag #ILConf16.

Welcome: Russell Hobby, General Secretary, NAHT
 & Malcolm Trobe, Interim General Secretary, ASCL

The event was impressive in its organisation in that it was collaboratively organised between different bodies. Russell and Malcolm embodied this well in their welcome which seamlessly moved between them both. One of the messages which I liked was around the many ways in which schools in England can work in partnership. I imagine it can be be easy to get caught up in discussions around choosing which model to pick from, rather than working from the needs and priorities for the learners in your school community.

Plenary One
: Andy Buck, Managing Director, Leadership Matters and author

Andy Buck’s opening keynote was very entertaining. Among his many points was this one around the importance of teacher professional learning. Many of us are quite familiar with the potential, and limitations, of effect size data in reference to learning and teaching, I hadn’t seen effect sizes for leadership activities before. The differences in this graph are very interesting and worth further exploration I think.

Plenary Two: Panel session
 – Baroness (Estelle) Morris of Yardley, David Laws & Sir Peter Housden


This panel discussion between Estelle Morris, David Laws and Peter Housden was really interesting. As I say in the tweet, I really enjoy listening to Estelle. She’s got such authenticity and exudes wisdom. They spent quite a bit of time discussing transitioning into senior leadership roles and I really liked Estelle’s point that the best way of doing this is thinking yourself into your next role and then hitting the ground running when you get there.

Plenary Three
: Rt Hon Lord (William) Hague, former Foreign Secretary, historian and humanitarian


William Hague was surprisingly amusing, which was a good thing at this time at the end of the first day. He structured his talk around the seven pieces of leadership advice which he wished he’d known before becoming the leader of the opposition. I like the way this tweet captures these seven pieces of advice.

Plenary Four
: Steve Munby, Chief Executive, Education Development Trust


I thought Steve Munby was really excellent, I just wished I’d been able to pause and rewind him quite a few times! I particularly liked the way his talk was very targeted to the current needs of the audience and yet filled with emotion and moral purpose. I’ve chosen this tweet as these six questions I think could form the basis of a really powerful piece of professional learning for school leaders.

Plenary Five
: Viviane Robinson, Distinguished Professor in the School of Learning, Development and Professional Practice, Faculty of Education, The University of Auckland and Academic Director of its Centre for Educational Leadership


Viviane has clearly got a wealth of research experience and uses this to inform her work with schools. I liked the way she brought the importance of mindsets to the level of the thinking of senior school leaders and then how this then informs the ways in which leaders could interact with others. I chose this tweet as I think it captures the essence of her message.


Leadership with purpose: 
Baroness Sue Campbell CBE, Chair Youth Sport Trust, Head of Women’s Football (FA) and Chair of UK Sport 2003-2013


Sue Campbell was really excellent and she brought two perspectives to her talk. The first was what I’d been expecting about the actions of elite atheletes, but she also shared her leadership experiences from the perspective of chairing UK Sport which involved not only leading that organisation, but also working with the many different sport governing bodies. I’ve chosen this tweet as she manages to summarise her advice on leadership onto one, powerful, slide.

Collaboration as a strategy for promoting equity in education: possibilities and barriers
: Professor Mel Ainscow CBE, University of Manchester


Mel Ainscow was brilliant. He shared the ways in which schools need to develop their cultures within, between and with the community. I really liked his pragmatic approach to both his, and teachers’, research and I really need to read some of his work. I’ve chosen this tweet as it relates so strongly to my recent engagement on teacher leadership across Scotland, and I even bounded (as best I can) up to him at the end to give him a hard copy of the report.

Plenary Six
: Matthew Syed, writer, broadcaster and three times Commonwealth games champion and Olympian


I’m a big mindsets fan and really enjoyed Bounce, however I’d never heard Matthew speak before. I really enjoyed his talk, but he was even better in the Q&A at the end. I’ve chosen this tweet as I don’t think I’d ever made a conscious connection between practitioner enquiry and growth mindset before. Chuffed that I’ve now got a signed copy of his new book and looking forward to reading it…

Plenary Seven
: Zainab Salbi, Iraqi author, humanitarian, social entrepreneur and media commentator. Founder and former CEO Women for Women International


Zainab Salbi was phenomenal…such a powerful story. A thread running through her talk was that she was not a leader. Recently she has come to accept and love the fact that she is. This resonates somewhat with me…I think, like many teachers, I used to associate leadership with promotion and management. It wasn’t something I did, and I perhaps even would’ve distanced myself from that word. Zainab helped me to further realise that not only am I a leader, but that’s ok and something which can be celebrated and enjoyed and used to make my work better. I was hanging on her every word and so didn’t tweet much, but I think Lesley captured it perfectly.

Plenary Eight
: David Breashears, climber, photographer, film maker and founder, Executive Director and Principal Photographer of the non-profit organization, GlacierWorks, Inc.


David was amazing. He shared the story of his team’s effort to record the first IMAX film of climbing Everest in the midst of a horrific disaster. It was inspirational, awe inspiring and emotional and I loved the fact that as they gazed back at Everest as they left and wondered how on earth they had achieved what they had just achieved, this was their answer.

Plenary Nine: 
Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor to Pearson and the Managing Partner of Delivery Associates


I hadn’t realised that this panel session was going to focus on the role of Islam in education. It was a powerful and honest debate and the panellists were excellent. Even more impressive were the students who joined the session and contributed their thoughts both on film and in person. I think this is a conversation which we need to be having more often and in this way, but I’ve chosen Jay’s tweet as the students’ contributions were absolutely fantastic.

Plenary Ten
: Humphrey Walters – Leadership and management expert, sports coach, pilot and sailor


Humphrey closed the conference with a highly entertaining talk based primarily on his experiences as a sailor and a consultant to the World Cup winning English rugby team. I’ve chosen this tweet as I think it captures two powerful messages: focus on what you can control and whatever the turbulence around you is doing, look for the gap in the wave and head for it.

See what I mean? There’s so much in just this small sample of tweets, and there was so so so much more across the three days.

Now I’m planning to let it all percolate through and see where it takes me come Monday…