Developing Teacher Leaders through Collective Inquiry


By Denise Snowden, Ph.D. 


As a growing number of school districts across the country focus on developing teacher leadership, it’s important to not be bound by traditional approaches to professional learning. 

How can learning be a collective process in which administrators and teachers are equal participants?

What learning experiences will empower educators to grow their perspective, form partnerships, and refine their practice? 

I recently had the opportunity to work with educators in Fairfax County Public Schools (VA) to grow teacher and instructional leadership through the implementation of BFK•RoundsTM—a unique approach to instructional rounds, developed by Battelle for Kids, which allows teams of educators to study their organization and identify what is working well and what problems of learning and problems of practice need to be addressed. The approach includes a process of collective inquiry, in which teachers, school leaders, and district administrators conclude by reflecting on their role as learners. In Fairfax, educators shared some common reflections, including: 

  • “I like that we were able to identify problems AND solutions in one day.”
  • “All stakeholders in this school had rich dialogue, discussion, and debate.”
  • “Teachers are passionate about improving their practice and their school.”
  • “Going through the data made me reflect on my own practice; what would people see and hear when they came into my classroom?”

Collective inquiry helps teachers build their leadership capacity in three key ways.

1. Perspective
By studying the instructional core (the interaction between teachers and students in the presence of content) and learning how to withhold judgment and regulate bias, teachers quickly gain perspective. They are able to step beyond the boundaries of the classroom and see the learning interactions from the outside, collect objective evidence, and collaboratively identify and articulate assertions supported by the evidence. Becoming researchers of their own school enables teachers to see their role through a new lens and appreciate the power and influence they have on student learning. 

2. Partnership
Navigating through the collective inquiry process requires educators at all levels to negotiate meaning and grapple with how to describe what the evidence presents. They determine critical challenges to student learning, share ideas, and work toward a solution. This process forges a value-based partnership between teachers and administrators. Position no longer impacts decision making when meaning is co-constructed and solutions are identified to address an emergent problem of student learning. Ownership for student learning expands when collective inquiry leads to collective ‘ah-ha’ moments.

3. Practice
Seeing the impact of their work as change agents for student learning, propels teachers and administrators on the instructional rounds team to hone in on a critical aspect of their practice for further development. Educators enter into this practice refinement process collectively and discover the power of collective efficacy as they navigate through instructional experimentation with their colleagues, always keeping student learning as the driving purpose of their work.

When teachers and administrators are empowered to grow their perspective, form partnerships, and refine their practice, leadership is developed collectively—both inside and outside of the classroom.

Denise Snowden, Ph.D., is a Senior Director of Learning & Leading at Battelle for Kids. For more information about BFK•Rounds and how the collective inquiry process can support teacher leadership development, email her at or connect with her on Twitter @DeniseSnowden