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Learning Agenda Releases "Snapshot of Practice" on Descriptive Inquiry

Posted by Bank Street on February 13, 2018 In early February, the Learning Agenda, a grant-funded program at Bank Street charged with researching, documenting, and sharing Bank Street’s progressive educational practices with policymakers and practitioners, released its second report titled “Descriptive Inquiry at Bank Street: Building Intellectual Community While Responding to Accreditation.”
The report takes a closer look at the recently implemented Descriptive Inquiry process conducted within the Graduate School of Education during the 2016-17 school year and examines how it helped faculty and staff reflect on their practice, improve program quality, and build organizational coherence. The process was initiated by Cecelia Traugh, Dean of the Graduate School of Education, and drew heavily on her experience implementing Descriptive Inquiry in higher education settings.
“Descriptive Inquiry is a process based on close observation and documentation and is shaped by the use of a family of descriptive processes,” said Dean Traugh. “This work is important because it offers a way to generate questions from the ‘ground up,’ work collaboratively, and follow a reliable and replicable process that grounds thinking in evidence that comes from the actual work of educators.”
During the inquiry process, faculty met on a monthly basis to systematically and collectively assess their educator preparation practices and to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
Throughout interviews conducted for the study, faculty members often described the process as deeply valuable for their practice. “There’s something about being in a room with people whom I deeply respect. They have years and years of experience with students, and they almost always model in themselves something I haven’t thought about or ask me a question that helps me go deeper,” one faculty member said.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Faculty inquiry helps drive collaboration. The process helped break down barriers in sharing practices and building relationships across the Graduate School. Participants appreciated the opportunity to work with their peers in other programs and receive feedback on their practice.
  • Implementing an organization-wide inquiry process unearths organizational challenges to help promote growth and development. During the year, faculty and staff discovered several challenges, including how to effectively use evidence to assess student learning and faculty teaching practices. Faculty and staff collaborated on ways to meet these challenges during their monthly meetings. 
  • Building intellectual community requires time and effort. During the Faculty Inquiry process, participants created space for collaboration. During the process, faculty and staff became better acquainted with the purpose and value of inquiry over time and expressed an eagerness to participate in Descriptive Inquiry the following school year. 

“Researching and writing this piece gave me the opportunity to see inside a process of collaborative faculty development and professional conversation that is rare in higher education. The careful reflection which faculty at Bank Street use to examine and refine their practice stands out as a model for other teacher education institutions. Our study highlights the value of professional educators working to help one another better understand their students and their teaching,” said Jessica Charles, Director of the Learning Agenda.
To learn more about Descriptive Inquiry at Bank Street, visit the new “Snapshots of Practice” page at tagged: bank street, bank street graduate school, descriptive inquiry, faculty inquiry