Inquiry into Student Learning Gaps Leads to Better Teaching and Shifts School Culture (Mind/Shift, July 2019)

When Nell Scharff Panero walked into the high school math classroom, she couldn’t believe how bad it was. The teacher was at the board teaching his math, barely looking at the kids, while they ignored him and threw things across the room. She thought to herself: This guy shouldn’t be a teacher.

So she was amazed to see his transformation on a visit a few years later. He was curious to know whether students were actually learning what they were taught and actively searched for gaps he needed to help fill in so they could move forward. The transition was stark; and she thought to herself, “This is really working.” It upended her narrative that there was such a thing as good and bad teachers. If this guy, who epitomized bad teaching in her mind, could transform so dramatically with a good professional development program, so could many other teachers.

Scharff Panero, a distinguished lecturer at Hunter College and executive director of Strategic Inquiry Consulting, has been implementing and researching what she calls Strategic Inquiry with teachers for over 15 years. Her approach is based on what she learned from working as a consultant at New Dorp High School.