Disciplined collaboration and inquiry: evaluating the impact of professional learning

Alma Harris, Michelle Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (SciVal)



The purpose of this paper is to outline a Development and Research (D and R) approach to systematic and focused professional collaborative inquiry developed as part of an externally funded project, Disciplined Collaboration and Evaluation of Professional Learning (DCEPL), and highlight a model of professional collaboration that was aimed at generating meaningful teacher engagement within, between, and across schools. The “Disciplined Collaboration” (DC) approach was designed to prepare and equip teachers to work with a model of collaborative inquiry that was highly structured and had built-in assessment measures to help teachers judge the impact and progress of their collaborative work. The literature on professional learning highlights that superficial models of collaboration, unstructured approaches to collective learning, and a lack of adequate evaluation measures are some of the reasons why teachers’ professional collaboration may not have the impact anticipated or expected.


The DCEPL program was a D and R project that aimed to support teachers in generating their own local approaches to school-based innovation and change. As a D and R project, a framework for collaboration that became known as “DC” model was developed and shared. The project involved eight schools in different states and territories in Australia. In the first two years, the schools engaged intensely with the “DC” model, in ways that aimed to promote innovation and change. Subsequently, in a phase of consolidation, schools have refined and extended their collective work. From the outset, a range of data sources were available to schools to assist them with gauging the progress and impact of their collaborative inquiry. Data sets included a baseline assessment, a maturity model that charted progress against a rubric, documentary analysis, and an online portal. A sequenced data collection and evaluative approach, every six months, routinely captured the process and the progress of the inquiry work in each of the schools. It also illuminated progress across the D and R project.


The feedback from the project and data analyses suggest that all eight schools in the project engaged with the “DC” model; and in most cases, used a whole school approach to improvement. More generally, the findings point to several conclusions about working within a DC framework: first, that authentic collaborative inquiry, i.e., which makes a positive difference to learners, benefits from a clear operational model and consistent rules of engagement for teachers. Second, that the DC model, offered teachers clear guidelines about the process of active collaboration and its evaluative requirements from the outset. Third, while inevitably, the process of DC varied across schools, the focus upon improving learning and learning outcomes was central.


The DC model presents a new framework or a new approach in supporting teachers’ collaborative inquiry. The DC model emphasizes improvements in student learning as the main outcome of teachers’ collaborative work. In addition, it has feedback and impact measurement within its design thus, allowing teachers to naturally evaluate progress and outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)200-214
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Professional Capital and Community
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 16 Oct 2017


  • Collaboration,
  • Community
  • Leadership
  • Professional Learning


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