Organizing a Cross-Sector Faculty-Led Professional Inquiry Network

Toolkit Overview

This toolkit item illustrates the design of a three-year project focusing on the development and implementation of a self-directed, regional, professional development structure for approximately 50 regional K-12, community college, and university faculty in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. The project, funded by College Spark Washington, Eastern Washington University (EWU), and Community Colleges of Spokane (CCS), supported cross-sector cohorts in the inquiry process of identifying problems of practice, finding ways to address those problems, and studying the implementation and results of their strategies.

Successful Transitions to College builds upon work completed previously, or in progress, in the area of aligning curriculum and expectations. Specifically, in mathematics, faculty members from Eastern Washington University and the Community Colleges of Spokane have been involved in numerous collaborative efforts with high school mathematics teachers from Spokane area schools. Specific collaborative efforts include, the Transition Math Project, Core to College,the Riverpoint Advanced Mathematics Partnership (RAMP) and the College Board’s Affinity Network.

Many of the ELA stakeholders who participated in Successful Transitions also have worked together previously. They collaborated on Core to College, the College Board’s Affinity Network project, and Spokane Public Schools’ (SPS) Grade 12 Curriculum Committee.  

Participation from both disciplines, mathematics and ELA, and all sectors in Core to College and the College Board’s Affinity Network project resulted in key relationships among faculty leaders, and served as a catalyst for the request for funds from College Spark Washington to support the Successful Transitions to College project. Faculty leaders wanted to find a way to expand the work begun through those projects.  One key purpose of the Successful Transitions project was to take work done previously to the next level. We significantly expanded previous work by engaging a much wider group of faculty.  New high schools joined our work, and each partner institution included more instructors.  This project includes instructors from Eastern Washington University, the Community Colleges of Spokane and the following school districts:  Cheney, Columbia, Deer Park, Lind-Ritzville, Mead, Spokane, and West Valley. Expansion of our work to include more schools and more instructors at each institution will lead to a greater regional impact than would be possible without the expansion.

Developing a regional collaborative professional development project with a cross-disciplinary, cross-sector approach has allowed participants - instructors - to pursue professional learning through inquiry and iteration. The ELA and math instructors from EWU, CCS, Spokane Public Schools, and area rural districts have identified common problems of practice across sectors and content areas. The three main problems of practice identified were 1) independent learning, 2) critical reading and writing, and 3) critical thinking and problem solving skills. An important aspect of inquiry learning is in sharing results of our work, both internally and externally, which allows for collective learning about the problem and its possible solutions. Individual Cohorts have developed disciplinary-, classroom-, and school- specific interventions meant to address one of the three main problems of practice; those interventions form the content of the rest of this website.

Resources Used to Inform this Toolkit

Palmisano, Michael J. Taking inquiry to scale: An alternative to traditional approaches to education reform. National Council of Teachers of English, 2013.

Our group used this text as our model for inquiry-based professional learning, creating disciplinary specific, cross-sector faculty cohorts to learn with and from each other in the context of shared practice.

Using a collaborative inquiry model enabled us to turn over the larger issues of student readiness to faculty groups devoted to tackling specific problems of practice within ELA and Math classrooms. Palmisano’s discussion of “scalable” inquiry allowed each cohort to define, create, iterate, and revise co-created toolkit items meant to be used and adapted across sectors.

Key Lessons We’ve Learned

We have determined that the most important take-aways of a project such as this are:

  • Designing a professional partnership, tailored to regional needs, allows new forms of collaboration to take-hold over time.
  • Creating and sustaining communities of practice (cohorts) that work together to understand and articulate problems of practice has rewards and challenges.
  • Providing dedicated time and resources for cohorts to conceive, apply, and evaluate solutions together are crucial to sustain momentum over three years.
  • Including administrators to strengthen ties within and across sectors to facilitate cross-sector improvement practices allows for a faculty-led project with the possibility of sustainability beyond the grant timeline. Gives it visibility/allows the work to connect with the strategic priorities of each institution.
  • Partnering with an outside group of educational consultants who support and facilitate the work is essential for consistency and success.

Comprehensive Guide to Implementing this Work

Meet our Leadership

Problem of Practice

Our Intervention

Critical Success Factors

Lessons Learned


Our Facilitation Tools and Resources