Participants in the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project Use Inquiry To Break Boundaries and Redefine Teaching

New Teacher Project Mentor and Teacher and Students


For the past 25 years, the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project has continually advanced its program based on one significant focus: supporting the development of excellent educators who build their practice, one day at a time, from the first day they step into a classroom. What is the result?

  • Reflective, engaging educators
  • Successful students

Across all of the districts in Santa Cruz County and numerous districts in the Santa Clara Valley, teachers who participate in the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project experience 3 main components of support:

  • 1:1 mentor support on an average of 6 hours per month – support that includes, but is not limited to, planning, provision of resources, observation, analyzing student work, and modeling lessons
  • Collaborative Learning Communities tailored to teachers’ contexts and developed to support professional networking, collaborative discussions, and problem-solving
  • A Formative Assessment System that consists of tools and processes strategically designed to support the teacher’s professional growth and development


The Move to Inquiry

The dictionary defines inquiry as: 1. The act of exploration and discovery. 2. To ask a question; to be open to seeing new potentials and possibilities. Indeed, the act of teacher inquiry involves searching, exploring, studying children, examining one’s own practice, and discovering and rediscovering new possibilities.

As teachers engage in the Formative Assessment System processes, they naturally move to inquiry; conversations with the mentor encourage the teacher’s curiosity and inquiry into teaching and learning. Recently, the Inquiry Action Plan has become a highlight of the Formative Assessment System for teachers. Teachers have found this process to be highly meaningful and impactful for their practice and for their students.

To begin, the mentor and the teacher decide on a content area or skill and administer a pre-assessment to students to determine their levels of competency. As the mentor and the teacher analyze the assessments, questions about strategies to try in order to impact student improvement naturally arise. The teacher decides on an inquiry to pursue to propel both his/her teaching and students’ proficiency forward. An Inquiry Action Plan is created, and the teacher embarks upon the inquiry journey, with the mentor’s support!

New Teacher Project Mentor and Teacher

Collaboratively, with the Inquiry in mind:

  • the mentor and the teacher plan a series of lessons related to the inquiry
  • the mentor observes the lesson(s)
  • the mentor and the teacher reflect on the data
  • the teacher administers a post-assessment, and
  • the mentor and the teacher analyze the students’ work to measure student growth and consider the impact of the Inquiry Action Plan.

The entire process takes place over a number of weeks.

New Teacher Project Colloquium

It has become clear that the influence of the Inquiry Action Plan on teaching and learning is significant. Not only has data shown that the effect on student growth is considerable, but also comments from teachers have revealed that the Inquiry Action Plan has made a positive difference in their teaching practices. Here are some examples of what teachers said when asked in our annual survey what aspects of the Santa Cruz/Silicon Valley New Teacher Project have had the greatest impact on their effectiveness and growth:

“The reflection process. Thinking about my teaching as a process that is constantly changing, understanding that I need to think about what is working/not working.”

“Working on the Inquiry Cycle with my mentor has had the greatest impact on my effectiveness and growth as a teacher. The Inquiry Cycle helped me to identify exactly what skills I needed to teach/reteach to help my students advance. My mentor helped me to analyze student work/data thoroughly and offered insights, ideas and encouragement along the way.”

“The inquiry was helpful because it gave me the opportunity to really focus on something specific and find different ways to meet the needs of all of my students.”


The Colloquium: A Celebration of Inquiry and Innovation

A few years ago, as teachers attended the Collaborative Learning Communities and began to share with each other the progress and results of their Inquiries, there was a great amount of excitement and conversation noted. The idea of sharing the results of the Inquiries began to arise:

  • How might we make our Inquiries public?
  • Who might benefit from the knowledge that’s come from pursuing an Inquiry?
  • What might be the “ripple effect?” How might the power of Inquiry inspire change?

The concept of holding a Colloquium to showcase inquiry and innovation became reality. Now, at the end of each year, teachers and their mentors gather for this “academic seminar” in which they showcase and discuss their work with each other and with others from a broad spectrum of the educational community, from District Administrators to Principals.
New Teacher Project Colloquium
The purpose of the annual event is three-fold: (1) to celebrate the practitioner who, through the processes of inquiry, has contributed to improving teaching and schools from within; (2) to enable practicing teachers and administrators across different sites and districts to share practice and network with each other; and (3) to enable beginning practitioners to be socialized into the profession as inquirers.

There is an electricity that occurs when teachers think and work together. From the moment one enters the room, one can sense the energized atmosphere and note the exhilaration of the teachers.

The Ultimate Goal

Though teachers share an Inquiry tri-panel project at the Colloquium, the project is not the ultimate goal. The fundamental objective is for teachers to adopt a stance toward teaching and the teaching profession that is characterized by continuous inquiry into practice, studying of practice, and implementation of change based on the outcome of the inquiry. Through embarking on the inquiry journey, teachers break boundaries and redefine practice and teaching itself, with the ultimate beneficiaries being the students.

New Teacher Project Colloquium