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Teacher Inquiry Groups at Munich International School: Open-ended, Self-directed, Inspired Professional Learning

By Kristen DiMatteo
Teacher Inquiry Groups at Munich International School:  Open-ended, Self-directed, Inspired Professional Learning

As with most international schools, Munich International School (MIS) is very fortunate to have professional faculty that bring the best practices in teaching and learning to our students. Recognizing the professional curiosity of our faculty, the School Leadership Team continually seeks to engage teachers in a deep exploration of an area of interest. To that end, one of the most effective professional development models we have experienced in recent years is Teacher Inquiry Groups (TIGs).
What are Teacher Inquiry Groups?
Teacher Inquiry Groups (TIGs) are teacher-initiated learning cohorts dedicated to researching, analyzing, applying, reflecting upon, and sharing new learning that directly impacts an aspect of teaching and learning at MIS.
Over the course of a semester, groups of teachers met to explore self-determined areas of interest in their field. Trained faculty leaders facilitated these groups, and the meetings were paced to follow an inquiry cycle (imagine Kath Murdoch’s cycle scaled to adult learning).
By keeping the timeline of learning to one semester, engagement, efficiency, and energy for the learning process remained high. The TIG inquiry cycle created clarity in our learning process, and it provided time for both research and reflection on the application of learning in our context.
Finally, the inquiry cycle model involved peer sharing of learning. In our culminating session, our faculty came together for a TIG Exhibition, asking: How has this learning impacted my teaching practice? How can this impact our school community?
At the exhibition, teachers viewed one another’s work and asked pointed questions to better understand and consider how these ideas may relate to their own teaching environment.
What makes Teacher Inquiry Groups effective?
By following an inquiry cycle, teachers were effectively mirroring our approach to teaching and learning in the classroom. Interestingly, participating in an inquiry-driven professional learning model brought a sense of empathy for the challenges our students sometimes face as they move through their own learning inquiries. For example, most faculty groups quickly developed lines of inquiry and were adept at homing in on what they planned to research. Yet, teachers, like our students, sometimes struggled to make meaning of a vast array of research and resources at their disposal.
As a result, “Sorting out” took longer than expected (anyone who has mentored a PYP Exhibition group can relate to this!). It took time to make meaning of the learning as it applied to the context of MIS. When it came time for the TIG Exhibition, groups diligently prepared to present their learning to peers. The TIG Exhibition was a lively, interactive sharing session. Mostly importantly, the learning from the Teacher Inquiry Group time was by followed by Action, as the final Group recommendations were implemented across the school.
Examples of MIS Teacher Inquiry Groups include:
• Phonics Instruction: Current best practices for teaching phonics using an inquiry-based approach
• Building an effective EC–12 Pastoral Program that nurtures student wellbeing
• Extended Essay: New criteria, start to finish. A look at how we can help students approach the criteria in the extended essay process
• House System exploration: Building student voice and capacity for leadership
• Outdoor Learning: How to use the MIS Campus to support student learning
• Longitudinal study of MIS “lifers”: What are characteristics of success in long-term MIS students? What has MIS done to develop these? Are there potential predictors of student success?
Feedback on the Teacher Inquiry Groups was universally positive, with faculty recognizing the benefits that this structured form of collegial learning brings.
“There was an excellent group of people on our team. Everyone was very proactive. It was interesting to mix and share viewpoints with teachers from other parts of the school.”
“The time working on TIGs has been an excellent use of meeting and PD time. It was nice to leave school on a Friday feeling inspired to learn more.”
“It was great to get the time to dwell on our interests and reap results which are practical to our teaching practice.”
Our teachers are role models of life-long learning for students, and the opportunity for self-directed professional growth is an essential component to a robust learning community. At MIS, Teacher Inquiry Groups inspired our faculty to propose new ideas to school leadership, to develop new instructional practices, and to implement programs that will directly benefit MIS students.
If you are looking for an effective model of professional learning for school improvement, try Teacher Inquiry Groups. When we offer our teachers the opportunity to lead effective change in our schools, the results are always impressive!
Kristen DiMatteo is Deputy Head of School at Munich International School in Germany.
Darling-Hammond, L., Hyler, M., Gardner, M. Effective Teacher Professional Development. Learning Policy Institute, 2017. Available online.
Murdoch, K. Phases of Inquiry, 2010. Available online.

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02/21/2020 - Paul
Really great stuff, Kristen. Thanks for sharing this. I am re-sharing with our faculty here as we look to refresh some of our activities during time set aside for professional learning.



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