Preaching the power of Teacher Inquiry

‘Inquiring’ minds are finding answers in Nancy Dana’s passion

Nancy Dana has published10 books on teacher inquiry and professional development.

Nancy Dana has published 10 books on teacher inquiry and professional development.

The photocopied sign taped to a cabinet drawer in Professor Nancy Fichtman Dana’s office at the UF College of Education employs just one word to arrive at the heart of the matter: Inquiry.”

Dana is a leading international authority on teacher inquiry – a powerful form of educator professional development that’s helping teachers design and deliver engaging ways to help all students learn to their maximum potential.

“Teacher inquiry is systematic, intentional study by educators of their own practice,” Dana says. “So, rather than research being done to teachers or school leaders, practitioner inquiry empowers teachers and leaders to engage in action research on their own practice, wrapping their professional learning around the learning of students.”

Her influence in the research and growing practice of teacher inquiry is evident in UF’s modernized teacher preparation curriculum, and in the UF Lastinger Center for Learning’s extensive outreach professional learning initiatives and educator coaching programs, which so far have reached over 10,000 teachers. Dana has worked with numerous schools and districts across Florida, the United States and abroad to help them craft professional development programs of inquiry for their teachers, principals and district administrators.

She embraced the inquiry concept while collaborating with a group of teachers and their principal at a Tallahassee elementary school as part of her doctoral dissertation studies during the late 1980s.

“The practice of inquiry was a transformational and empowering experience for all of us at that elementary school,” she says. “Over and over again I’ve seen what an incredibly powerful form of professional development inquiry can be.”

Dana has studied and written about practitioner inquiry for over 20 years, publishing 10 books on the topic, including three best sellers. Her latest book—on Professional Learning Communities and titled, simply, “The PLC Book”—was  published in November by Corwin Press.

Dana has turned globetrotter, leading workshops on inquiry and professional learning communities in several countries.

Dana has turned globetrotter of late, leading educator workshops  on teacher inquiry and professional learning communities in several countries.

Dana has been racking up the frequent flyer miles of late, traversing the nation and globe making keynote presentations and leading workshops for educators hungry for professional learning models that focus on examining evidence from practice. Over the past few years her work has taken her to China, South Korea, the Netherlands and Belgium. In January 2015 she led a weeklong course on inquiry in Lisbon, Portugal, for education leaders from nine countries in the European Union. Next October she is headed to Estonia.

Born and raised in New York, Dana has a doctorate in elementary education from the Florida State University College of Education, which recently honored Dana with its 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award. She also served on the Penn State University education faculty for 11 years. She arrived at UF in 2003, around the time the UF Lastinger Center for Learning was created as the College of Education’s innovation hub for education reform. Dana immediately identified with the center’s progressive philosophy and objectives and was instrumental in infusing inquiry into the center’s outreach professional development programs for practicing educators.

“I had always been passionate about raising teachers’ voices in educational reform and helping educators improve their practice, and the Lastinger Center was emerging as a place that kept practicing professionals’ voices at the core,” she says.

Lastinger director Don Pemberton describes the center’s emergence and Dana’s arrival at UF as “perfect timing.”

“Nancy’s work is particularly relevant because it takes research-based practices and translates them into helping educators improve the quality of their teaching through an accessible, scientific process,” Pemberton says. “That is a key distinction of practitioner inquiry and Nancy’s scholarship.”

Dana doesn’t focus singularly on inquiry, although her signature focal point seeps into her other interests. She and co-researchers Cynthia Griffin (UF special education) and Stephen Pape (Johns Hopkins mathematics education) secured a $1.5 million grant from the federal Institute of Education Sciences to develop and study an extensive online professional development program for third-through-fifth-grade general and special education teachers focused on the teaching of struggling math learners. Teachers’ engagement in inquiry was the program’s core feature.

She also is deeply involved in the college’s new, professional practice doctoral program in curriculum, teaching and teacher education. The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program is an online, on-the-job degree program designed specifically for practicing K-12 educators who aspire to lead change, school improvement and education reform efforts in their schools and districts. As you might expect, the program emphasizes evidence-based self-study and Dana designed a course specifically to introduce these students to the concept of inquiry.

When it comes to practitioner inquiry or “action research,” Dana and others at the College of Education know that they are onto something special – something that’s transforming teacher practice and boosting student achievement.

“Teacher inquiry is a very personal process,” Dana says. “Teachers are engaging in inquiry because they care really deeply about the learners in their classroom, and they desperately want to do anything they can to be successful in the teaching of all learners and to meet their varied needs.”

SOURCE: Nancy Dana,
WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, News & Communications, UF College of Education,



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Researcher-author on teacher ‘inquiry’ tapped for elite UF professorship

University of Florida education professor and best-selling author Nancy Fichtman Dana, recognized nationally for her research and books on novel strategies in school reform and professional development for educators, has been named a UF Research Foundation Professor for 2012-2015.

Dana, a professor in the College of Education’s School of Teaching and Learning, is one of 33 UF faculty scholars selected for the prestigious posts. The University of Florida Research Foundation awards the professorships annually to tenured faculty who have a distinguished record of research and a strong research agenda that is likely to lead to continuing distinction in their fields. The three-year award includes a $5,000 annual salary supplement and a one-time $3,000 grant to support their research.

Dana is one of the nation’s top scholars in the field of “practitioner inquiry” or action research, a novel approach to professional development for teachers, principals and other school administrators.  The process involves educators assessing their own practices, and then sharing what they learn with their peers to foster “whole school” improvement and enhanced student learning.

“Teachers are in the best position to identify problems in the classroom and find workable solutions. Rather than having outsiders come to schools and tell them how to fix their problems, we’re encouraging schools to take charge of their own professional development,” Dana said. “We coach them on becoming more reflective, analytical and critical of their own teaching, and then taking action to improve their classroom practices.”

“This self-reflecting and sharing process,” she adds, “allows schools to improve from within.”

Dana has coached the action research of thousands of educators from school districts across the state and nation, and has published eight books and more than 50 journal articles and book chapters on teacher and principal professional development and practitioner inquiry.

Two of her books—guides to classroom research and coaching inquiry-based learning communities in schools, respectively—were best sellers. The latter was chosen 2008 Book of the Year by the National Staff Development Council.  She recently published an electronic version of her 2010 book, “Powerful Professional Development: Building Expertise Within the Four Walls of Your School.”

Her publisher, Corwin Press, has an author’s website for Dana at:

Dana’s research on practitioner inquiry forms the core of the college’s innovative, on-the-job Teacher Leadership for School Improvement graduate degree program, which the Association of Teacher Educators cited as the 2011 Distinguished Program in Teacher Education.

“Dr. Dana is an exceptionally productive scholar and she continues to probe the possibilities and impact of practitioner inquiry, extending her work to special education teachers and the use of the latest Web technologies,” said Elizabeth Bondy, director of UF’s School of Teaching and Learning.

Dana is working with UF education colleagues Cynthia Griffin (in special education) and Stephen Pape (mathematics education) to develop and evaluate an extensive online professional development program for third through fifth grade teachers focused on the teaching and learning of math. Their work is funded by a $1.5 million grant from the federal Institute of Education Sciences.

Dana has a doctorate in elementary education from Florida State and master’s and bachelor’s degrees from State University of New York at Oswego. In 2009, the New York Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the New York Association of Teacher Educators dually presented Dana with the New York Teacher Impact Award.

Dana joined UF’s education faculty from Penn State in 2003 and directed UF’s Center for School Improvement through 2010.  She received the national ATE organization’s Distinguished Research in Teacher Education Award in 2005.

More recently, she has helped the college’s Lastinger Center for Learning redesign professional development programs for several Florida school districts, with practitioner inquiry at the core.

She said her future research activities will focus on gauging the effectiveness of practitioner inquiry on K-12 virtual school educators, and on helping general and special education teachers use action research to meet the mathematical learning needs of all students, including those with disabilities.



   SOURCE: Nancy Dana, professor, UF College of Education,; 352-273-4204

   WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education;; 352-273-4137