What if we created professional learning opportunities that were not only engaging, but also empowered educators in the change process?
“Inquiry Based Learning” is something that I have been spending a lot of time looking into lately, not only from the perspective of how it could be done in the classroom, but for staff professional learning. I found a great document from Alberta Education on the topic, and although I am not probably saying something new, I was thinking about how if we want schools to do this type of learning with their students, it is more likely to be successful if teachers had the opportunity to participate in this type of professional learning. (If you do “Inquiry Based Learning” in your professional learning, I would love for you to leave a link in the comments.)
“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where students formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others. In classrooms where teachers emphasize inquiry-based learning, students are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community. These powerful learning experiences engage students deeply.”
Let’s modify it for the purpose of this blog post:
“Effective inquiry is more than just asking questions. Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where
studentslearners formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others to create real solutions to improve learning and the environment of the classroom(s) and school. In classroomsa school where teachersadministrators emphasize inquiry-based learning, studentsstaff are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community. These powerful learning experiences engage and empower studentsstaff deeply.”
As I thought about the potential for this process, it was not only to have teachers understand deeply the potential of inquiry based learning for students by immersing themselves in the process, but it was also to tap into their knowledge and wisdom to be a part of the change process of a school or system.
This tweet from Andrew Campbell reminded me of how often we don’t listen to the people that are in the system on ways that we can move it forward.
How about a teaching summit where teachers spoke and policy makers and politicians listened? Has that ever been tried? #ISTP2015
— Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99) March 29, 2015
So what could this look like in the context of professional learning?
I was thinking about having an overlying question to guide other questions. This question would be, “Why do we…?” For example, a question that could be created by a group of staff based on interests is, “Why do we have student awards?”, or “Why do we use report cards as our main assessment tool?” Not all of the questions necessarily need to start with “why”, but it is mainly to challenge the assumptions that we have about the process of school. They could also be along the lines of, “Does the process of school impede on deep learning?” The importance of this process is that we start to look at ideas with fresh eyes, ask questions that we are passionate about, actively research new ideas and solutions, and have staff be crucial in the change process of school. Change is more likely to happen when we are active contributors to the change process; it is not something that can be done to us.
As my friend Jesse McLean would say, this goes beyond simply looking at best practice, but it is looking at creating innovative solutions and ideas for what school could look like. Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant talk about the block that “best practice” can sometimes have on innovation:
“Innovation has an inherent distaste for best practices because it is about new solutions, not copying existing solutions.”
What is imperative in this process is to empower staff, not only by providing time to create this type of work (this could be an example of a 20% time initiative in your school/district), but also that if they are willing to go deep into the research and provide powerful new solutions, looking at how they can be implemented at the school or district level. If their question that they start with is a “non-negotiable” and something that you will never be able to change, that needs to be communicated up front. If the group or individual still wants to pursue their question, then at least they know the drawbacks at the beginning.
As I see, there are several benefits to this type of professional learning:
- Experiencing a powerful learning opportunity as an adult to understand what it could look like in the classroom. To be a master teacher, you must first be a master learner.
- Unleashing the innovative potential of the adults in the building and creating an environment where risks are not only encouraged, but time is created to actively take them.
- Focusing on the importance of research based on passions as an important element of learning.
- Empowering staff in the creation of improved learning environments and giving them real opportunities to lead in the change process.
This is not meant to be an idea that is taken and implemented as is, but a starting point of something that you could do to transform professional learning and provide autonomy to staff, the research that is necessary for mastery and deep understanding, while also tapping into the importance of purpose in developing the future of schools. Three elements (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) that Dan Pink would state are crucial to motivation. This might be something that is risky as an administrator, but if we want to create an environment that staff take risks in their learning, we need to not only encourage it, but more importantly, model the process.
To think different, we need to create opportunities that immerse ourselves in new experiences that make us act and feel different first.