Reflections on #EdCampVic – Connecting Educators

This weekend I had the opportunity to participate in EdCampVictoria – an unconference for educators by educators. While I had never been to an EdCamp before, I was familiar with the concept and was excited to see what might emerge as educators from different schools from all over my city gather to learn from and with each other. The weekend kicked off with a launch event that included guest speaker, George Couros (aka The Principal of Change @gcouros). I was so thrilled to meet one of the first people I had ever followed on Twitter in the flesh. I was not disappointed – George’s human persona is even more impressive than his virtual persona. George gave an engaging presentation that was filled with heart warming, provoking and inspiring messages. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He made us pause. He made us think. His presentation was filled with a myriad of personal stories, images and YouTube clips that helped to illustrate his key points and questions:

  • Adults need to go into the spaces where kids learn – including their virtual spaces. If we don’t show them how to exist in these spaces in positive and meaningful ways, who will?
  • Technology is a powerful tool through which we can share our stories and build meaningful connections.
  • Virtual connections do not replace human connections, but they can help to enhance them.
  • We need to innovate, including with technology – it’s not enough to simply put a $1000 pencil into a child’s hand.
  • It’s not about devices – it’s about culture. What is the culture we are creating in our schools with devices? Today’s kids are born into a world filled with tech.
  • Are kids creating and innovating because of or in spite of school?
  • Inspire curiosity, not compliance.
  • If we only teach the curriculum we have failed kids.
  • And my favorite – the smartest person in the room IS the room.

The bottom line comes down to relationships – how do we cultivate them and nurture them to make a difference in our students’ lives? Even though technology is everywhere (and can be pervasive), we need to deliberately and intentionally explore how to use it to cultivate relationships with our students so they see it as a multi-faceted tool that they can harness to add to the world in positive and powerful ways.

Saturday was all about Ed Camp… A room full of educators is buzzing at 8:30 a.m. There is a table with markers, tape and blank sheets of paper. The invitation is clear – write down a topic for discussion and post it on the wall. Once the first sheet is posted, a couple dozen more emerge. The writing is literally on the wall – every paper that is posted represents something that resonates with someone in the room – whether it’s because they are doing in their school and want to send the bat signal out to other schools to learn from and with them, or because it’s a concept they maybe have heard of and want to explore deeper with other educators. Everyone has three dots to “spend” and as dots are placed on the papers, trends begin to emerge. The organizers remove the patchwork quilt of possibilities and return 20 minutes later with a schedule of topics for the day. Maker Spaces/STEAM, inquiry, Chromebooks, How to bring faculty on board with Technology, Genius Hour, Mindfulness, Grading and Reporting, Flipping Instruction, Indigenous Education, Technology in Nature, Digital Story Telling, Nurturing Creativity, Collaboration and Critical Thinking, and more -the range of options is impressive, but I can only pick three! Who was it that said, “the smartest person in the room IS the room?” This is one smart room!

EdCampVicTopicsOct2015 EdCampWritingsOnTheWallOct2015

We are off and running. The room multiplies into several rooms. There is no facilitator, there is no leader. Just educators in a room willing to talk, ask questions, share and ponder the possibilities together. What strikes me the most is that we are all more connected than we think – even though our schools are different, we are all asking the tough questions and exploring the possibilities for the future of learning. We are all connected by the learners who walk into our buildings each day. We are all united with a desire to give each learner the best possible learning experience that we can with the time, resources and talents that we have. This is my big take away from the day. There is a heart for learning out there in the edusphere and it is beating strong. If it’s beating in my city, then it’s also beating in yours.

I would like to thank all of the people who worked behind the scenes to create a brilliant day of powerful learning. I am already counting the sleeps until the next EdCampVictoria…

What Can I Give?

It’s the start of another new school year, and this is a time, while although filled with anticipation and the urgency to get things ready, it is also a time of deep reflection as I look back and think about what I want to leave behind from the previous year and what I want to carry forward into this new school year. In my reflections I’ve been asking myself, “What can I give?” Last September, I was starting at a new school and the last year has been one filled with adjusting and learning (hence the lack of posts on this blog!). There were days where my confidence in myself was completely shaken, yet I still had to press on, because my very rational self knows that they only way to get through, is to keep moving forward. Now, as I begin my second year, I have that gift of hindsight that comes when you come out the other end –  I now know my colleagues and there is a wonderful comfort in returning to familiar faces, places and routines. It’s amazing what a difference a year can make and I am grateful for all that I learned in making this change. Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work in many different contexts, while also being able to maintain continuity through my work with supporting teachers and implementing curriculum. My teaching roles have ranged from K-10 including both classroom and specialist roles, I have been a curriculum coordinator for more than half of my career, I facilitate workshops for teachers through International Baccalaureate, I have been a vice-principal, and now I will have the opportunity to take on a partial role in the library. In short, I am a collector of educational experiences. In my deepest core, I know that each of these experiences has helped me to embrace change and ever-shifting paradigms, and they have ultimately shaped me as an educator as I continue to be challenged to grow and learn.

Over the years, I’ve had some conversations with colleagues that have left me feeling sad. Sometimes a colleague will share that they’ve given up – not on their students, but on the wider school (e.g. their colleagues, administrators, or all the change that happens). Somewhere along the way, their outlook shifted from one of giving to giving up. It is a sad, but true reality in our schools. A conversation like this can really bring you down, but you can’t let it keep you there. (I put on what I call my “iron panties” in these moments.) I listen with care to my colleague who is sharing and I offer support and encouragement, but ultimately, I can’t fix their problem, only they can. However, I can help them by giving my support and understanding – I believe it’s what’s guided my personal success over the years.

So, back to my reflection/question, “What can I give?” As I look forward to this new school year, here are some of the ways (not in rank order) I know I can give to my school:

To students, I can give…

  • my genuine care and personal attention
  • my best, most creative self (even if I am having a bad day)
  • my flexibility
  • my enthusiasm about what we are learning (even if it it’s not one on my favorite things)
  • my genuine support and encouragement by being their biggest cheerleader as they experience bumps on their road to success
  • my vulnerability by taking risks and letting them see me learn from mistakes
  • them honest feedback
  • my time
  • my gratitude for the privilege of sharing in their learning journey

To parents, I can give…

  • my time and attention
  • them an authentic ear
  • a thoughtful response instead of a reaction
  • honesty and respect
  • my partnership
  • my support and understanding when their child is experiencing challenges on their road to success
  • them my excitement and gratitude as I celebrate their child’s successes along with them

To colleagues, I can give…

  • honesty and respect
  • my care for them as people
  • my appreciation for their unique strengths, areas of expertise and passions
  • my support and encouragement in working through their challenges along side them
  • boundaries by not engaging in unhealthy thinking or dialogue
  • neutrality and objectivity
  • my sense of humor – everyday needs a little laughter!

It’s a simple truth, what goes around does ultimately come around. If we have a giving outlook instead of a getting one, that will come back to us ten fold. The more I give, the more I am gratified. So, I challenge you to ask yourselves, “what can I give?” and then start giving!

Source: www.buzzquotes.com
Source: http://www.buzzquotes.com

Learning Gold

Core competencies, 21st Century skills, transdisciplinary skills, approaches to learning, interdisciplinary skills, fluencies…though called different things in different academic circles, competencies are at the fore-front of many educational conversations relating to teaching and learning. A Google search of the term “core competencies” yields 4,150,000 possibilities. Words like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, leadership, responsibility, accountability, productivity, metagcognition, creativity, innovation, information literacy, digital literacy, problem solving, interpersonal skills, self-management, time management…appear repeatedly in these search results. The subtleties of terminology are not what is most important; what is important is that these competencies/skills/fluencies/approaches transcend subject disciplines and have the power to transform teaching and learning.
When I was growing up, achieving independent work habits was the gold standard that defined how successful a student was. Could I start a task and then work on my own, without incident or interaction, to finish it? This was highly valued in the classroom setting, and if you could sit on your own, pencil to page, you might receive a comment like, “Tanya works quietly and independently on tasks. Tanya is a delight to have in class.” If you couldn’t, well then maybe the comment would look like this, “Tanya has difficulty working independently. She is encouraged to spend less time socializing and more time completing tasks independently.” Independence and compliance spelled success in school. If you could follow the rules, sit still, not talk unless asked, repeat facts and print neatly you were a “golden” student. The mantle of leadership was bestowed on those who followed the rules the best, and the polarity of good and bad defined how we were assessed.
Enter core competencies, 21st century skills, or whatever you like to call them. The very nature of these skills turns the old definition of “delightful” or “model” student on its head and defines a new “gold standard” in learning. Even the word student is finding it’s way out of our vernacular. Yesteryear’s student who couldn’t sit still and needed to use his/her hands is today’s learner who is a thinker who learns by doing. Yesteryear’s student who was “chatty” or “social” is today’s learner who is a communicator who collaborates and shares ideas and thinking. Yesteryear’s student who was “slow and quiet” is today’s learner who is purposeful and reflective. Yesteryear’s student who “marched to the beat of their own drum” is today’s learner who is a creative problem solver. When we look at learners through the lens of how instead of what, the old gold standard quickly loses its sheen. A new definition of learning is emerging…and it’s truly gold.

Why Great Teachers Are Adored By Their Students

Just today I was having a conversation with a colleague about the importance of relationships with students. Then I came across this post via twitter. It’s like Jon was a part of our conversation. Since I couldn’t say it better myself, I share his post and whole-heartedly say, “here, here!” Thank you to my colleague Carol for the very reflective conversation, and to Jon for unknowingly being the fly on the wall.

Bailey & Derek's Daddy

It is no coincidence that some teachers are adored by their students and some teachers are not. And while teachers that are adored by their students are not always great, all great teachers are always adored by their students. During my 17 years as a classroom teacher, instructional coach and vice principal I have noticed that are certain things that great teachers do,that whether they realize or not, make them great.

Great Teachers Treat Students Equitably Not Equally

All students are not the same. Great teachers realize this and they make it a point to give each one of their students exactly what they need, when they need it. They create a classroom culture such that each child realizes this and they are okay with it because they know that when the time comes, their needs will be met.

equity

Great Teachers Give Students a Fresh Start Every Single Day

Everybody makes…

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The Great Paradox: Education in a Changing World (a reflection)

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Education is in a constant state of change, yet it can also be stagnant. The system is both a product of its successes and failures. As global education systems evolve, we continue to grow the innovators of tomorrow while also recycling the sins of the past.

Education systems will only be as good as their worst champions, yet change and growth, no matter how slowly, still occurs. The cycle of constant change manifests itself in opposing ways. Early adopters embrace opportunities to try new strategies and reflect on innovative practice, while those who are sceptics of change set up camp in what has always worked for them, what they believe to be tried, tested and true. It is necessary for both of these to coexist. The early adopters keep us moving forward, while the campers slow us down and make us take pause, lest we make a hasty decisionhttp://philstubbsquotes.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/when-the-winds-of-change-blow.jpeg and move forward too quickly.

As educational theorists digest and publish the latest brain research, translate it into pedagogical learning theory and filter it down to the school or practice level, schools shift to keep up with the pace and demands of change; or, they throw their hands in the air and spin in a vicious circle, unsure of which way to go. The more we learn, the more choices we have. Choice can either motivate us or it can paralyse us.

In the midst of all this change and stagnation is the learner – the one constant, yet also the greatest variable of all. Without the learner, our purpose as educators would be lost. We do what we do for the learner. Yet, no two learners are exactly alike, and each learner is constantly going through his/her own change – physical, intellectual, social, cultural and emotional.

The Great Paradox of Education is both exciting and exhausting. Whether we acknowledge we are or not, all educators are agents of change. We respond to the changing nature of the learner and inevitably, as the learner changes in a changing world, the very nature of learning changes too. It is the learners we teach who grow up and enter the world and make their contribution through science, technology, creativity, innovation….the list goes on! These learners, knowingly or not, drive our change as the education system responds to what what they give back or take from the world we help to prepare them for. The noble calling of education is alive and well and I am so grateful to be able to exist in this ever shifting paradigm, navigating the waters of child development,  innovation, pedagogy, reflection…and change. How about you?

Playing With Time: Friend or Foe

Time has a way of marching on in spite of us. In schools, the clock on the wall is either friend or foe. Time can propel us or it can paralyze us. I’ve had a life long love-hate relationship with time. I’ve tried to master it, manage it, conserve it, speed it up, slow it down…the list goes on. A wise mentor used to laugh at me and tell me that I needed to be more playful with time. Play with time? How can you play with something that is always moving, never still? While I couldn’t see it all those years ago, my mentor was right. You really can play with time. It’s in the very forward motion of time that the beauty of time playfulness lies.  At that point in time, he knew something I did not: time is only scarce if we think it is. I used to think of time as my enemy – it grinded me and wore me down as I constantly tried to battle and slay it. There was never enough time, and worse still, there was no way  for me to somehow get more of this fleeting trickster.

In my own inquiry into how to play with time, I discovered a great book by Elizabeth Saunders called, The Three Secrets of Time Investment. While this book is not written specifically for educators, and my motivation to read it was more personal than professional, I still found myself reading the book through my educator lens and thinking about how Saunders’ principles could be applied to teaching and learning. Saunders proposes that time should not be managed. Instead, she challenges the reader to look at time from an investment perspective. Ultimately, we can choose how we invest our time. Instead of spending time, we need to invest our time. When we look at time from a perspective of scarcity, we are in fact hoarding it. If we always think there will never be enough time, there never will be enough time. However, when we look at time from the perspective of abundance then, and only then, can we have a magical play date with time. Here are some of my key applications of Saunders’ time investment “secrets” to an educational setting:

1. Accept the fact that time is finite. Every school day has a definitive beginning and end and there are only so many hours in a school day, and so many days in a school year. You can’t do it ALL. Face it and move on. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a learner, so why do we try to cram everything under the sun into a school day? The more time you spend on one discipline, activity, etc., the less time you can spend on

“If you commit to giving more time than you have to spend, you will constantly be running from time debt collectors.”  ― Elizabeth Saunders
“If you commit to giving more time than you have to spend, you will constantly be running from time debt collectors.”
― Elizabeth Saunders

another. A typical school day is approximately 6 hours long. Factor in recess breaks, lunch and transitions and there are about 4.5 hours of quality learning time in a day. How we play with that time is essential. You know you will see your students for a finite portion of their learning day so you have some choices to make about how that time should be invested. To play with time, focus first on the big picture before you start dialling it down to daily specifics. Think about all of the factors that might pull away your time…relational issues that need resolving after recess, assemblies, accidents, unexpected events like fire drills, absences, etc. Stuff happens in schools – there are a lot of variables that can’t be planned for or controlled. Leave room for these and focus on the time you DO have.

2. Clarify priorities. Knowing your curriculum well is the first step to knowing how to prioritize learning time. If you aren’t sure where you are going, how can you decide where to make curricular time investments? Be realistic when you decide on your curricular priorities. Real is not always ideal, and as Saunders puts it, “reality always wins.” Educators tend to have a bent towards the ideal, and in doing so, we lose sight of what is real. Plan with reality in mind – who are your real students (not the ones you imagine)? How much time do you really have (not how much time do you wish you had )? What is really worth knowing and doing? Decide what is essential – less is more. When we put the less is more principle into practice we can make wise time investments that bring playful learning yields. We leave room for learners to have the time to play, explore and inquire. We model prioritization for our students – a pretty necessary skill in today’s fast paced, time challenged world.

3. Habit Patterns Rule. Establishing routines and systems creates stability and security. When you feel stable and secure, fear is replaced by playfulness. One thing I’ve learned is that kids thrive on routines – not rigid routines, but consistent and predictable routines.  Predictability creates the space to for spontaneity. Spontaneity invites inquiry. Inquiry invites motivation. Motivation invites learning. Learning invites growth…  Habit patterns also enable us to make informed choices when setting priorities. (See #2) How often do we “fly by the seat of our pants” in the classroom? When there is a lack of routine, we lose sight of priorities, and we are right back in the trenches fighting the war against time.

Our relationship with time has significant impacts on how we approach every aspect of teaching and learning, from deciding which learning outcomes will have the highest priority, to how much time learners will need to spend on a task or engage in a learning opportunity, to how much room there is for students to engage in inquiry and reflection. If we are hurried, our students will feel hurried. If we are weary, our students will feel weary. If we are playful, then our students will feel playful. How will you invest your time, so that the learners in your classroom will see the value of how they invest theirs?

For more information on the work of Elizabeth Saunders, visit http://www.reallifee.com/

Differentiation vs. the Time Villain

I am going through a cycle in my own learning where I am taking in lots of information and trying to process it as I construct meaning and make connections across a few different related concepts. My mind is sifting and sorting as I try to learn and ultimately, grow both personally and professionally. As I try to inquire into each, I can’t help but make big connections as I explore these concepts individually and in tandem. I have lots of notes on all three and loads of ideas…but my understanding is still growing even though I’ve been at it for months. My inquiry, ideas and thinking are in process, but they are not at the point where I could possibly articulate the new understandings that I am building.

So, my current state has got me pondering and wondering about meaningful learning and the timing of summative assessments. What of the learner who is still making connections and processing their understanding and somehow they are supposed to complete a summative assessment because it’s “the end” of a unit? I was very provoked and inspired by the extremely reflective and insightful blog post recently shared by Sam Sharrett on summative assessments. Recently, I also participated in a webinar hosted by Rick Wormelli. Wormelli got me wondering when he questioned the mixed signals we are sending in the “rush to quantify learning”. I am wondering this: if differentiation is integral to teaching and learning, why is it typical practise to give the summative assessment to all learners at the same time? Even if we are differentiating the task, what if the timing isn’t right for some or all learners? How do we differentiate time in a system where time is often portrayed as the finite villain? It bothers me that the program of inquiry can become like a series of Amazing Race episodes, with learners racing from one line of inquiry to the next with the hopes of making it the big conceptual aha/final destination– except in this case, there is no million dollar prize at the end – just teachers scratching their heads and students lining up to start the race all over again when the next unit begins. And furthermore, how many of our students are eliminated during the race because they run out of time?

I must say that one of the big frustrations that I felt when I was in in the classroom full time, and one that has been shared with me countless times by colleagues and other educators I’ve worked with as a PYP workshop leader is the constraints that 6 transdisciplinary themes in one school year puts on learning. Is the requirement for learners to experience all 6 transdisciplinary themes REALLY about the learner? Six linear units with fairly firm start and end dates on the curricular clock doesn’t give the learner who isn’t ready to move on yet the time they may need to let their learning percolate. What about the learner who can’t process all that rich conceptual information within a 4-6 time-frame? Units of inquiry have a way of marching forward, one unit wrapping up as the other is ready to begin…the relentless calendar reminding us that a school year is finite and that learners must move on, ready or not.

I hope that as the IB revisits the PYP over the coming months that serious consideration will be given to making learning more flexible within the PYP curricular framework. The framework needs some refreshing – it’s been 15 years with no change – except some minor tweaks to a couple of theme names. While I appreciate the value of each unique transdisciplinary theme, I do believe that “coverage” of all six themes across one school year is not always learner centred and can actually be counter-productive to the heart of the best-practise inquiry based pedagogy that the PYP is built on. Schools should be able to make more flexible choices about the ebb and flow of units and which themes are best suited to learners at different developmental stages. Instead of a rigid matrix, perhaps some clear guidelines about minimum criteria around planning curriculum within the framework might help alleviate some of the crunch I know many teachers, and as a result, learners feel. This might give learners who need time to truly explore and inquire into and across transdisciplinary concepts the time they need to process, consolidate, apply and maybe even really have the time to take meaningful action for and from their learning.

Connected Educators: Beyond Wires

I Think, Therefore I BLOG - (Being Normal is n...

In honour of Connected Educator’s Month and Canadian Thanksgiving, this blog post celebrates and explores why I am grateful to be a “connected educator“. Being a connected educator means many different things to me. Yes, it means that I am an educator/administrator who appreciates the role technology plays in enhancing learning. That to me is the literal part – connecting to technology with screens, wires, networks, apps, platforms, google searches, etc. But, that literal part is just one small  piece. Being a connected educator means being connected to other educators who are also open to sharing and learning from the wisdom of practise that comes from educators and thought leaders from around the globe. Being a connected educator means I value growing as a professional beyond the literal walls of the school where I work or the physical workshops I attend or the books that I read. As a connected educator I want to take ownership of my own ongoing growth and professional practise by connecting into a limitless pool of learning that comes from other people who share my passion for learning, leadership and personal/professional growth.

In the 18 months since I officially became a connected educator by joining twitter and starting this blog, I’ve “met” so many amazing people. While I have a small sense of what they look like through their posted photo and I know their name or moniker, I’ve never shaken their hand, made eye-contact with them or even exchanged the “how’s the weather?” niceties that come with a first face-to-face meeting or workshop icebreaker activity. All that is done away with in the connected educator world. No getting to you know you period required; that’s what the “about” page is for! The second I made  choice to “follow” or “subscribe” I became connected to another educator because something about their experiences, understanding, philosophy, perspective or practise either resonated with or challenged/provoked me. I may not know how many sugars or how much cream they like in their coffee (I myself am a double-double Canuck coffee drinker), but by reading their words, whether a short and sweet tweet, or a more detailed blog post, I have come to know what motivates them professionally, and I believe, by default also personally because so many of us wear our professional hearts on our sleeves. I know they care deeply about their role in learning because their words move me to act. I know that they challenge my assumptions and provoke my thinking and inspire me to reflect on my own learning journey and areas where I can grow.

Being a connected educator also means you are a risk-taker yourself by giving back to the connected community. Connected educators support each other because we have a deep appreciation for the value of learning and best-practise pedagogy. We know that relationships matter to learning. We know that theory is just theory unless it is put into practise. We try new things in the name of this and we are compelled to reflect as a result. Even though we’ve never “met” we get to know each other so well through the digital window into each other’s classrooms and learning spaces! Receiving a re-tweet, a comment, a new follow, a favourite, a pingback, etc. lets us know that we are making a contribution and that somewhere else in the world someone else connected with what we put out there. It’s not about the numbers or the status – it really is about knowing that you share a commonality with another educator in the name of learning.

Being a connected educator also means you have choice. You can choose how much or how little to engage. I myself stick with twitter, blogs, wikis and the occasional use of Pinterest. That’s what I can comfortably manage without feeling overwhelmed by too much information. I have my own “Twitter Thursdays”, a day of the week where I devote my train commute to school to learning through twitter posts. The connected educator is in control of every last detail of their learning – the who, the when, the where, the how, the what and the why. You can access and/or give as much or as little as you choose – what other PD offers you that?

I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to the educators and thought leaders who continue to inspire me because we are “connected”. My connected community continues to expand, which is a sure sign that I am growing as I learn from others, and hope that others might learn something from me in return.

The URGE to Inquire

Since the dawn of time, humans have been plagued by urges: primal urges, creative urges, instinctual urges, relational urges…When we have an urge we are propelled to act by either delving into the urge, or repressing it. Learning urges are a necessary part of inquiry. Urgency in learning tells us that we must take action to know more or do more to find out or come to a new understanding. Urges move us forward in the construction of meaning – they are like itches that have to be scratched. If we don’t tend to our urges we can become disengaged or even resentful. In today’s world, when a learner isn’t given the room to follow his/her urges, they often say, “I’m bored.”

When educators see themselves as learning architects who are designing learning spaces built on a strong curricular foundation for learners to inquire and construct meaning while developing skills, they must be open to exploring how to create urgency in learning by both igniting and propelling the urge to inquire.

How do learning architects create urgency within curriculum?

First, they define the inquiry purpose by clearly knowing what knowledge is essential for the learner to come away with after all is said and done. They do away with all the fluff – there’s no urgency in that. Then, they design provocations, opportunities and open-ended engagements that ignite the fire of urgency by inviting learners to connect, explore, wonder, puzzle, collaborate, problem solve, think and apply. They carefully plan opportunities for skills that fit the concept to be introduced, practised and/or mastered.

The learning architect also knows the importance of sharing/modelling their own learning urgency by literally selling the curriculum to the learner so they buy in with their learning currency. Curriculum is much like stock – learning architects are the designers and marketers of that stock and learners are the investors. The more the learner feels the urge invest in the curriculum stock, the higher the learning yield will be.

Finally, learning architects know that less IS more. Because they see curriculum AS architecture, they understand the importance of careful design in the learning process so that learners have plenty of space to explore and construct meaning. Learning architects do away with the seemingly but usually unconnected laundry list of activities and instead design open learning structures that invite the learner to take on the meaning construction process. The learning architect coaches and guides the learner by carefully providing the structural support that a learner needs to grow and thrive.

Teacher or Learning Architect?

“I think…”, “I feel like …”, “Try this…”, “It sounds like…”, “I’m not sure how exactly to describe it, but it’s like…”, “Ahhh…”, “I’m not sure…”, “There has to be…”, “It is…but it isn’t…”, “It’s not…”, “How do you…?”, “I think you are right…”, “What do you think…?”, “We need to think about it in a different way…”, “Can we…?”, “Is that because…?”, “Ohhhh!”, “Ooooo…”  ….

All of the above statements are the inquiry utterances of a group of adult learners engaging in inquiry learning at a recent inquiry based learning workshop that I had the opportunity to facilitate. One of the biggest misconceptions about inquiry based learning is that it is only about asking questions and finding answers. Go back and read the list of utterances again. Inquiry is so much more than asking questions and seeking answers.

Kathy Short put it best when she described inquiry as both a stance and a state of tension. When I share this definition of inquiry with adult learners, they often ask, “but what do stance and tension really mean?”

According to dictionary.com, the second definition they provide for stance is: a mental or emotional position adopted with respect to something. So, inquiry is a mental or emotional position we adopt with respect to learning. Inquiry tension lies in the mental or emotional position of the stance. When we think, feel or believe we have to figure something out, or find out the truth by either confirming something we already believe to be true or dis-confirming something we’ve assumed to be true, or figuring out something that is totally new, we are activating the inquiry stance. As educators, it is our role to be the inquiry architects as we take learners on a journey through an inquiry cycle (there are many! just pick one or make your own hybrid!). Many times I hear other educators lament, “but they just don’t ask questions. How do I get them to ask questions?” Therein lies our first mistake. When we limit the inquiry stance to just asking questions, we limit the potential for meaningful and contextualized inquiry stance learning. Take a step back and really listen to what the learners in your classroom are saying. If you don’t hear anything, then perhaps the flaw lies in the designer and not the learner. Inquiry begs us to examine and challenge our own beliefs and assumptions (our own mental and emotional position) about teaching and learning. Do we see ourselves as teacher or as learning architect?