Whether you are soon to begin a new school year or returning to school in a new calendar year, this is inevitably a time of heightened intention. I love this ‘moment’ in time when the new and old year hinge on each other. Reflection is made more purposeful when it casts light on the way ahead. As a new year dawns, I can’t help but wonder about the way my thinking, my learning and my teaching will unfold. This will be my 33rd year of teaching (how on EARTH did that happen?). Whether teaching children, student-teachers or experienced teachers in the field I continue to love what I do and marvel at how much I learn, unlearn and re-learn each year.
As I have shared before (http://www.kathmurdoch.com.au/blog/2014/01/23/and-the-word-is) my family and friends have a tradition of selecting a word to bring into the new year. Just one, single word. The word provides as a kind of ‘tincture’ to the year – its purpose being to regularly nudge you along a path of your choosing – a path that strengthens you in some way.
This year, I have chosen the word ‘space’… it works for me on a personal and professional level. My passion for inquiry requires a lot of thinking about, providing for and curating space. I know the best learning happens when I give myself and my students enough space to explore, grow, to think and to talk. Clutter (physical, emotional and cognitive) feels like the antithesis of discovery and learning. Even having some space to think, to read, to walk and to write is palpably nurturing for me as a learner as I enjoy some down time over the Christmas break. I need space – and as a teacher, I need to provide it.
As I walked the spacious sands on a nearby beach early this morning, I pondered some single powerful words that resonate with the practice and stance of the inquiry teacher. If you are so inclined, perhaps one of these words might act as your talisman for a wonderful year of inquiry.
Connect...If ever there was a ‘multi-purpose’ word for inquiry, this is it! This year, help your students make connections – between ideas, between new and past experiences, between eachother and with themselves. Make your own connections – not just within your school but with the wider community of inquiry teachers around the world. Stay connected to why you do what you do.
Wonder...No word list for inquiry would be complete without it. Wonder fuels inquiry. This year – commit to providing your kids with more time and reason to wonder. Start a class wonder-journal into which you record things you have marveled at, noticed, been puzzled by. Make your wonderwall a place for dynamic investigation. Give your kids time to explore their interests. Most of all, share YOUR wonders with your students. Be the curious, passionate learner you want to see
Open...One of the most challenging aspects of being an inquiry teacher is learning to stay open to the possibility that things may not go as planned – but it is also one of the most satisfying dispositions to build in yourself and your students. Stay open – to new thinking, new ways of doing things, new questions. Design tasks that are open enough to allow diverse and individual responses. Open your doors. Open up your spaces. Ditch some tables. Move.
Dare... With a nod to Brene Brown, we sometimes have to ‘dare greatly’ in order to see inquiry truly flourish in our classroom. Dare to express yourself with more candor and passion in your planning or staff meetings, dare to suggest and try new ways of doing things, dare to ditch the stuff you KNOW is a waste of time, dare to be spontaneous when you see a truly teachable moment worth inquiring into, dare to spend an entire day exploring something fascinating with your students, dare to stop doing something you have always done just because you’ve always done it. Dare to try something that scares you a little. Dare your students to challenge themselves, to move out of their comfort zone. Dare to help your students inquire into something you know nothing about. Dare to question
Play...We know the value of play for learning and how vital it is that children have opportunities for the exploration and stimulation of play. But play is not just about interacting with materials or having discovery time a couple of times a week. Inquiry teachers help students play with ideas, play with thinking, play with words, play with possibilities. They bring a playful disposition to learning that creates a culture in which even the most challenging tasks can have a joyful element. Playfulness - knowing how to bring a lighter touch to classroom discourse often to more sophisticated engaged thinking than the dull seriousness of an all-too-earnest conversation. Don't lose sight of YOUR inner child. Play. Commit to learning some new circle games and play them all year. Laugh together. Enjoy your teaching more. Enjoy your kids!
Grow...Inquiry teachers see themselves as learners. It is our responsibility to continue to grow ourselves and our thinking along with our students. Make this a year of growth – whether you are in your first or last year of teaching. Show your students that you too are an inquirer and that learning never stops. I am regularly stunned by conversations I have with some teachers who cannot tell me a professional book they last read, who don’t subscribe to any blogs or lists or attend any workshops other than those required of them. I don't get it. We can ALL grow ourselves as learners more easily than we have ever been able to before. Learn something new. There is a world of wisdom in our pockets, at the touch of a button. Grow!
So….those are 6 words that come to mind when I think of entering the new year as an inquiry teacher. I’ve merely scratched the surface. What’s YOUR word?