Leading for inquiry learning

Leading for inquiry learning

I imagine some of my blog followers may well have given up on me by now!  This is the first post I have written in a long time….you may have been wondering why….

The release of ‘The Power of Inquiry’ late last year has meant a hugely, wonderfully busy year and time has been tight.  And, in a way, I have said so much of what I wanted to share in that book.  In addition,  I restored my facebook page earlier this year and committed to using it more frequently.  I have found my urge to blog has been satisfied, to a degree, by the ‘miniposts’ I write on facebook. I have even contemplated discontinuing the blog and just using facebook and twitter.

 On reflection, however,  I see them as serving different purposes.  The facebook posts I write are useful – but often don't require me to share my thinking in real depth. They are certainly easier to write than this!  The blog is something that takes me more time to think through, compose and write. And that’s good for me.  So I am going to stick with the blog despite the growing temptation of the ‘bite-sized’ thinking that facebook requires.  I need to keep challenging myself to pause, think more, write more. I just may not post as often J

This long-time-coming post has emerged while I have been busy planning a workshop I am running in Melbourne next week.  I will be working with a big group of teachers who are interested in exploring their role as leaders in an inquiry-based context.  So much of my work is located in the classroom space and focusses on how we work with children, it has been great to stop and reflect again on ways in which we work with teachers to empower them as inquirers. 

Over time, Ihave partnered withmany schools who have been eager to embrace the philosophy and pedagogy of inquiry as a whole school approach. While I have an important role in that process,  the success of my work depends so much on those in the school who‘keep the pot boiling’ in between or following my visits. I am often intrigued (and sometimes dismayed) by the lack of real ‘take up’ in a school despite what seems to be an enthusiastic and willing response from staff.  Of course we all know that strengthening and sustaining growth in a school goes way beyond what one consultant can do.  When it boils down to it, developing inquiry as a whole school approach depends so much on the quality of the leadership in a school. When I think of the schools I work with who have really embraced and grown a culture of inquiry,  I come to the same conclusion each time. They are schools with leaders who are, in themselves, inquirers.   The ‘administrative’ team and those charged with the responsibility of guiding or facilitating collaborative planning are committed to the process and committed to nurturing the staff as learners as well as teachers.  If the classroom teacher ‘controls the climate’ of the classroom – then school leaders have the same effect on the staff . In essence, great leaders give others they work with a real sense of agency.  Hence the notion of shared/distributed leadership.  Strong inquiry schools have a distinct climate – a climate that breeds curiosity, a relentless passion for investigation and a genuine fascination with learning. It isa climate that invites connection within and across communities and that supports learners take risks.  Inquiry leaders don't want passive compliance – they want active, questioning, engaged staff who care for each other as well as their students.

So…… as I mull over the question of how to lead for inquiry and reflect on those who do it so well,  I find myself jotting down some ‘nutshell’ statements.   They are in no particular order, but are an attempt to capture the essence of what this kind of leadership is all about….

  • Relationships are at the heart of all we do.
  • Questions are the inquiry leader’s most powerful tool.
  • Inquiry leaders need to be inquirers- they need to be willing to learn, they are people with a growth mindset – they view learners ( children and adults) as potentially capable, curious and creative!
  • Wonder, joy and passion are contagious. Passionate leaders inspire passionate staff.Pedagogy – not programs – help learners develop as inquirers. Programs can support the pedagogy but attention to pedagogy comes first.
  • Nurturing all teachers as inquirers builds a strong, whole school inquiry culture.
  • Cultivating curiosity in our teachers – about the world, about their kids, about themselves and about learning is critical to the success of an inquiry school.
  • When we see teaching itself AS inquiry – we change the way we think about our work and the way we view ourselves in the classroom
  • Collaborative planning is all about inquiring into the needs and interests of our learners  - and responding accordingly
  • The principles that underpin inquiry in the classroom apply equally to teacher learning.
  • When schools see themselves as ‘communities of inquiry’ everyone is a teacher, everyone is a learner.
  • Nurturing the ‘whole teacher’  means we balance personal and professional care and build stronger, more trusting teams.
  • True collaboration requires time.  When we consciously build our skill set for effective collaboration – our planning and teaching is strengthened.
  • Effective planning for inquiry takes time – people need space and time for the kind of deeper conversations from which powerful teaching is born
  • Standards/outcomes should inform our planning rather than drive it. Our students’ needs are the drivers.
  •  It is not the leader’s role to make the plans.  Plans are powerful when they are co-constructed rather than imposed.

What are your 'nutshell statements' for inquiry leadership?

Just wondering….