In the part of the world in which I live (Melbourne, Australia), we are enjoying the early days of Autumn. The weather is still warm but the evenings are cooler, the mornings crisper and there is no doubt that summer is gently retreating as each day becomes a fraction shorter. There’s a kind of wistfulness about Autumn that will often find me staring into a soft evening sky and wondering...
For teachers in Australia, it is also just over half way through the first term of the school year –or thereabouts. So perhaps it is the combination of the Autumnal skies and this ‘midpoint’ that got me writing some reflections this week. Six or so weeks into the school year is a good time to take stock. We begin the year with great expectations, plans and goals (see my previous post). We should ensure we take a moment to stop and acknowledge the journey so far. Only today, in planning with some prep teachers, I heard a teacher acknowledge her delight in noticing how readily her students are now ‘sharing their wonderings’ with each other when at the beginning of the year they were reluctant to speak out and always looking to her for approval. It got us all pausing to look back and acknowledge where we have come to - even at this relatively early stage in the year.
As I have said and written about many times, inquiry is not a ‘subject’. It is a way of seeing ourselves as teachers and as learners. It is an approach that comprises a constellation of practices all, ultimately, designed to strengthen students’ sense of agency or, as Guy Claxton puts it – to ‘build learning power’. The pedagogy used within this approach can create a powerful culture of learning- but it also depends on a culture that is not only learner centred but learning centred. Taking time to intentionally nurture that culture is critical to success.
So – as the days shorten (at least on our side of the world) let’s take stock and reflect on the story so far. Here are some questions to help you reflect on your culture-building efforts – and perhaps to help you consider new goals to work on. Suffice to say - none of us can manage to get all of these things happening beautifully all at once! This is an 'aspirational' check list- I hope it provides the basis for some affirmation as well as for some challenge.
Know your students: Have you taken time to gather information about each students – their family, their passions, their goals, their cultural heritage, their favorite thing to do, their friends, their strengths, their challenges….do you know their parents? How well do you know each student?
Let them know you: Have you taken time to help your students come to know who YOU are – not just as a teacher but as a learner … as a person!
Create community: Have you deliberately focused on creating bonds. Are your kids connecting with each other? Are they forming respectful relationships? Do they feel they are part of a ‘family’ of sorts? Is there a sense of ‘groupness’ about the class? Do you include regular activities that are all about creating connections – circle games, singing together, reading a shared novel, and sharing powerful stories. Is the class developing as a community in which individuals feel safe to explore, take risks and share their thinking?
Learning agreements: Have you worked with students to create an agreement about the kinds of learners you all strive to be? Is your agreement about learning- not just ‘behavior?’ Have you signed the agreement - do they see you as a learner too?
Ownership: Are you inviting your students to solve problems, make decisions, suggest and take action in relation to how your classroom will ‘work’ this year? Do your students have a voice? Who owns the learning?
Physical environment: Have you spent time with students exploring ways the classroom furniture can be arranged to best support flexibility, movement, collaboration and group conversation. Are materials and resources clearly organized to ensure students can be as independent and resourceful as possible?
Visual environment: Do your ‘walls’ help students learn? Are displays indicative of what you value as an inquiry teacher? What do the walls tell the visitor about the learning happening in your room? Do your walls speak of inquiry?
Beauty: Have you (and your students) considered ways to make your space a beautiful space to come to each day? Have you attended to the aesthetic? Lighting, comfortable furniture, art works – is this a space in which you would want to learn?
Questions: Have you encouraged your students to share their wonderings with you? Is there a space where those wonderings are collected/shared? Do students have opportunities to explore their wonderings?
Creating/making/tinkering: Do students get to use their hands as well as their heads in your classroom? Are there opportunities to design, create and make – whatever the age group you are working with?
Language :Are you conscious of the language you are using? Does your language invite children to theorize, hypothesise, predict, explore, question…are words like ‘might’, ‘could’, ‘possible’, ‘wonder’ part of your discourse? Do you ask questions that encourage kids to think deep and wide? Are you doing your best to ask, listen, probe, nudge? Have you taught your students how to have ‘hands down’ conversations? Are you employing thinking routines to help scaffold thinking? Do you talk about learning itself with your kids?
Reflection: Are your students reflecting on their learning regularly? Are there routines in place that ensure reflection is an ongoing process woven into the fabric of your day? Are there some quiet, unhurried spaces in your week?
Technologies: Are you making use of digital technologies to help students investigate AND create and share learning? Are you connected with the world beyond your classroom?
Spontaneity: Have you made the most of the unexpected? Have you allowed an inquiry to emerge out of a surprise occurrence? A problem? A world event? Have you allowed yourself to go with something that has captivated your students’ interests? Are you on the look out for authentic opportunities for inquiry?
Routines and rituals: Do your students know 'how things work' in their classroom. have you (with their input) established some predictable systems and ways of operating that enable them to manage themselves and their learning more efficiently. Do you have some regular rituals that they look forward to and that serve to connect the community (eg: circle time, 'Wondering Wednesday', class meetings, etc.)
Joy: Do you have fun together? Do you enjoy the company of your students? Do you laugh together on a regular basis? Are you enjoying your teaching?
So - how are you traveling?