Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inquiry-based Discomfort

Over the last several months, our faculty has been working hard to co-develop our "Attributes of a Graduate".  As a group, we wanted to determine the skills and characteristics that we want for our students to have as they leave us to face an ever-changing and uncertain future.  We had come up with a number of descriptors as a staff, and solicited thoughts and input from our parents and community.  On our Professional Development day this past Monday, we determined our critical question to drive our learning for the day was  "How do we get Sa-Hali attributes into the heads, hearts, and hands of our students?".

This question led us to consider a number of things:
  • What are the most important attributes?
  • How can we demonstrate that students have an authentic voice in attribute creation and development?
  • How many attributes will students (as well as the staff and community) be able to focus on and remember?
  • What is the best way to kickoff/promote our attributes, and truly get them into the heads, hearts and hands of our entire Sa-Hali community?

So the day began, and were I to use descriptive, non-judgmental, instructional rounds-style data to describe the day, I might say the following:
  • the staff participated in a team-building activity focused on our collaboratively developed attributes
  • the staff did a distillation and consensus-building process that required them to analyse, evaluate, synthesize and then agree on three "Attributes of a Sa-Hali Graduate" that will guide our School Innovation Plan
  • multiple staff members led these small group discussions to engage all of our faculty and ensure each staff member's voice was heard
  • when I asked the staff to take a break for coffee, none of the groups left their tables to take a break--they just kept working on the task in front of them (they eventually left a few minutes later, but I had never seen that before) 
  • the staff used collaborative technology to crowd source ideas
  • the staff began collaboratively planning a promotional campaign (perhaps something that takes off from a creation by two staff members at our school) to showcase and co-develop our attributes, including a mixed media assembly and follow-up lesson plan to solicit input from our students
If one read the above observational data, they might say that it was a productive day that had our staff participating in higher order tasks.  And, going 'up the ladder of inference', I can tell you that without equivocation, it most certainly WAS a productive day.  Yet at one point, one of my teachers said to me "Why are you frowning? You should be really happy right now--look around!  EVERYONE is working on this!"

Good point.  Why was I frowning?   

I wasn't frowning because I was upset--quite the opposite, in fact.  Our staff took a very important task and ran with it...and they ran hard! I was frowning because a process that I had envisioned being a bit more linear and sequential went 'wide' in a short period of time.  Very wide.  And the number of amazing ideas flying around the room suddenly became overwhelming to me.  Too often in my time as a Principal, I 'knew' what the final product should be.  I would begin with that product in mind, be hyper-organized in my planning, and guide the group to a point which would look awfully similar to MY vision--sometimes with only scant bits of commitment from everyone involved.  I would utilize very little of the knowledge and expertise of the room, other than to validate my own ideas.


By starting with an inquiry-based mindset on Monday, the critical question rapidly moved us into a level of divergent thinking that I had completely underestimated.  I quickly realized that my role in the room had changed significantly:  I was going from 'leader' to...well,  learner, facilitator, cheerleader, and even 'granny' (from Sugata Mitra's 'School in the Cloud').  And while the level of engagement and discourse amongst our faculty was astounding, the level of complexity in terms of coming up with a solution to get our attributes into the heads, hands and hearts of our students had also increased dramatically.  Hence the frown.  And when that staff member saw me frowning, I'm sure I was overwhelmed and all-consumed with one thought:  "How the heck am I going to pull all of this together?".

Later Monday evening, I received a very thoughtful and kind note from one of our staff members. They were impressed with the thoughtful dialogue and discourse that took place throughout the day and the amount of headway that we had made with our attributes.  And then it hit me: it's not about how "I" alone will do this--it's about how WE will do this together.  I can only guess that had I used my traditional method of 'asking a question that I already knew that answer to', I would have gotten 'my answer', and likely been mostly on my own trying to figure out the best way to make it a reality. But by using a co-developed driving question that engaged the group, WE got 'our solutions', and with that ownership, WE will transform our solutions that we created into reality TOGETHER.  And WE will do a fantastic job because the product that we create will be visible to our students and our entire Sa-Hali community.

As successful as the day was, my reflections about Monday have also made me realize that if I was out of my comfort zone and overwhelmed by the divergent thinking of our group and my changing role in the learning that was taking place, others might experience this too.  Going forward, I need to be very cognizant of the fact that as we look ahead at the journey our school will take to help our grads to become creative, resilient collaborators (our three attributes that we are going to present to our students), many of us may be moving of our individual and collective comfort zones.  When we develop tasks and activities that truly require students to demonstrate our attributes, each of us will need support in working through learning that is non-linear, messy, and requires us to become a combination of learners, facilitators, cheerleaders, and 'grannies' all at the same time!

But if the net result of these tasks and activities that we co-create is the engagement and learning that I saw from our faculty on Monday, it will definitely be worth the initial discomfort that comes with inquiry-based learning.

*cross posted at the Sa-Hali Educational Sandbox

1 comment:

  1. The power of connecting and learning together never ceases to amaze me. I am so glad that you recognized it in the moment and even took a moment to capture some of the collaboration as it was happening (nice screencast of a live Google Doc collaboration)! This is what makes coming together both online and offline into something that is truly unique.

    Every time I witness this type of creative process, I am in awe. It is not a #bigmistake to have outcomes you define, but it is a mistake to underestimate just how many more outcomes will be added by the time you are through. You have created a culture of sharing and building together, and that is exactly what they did. Continue to use this to answer big questions like the "attributes of a graduate" or "how can we make sure students are agents in their own learning?" Thank you for sharing your teacher experts with all of us!

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here:


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