Embracing Questions and Moving Forward

The October, Provincial Professional Development Day in BC has become more of a Professional Development weekend.  Sessions start Thursday night and continue on through the weekend to make the most of the opportunity for participants from across the province to develop background knowledge, pursue passions and work collaboratively with like minded people.  The BC Principals and Vice Principals Associations, Individual District Administrator groups, BCTF Provincial Specialist Associations, Local Associations, UBC and a whole host of other organizations and  provided a plethora of options for educators to improve their professional practice. Implicit in coming together to work and learn collaboratively is the desire to improve our classroom/school practices and better meet the needs of a diverse population of students.

I went to a great session by Andrew Schofield , a Vancouver Administrator, on Saturday morning at a professional development conference for administrators in Vancouver Board of Education.   He was working with a staff in the 1990’s in South Africa, as they grappled with the significant shifts in government and societal changes, while still under the huge pressures of 70% unemployment and rampant health challenges.  His presentation focused on reflecting on our own responses to change, as well as trying to understand the responses of colleagues in the midst of change.  While some people find change exciting and others meet it with skepticism, everyone needs to cope with patterns and expectations outside of what has been established as the norm.  It’s hard.  Yet, despite it being a risk taking venture, educators all over the province regularly engage in change, motivated by government initiatives, needs of students and personal desire to do something better.

This Monday, the professional development continued at my school and the focus was inquiry.    As frequently happens with educators after prod days, I was anxious to try out some of the things that I had learned.   I used some of the activities that Andrew introduced as icebreakers to start off the session and  encourage reflection on the nature of change.  Simple activities like folding hands and legs and arms in a familiar way and then shifting to an unfamiliar ways resulted in a good laugh and some great reflection.   Seamless, familiar, automatic movements were shifted to unfamiliar actions requiring  deliberate cognitive engagement.  It was awkward and uncomfortable.  The discussion continued with the reflection on the preferences for the chocolates or skittles or jujubes (which also involved favorite colours) in bowls on the centre of the table.  Decisions were deliberate and automatic and not up for discussion.  This was a great way to move into working in inquiry teams with a diverse group of peoples with a little more patience and understanding of the approaches, reactions and unspoken assumptions of group members.

Teachers engaged in rich discussion about the nature of inquiry, the types of questions to consider, and their interests.  We have using Spirals of Inquiry (2013) by Halbert and Kaser to frame our discussions on inquiry.  Some groups shared questions and thoughts arising out of recent prod sessions and others shared learning coming out of previous inquiries.  One group had focused their attention on giving students a greater range of choice when doing project based learning.  We were fortunate to have Barb McBride, the district Reading Recovery Teacher Leader attending our prod.  She shared her work with Maureen Dockendorf, Faye Brownlie, Judy Halbert, Linda Kaiser and other inspirational educators to facilitate the inquiry process in British Columbia.  Her work with three teachers in our school has resulted in an inquiry group focusing on supporting the most vulnerable students in their early literacy development.  Another group of teachers talked about the recent session they had attended with educators across the district to define questions about how we can use technology to increase student engagement and learning .  Another group told about the conference cosponsored by NITEP and BCTF at the UBC longhouse.  They were considering how to apply their learning to create a better sense of belonging and understanding of Aboriginal ways of knowing at the school.  One teacher introduced us to Apple tv and an app she had recently purchased for scheduling, organization and record keeping.    It was certainly one of those days when I’m left in awe of the intelligence, commitment and tenacity of teachers in the quest to be lifelong learners.  This is the work that I find not only inspiring but energizing.

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