Connections to Inquiry

           One of the great joys of the year was seeing how my inquiry project worked in tandem with everything else I was learning in the classroom and on the field. Inquiry as stance, a way of seeing my craft through inquisitive and self-reflective eyes, brought me unquestionable growth across all core areas of the Teaching & Learning strand. I noticed its impact too on my coaching, where across three seasons I intentionally built deep relationships with my students that allowed me to tap into their basin of emotion when I needed to reach them. Inquiry helped me see that anywhere I was with students could be a playground for ideas, a laboratory for relationship building, and inspiration for further questions that could build a more student-oriented, equitable classroom. 

            In curriculum design, I rethought the types of goals I wanted to achieve. Where previously my classroom goals were entirely academic, my inquiry project helped me realize that I needed to cultivate habits of mind and a lasting engagement not bred on its own from academic success. I enjoyed the way my "what happens when" question worked in tandem with backwards design. I had long-term classroom goals and enduring understandings, but I could never be sure exactly where we would end up. Even as I planned, inquiry pushed me not to become complacent, never to consider any design finished. I kept my ears open, and became a more open-minded educator, capable of adapting each days in ways I was not previously with lessons I would rigidly follow. 

             As inquiry work made its way into each class, I felt compelled to test out more instructional strategies to see what would stick. The urgency to probe new avenues for more engagement during repetitive grammar exercises pushed me beyond routine. Where last year I relied on routine to get the students to work more efficiently, inquiry had me drive instead for effectiveness. I had been afraid of a missed class, thinking one failure could disrupt rhythm, delay assessments and inhibit necessary growth. However, inquiry's long-term arc reemphasized the need to treat each class like a practice, not a game. We were building towards something much bigger. In order to grow together, my students and I had to test out a myriad of activities to see how best we could get to the goal of that increased engagement. 

             Finally, with regard to assessments and feedback, inquiry made me rethink the rhetoric I was using surrounding classroom goals and pushed me to build more equitable assessments more finely oriented to showing how close students were to the desired levels of understandings. By emphasizing process in my feedback, I could reframe the classroom as a space for comfortable exploration. It was the practice court, and the assessments were not all as high-stakes as they seemed. I constantly downplayed the stakes, emphasizing the importance of process instead in my feedback. I limited talk of points, and though we quizzed often, I harped on the fact that low-stakes, frequent assessments were largely meant to inform how we would go. They were tools to be used to learn about what was going well in my teaching and in their learning, not albatrosses to be worn around necks. This reframing had mixed results early, but as the year wore on, I received far fewer questions about points, and was able to minimize anxiety. Additionally, by using these frequent assessments as diagnostic tools, I learned the areas certain kids were struggling in, and saw where I could be more equitable. Printing regulations, while important, could cost students without that resource points. So too could consistent peer editing teams privilege one kid over another. Working with colleagues to mine this data, inquiry as stance helped me become a kinder teacher, one more student-oriented. As I worked with them to find questions and answers, my classroom become significantly more effective.