Teachers as inquirers

How much do you really know about the work of your colleagues? How often have you paused during your day, week or month and thought about what another class is doing and how they are doing it? When was the last time you inquired in the practice of your colleagues? If you are anything like me (or the old me) it wouldn’t be very often.

Question matrix - Ms Maija's Year 3 class

We are all too busy with our students to wonder about another class and their inquiries. Sometimes just getting through the day is hard enough and there is no time even for chat over lunch in the staffroom. I used to be like this. Sure I would sit in planning meetings and collaboratively plan unit of inquiries. I would often provide copies of my worksheets to team members in case they were interested in doing the same with their class, and I would always ask how they were when we passed in the hallway. But when I went back to my classroom I was there planning alone. Thinking through my week alone, finding resources suited to my class alone, with the door shut, alone.

Then three things happened. First, I resigned from my job as grade level coordinator in order to take extended maternity leave. Secondly, I signed a cover teacher contract just in case I needed a days break from my maternity leave (!); and thirdly, our Elementary school building was knocked down and an amazing brand new, open learning environment was built in its place.

Dress ups - Mr Sam's Year 6 class

After a long stretch at being a full time mum, I felt ready to ease back into work and I am so glad I did. I love being a cover teacher at my school. Not only do I feel that I am a better teacher for the experience, but my respect for my colleagues, both teaching and admin, has increased immeasurably. Every day when I walk in to a new classroom, or return to a known one, I am consistently blown away by the practices of our staff. I take endless photos (I always ask permission from teachers) of displays, work books, students at work, as I want to remember it all and implement ideas in my own classroom when I return to a full time position. The professionalism, enthusiasm and expertise shown by the teachers is truly exciting to see and I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to work in their rooms, even if just for a day.

But then it hit me. I am getting this amazing opportunity but is any one else? Do they know how amazing their colleagues on the floor above are? Does the Year 2 team know about the cool X-ray light box up in Year 4? Have the Year 5 students been to pet and feed the vast array of animals down in the Early Years Centre? Do the homeroom teachers know how the admission process works? Have class teachers seen first hand a World Language lesson? I have and there is great learning happening – but does everyone know?

I have been trying to spread the word as best I can. Particularly my unwavering wonder and respect for all Early Years teachers who, in my opinion, are the hardest working teachers in any school. But it’s not enough.

Visible thinking everywhere - Mr Chad's Year 5 class

The design of the new Elementary building has helped greatly. No classroom door, shared sliding doors between classes, internal windows, shared learning spaces, curved walls….. it truly has made a significant difference. Teachers can now “see” in to each others’ room as they wander the hallways and this naturally facilitates inquiry. However it still is not enough.

I heard a rumour that years ago at my school they held a “Job-Swap” day. Teachers were randomly allocated classes across the whole school, Early Years through to Secondary, and for one day, literally walked in the shoes of that teacher and class. I love it! Bring it back I say. Not only would this foster an understanding of a typical work day, it also forces teachers to mingle, to go in to buildings they may have never been, to talk to staff they have never met. A Job-Alike day is a great idea and although it would take careful planning, the benefits would surely outweigh any possible difficulties.

Story mapping on the Smartboard - Year 4

Simple ideas which require less organisation are rotating rooms for grade meetings; vertical “stage” meetings; whole school “speed date” sharing; 5 minute grade or teacher sharing at the start of a staff meeting of great experiences that occurred in their room that week; collaborative planning not only units of inquiry but your whole program; weekly email round ups by admin which celebrate and highlight the achievements of the week just gone and upcoming events; using a cover teacher to release a number teachers for small amounts of time during the day so they can visit other rooms. Basically any idea that promotes sharing the amazing work happening across in classrooms and across the school is welcomed.

We encourage our students to be creative, share their ideas, be risk-takers and life-long inquirers however are we living examples of this? How does your school promote staff sharing? Do you have systems in place or is it incidental? When was the last time you wandered in to a colleague’s room and actually “looked” at the walls and asked questions about their practice?

I promise you, it is worth spending the time, even once a week.  And make sure you bring a camera.

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14 Responses to Teachers as inquirers

  1. soulstrikers says:

    It is definitely needed more! So valuable…

  2. whatedsaid says:

    Great post, thanks! So many lovely ideas for opening up our teaching and learning, sharing practice, learning together. We have lots of incidental staff sharing, but your ideas take this a step further. I tried creating a blog for teachers at my school called ‘Pictures of Practice’ to share examples of learning across all the grades. I hoped people would post and share photos and comment on each others’. So far, I have had trouble getting teachers to read, let alone comment on, the posts I put there myself!

  3. Simone says:

    Our Language Arts coordinator also started a school blog called the Art of Language which is a place to share examples of learning in the L. Arts around the school. He also shares video clips and articles worth reading. I know it has been slow to get off the ground but seems to picking up now. It all comes down to time and teachers feeling too busy to stop and see what others around them are doing. If we did then maybe we could improve or enrich our practice.

  4. naini singh says:

    I would love to get a close up of the visible thinking board. It looks very interesting .

  5. Simone says:

    Hi Naini – I do have close up shots. It was hard to select photos for this post, too many good ones! Send me your email and I can share a couple with you. Simone

  6. What wonderful ideas, and the photos form a school wide portfolio. I am also struck by the enthusiam that leaps off the page. You have so many great ideas and I appreciate you sharing them.

  7. Jason says:

    Collaboration goes so much deeper than weekly (monthly) meetings. Its about getting down to ideas, not just sharing but really looking into how these ideas, concepts enhance student learning. In meetings we might say and agree on things in theory, then in practice do it differently, for whatever reason. I know I have done this, all the time thinking- I wish I had someone else here to guide, give feedback ……at times, …..I wish I had someone…..in my classroom.

    Ive toyed with he idea of co planning a unit, so the Gr 1 and Gr 4 teacher plan a unit, and do some team teaching. Teaching at the same time, reflecting on the session and debriefing each other.

    • Simone says:

      Hi Jason. A while back I attended a team meeting where each member had 30 seconds to write down their definition of “collaboration”. We then shared and compared our thoughts. We then scored our team a mark out of 10 on how well we thought we were collaborating, based on our personal definitions. The scores ranged from 2 through to 8. It was so interesting because our meetings were always so civil and collegial yet we had such varied views on the effectiveness and collaborative nature of them. A discussion was then had on what needed to be addressed on the team and an action plan made.

      I have heard of small schools that plan across the grades and I think it would brilliant. You would bring in a range of perspectives and also promote the idea that all teachers are ‘teachers’ and not specifically ‘Grade X teachers’. A shared responsibility for planning allows for vertical and horizontal cohesiveness and understanding.

      My friend, a grade level coordinator, told me that she sits down with a colleague at the start of every week and together they map our their week. Having someone to bounce ideas off would be great and is so simple to do.

    • whatedsaid says:

      Jason, I love the idea of co planning between teams. Definitely something we’re going to consider here!

  8. Margarita says:

    I think share practice is fundamental for our everyday performance. The more we share what we do , the more you learn to do things in many different ways, Collaborative planning it`s a great way of teaching. People really give you good ideas for doing things in a more creative way.

    • Simone says:

      I agree Margarita. I think we need to get past the idea that meetings are the only time for this to occur and build it in to the foundation of the school. By introducing a variety of situations where ALL teachers are ‘forced’ (in a nice way) to share it would hopefully lead to sharing practicing becoming an every day habit and not just a once a week act.

  9. Pingback: A community of inquirers… | Inquire Within

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