How healthy is our inquiry planning?

(This post was originally published on my blog “justwonderingblog.wordpress.com”)

Over the last few weeks I have spent a lot of time ‘at the planning table’ with teams in several schools. I always relish the opportunity to be part of a healthy collaborative planning session – I love the energy generated by ideas, the sense of possibility and the creative and social process that is authentic planning.  I have also recently spent time in another institution  – a hospital – caring for a family member.  

Today, as I listened to and watched the medical staff at work, I was reminded of the importance of stopping to closely examine ourselves professionally.   Taking time to reflect on our work is vital – but we need to be mindful of what it is we are looking for.  

A planning/teaching team in healthy condition is a joy to experience.  Conversely, unhealthy teams who have not taken time to be mindful and caring of what they do and how they work together can miss golden opportunities for both student learning AND professional growth.  

When did you last stop to “take the pulse” of your team’s planning practices?   What is considered “healthy” planning for inquiry (and, no, “planning” and “inquiry” are not contradictory terms!!) ?  Is it time for a check up?  

Here are 20 indicators that may help your consultation!

20 indicators of good health!

  1. We have talked about our processes and expectations of ourselves and each other.  We have some basic,shared agreements about how we want to work together, use our time, communicate and document our thinking.
  2. We recognise that our planning meetings are a great opportunity for professional learning.  We reflect and discuss our own thinking. We bring questions and insights to the meeting and try to articulate what we are learning and thinking to each other.
  3. We respect the individual skills and talents of each team member. We don’t expect a carbon copy of an inquiry to unfold in each class but we do recognise the importance of some shared conceptual intentions.
  4. We talk with students about our planning and include them in the process.  We find ways to bring their voices (questions/theories/interests) to each meeting and use this to inform the next step.  We keep student learning at the centre.
  5. We limit logistical, housekeeping tasks to a minimum and try to attend to these in other ways and at other times.
  6. Previous year’s inquiries (if relevant) may be used as a resource – but not until we have started with the needs and interests of THIS group of students (and this year’s teaching team).  Every inquiry is a new inquiry.
  7.  We allow big ideas to drive inquiry journeys.  Even if our students are focused on investigating something very specific – we take care to consider the bigger picture beyond that focus.  We care about transfer and avoid getting seduced by “topics.”
  8. We take time to think about HOW our students are learning – not just what.  We use ‘split screen thinking” in our conversations – careful to emphasise the skills and processes our students are gaining through their investigations
  9. Authenticity and purpose are really important to us. We want our students to see how this learning is real and connected to their lives now and in the future  – so we try to situate their learning in authentic contexts using real people, real places, real objects and real actions.   
  10. We take time to discuss what WE understand about this big idea –  we know our own knowledge-base and learning experiences with it may impact on our teaching.  We enjoy thinking about our own understandings! Planning is a process of inquiry itself. 
  11. We think about the natural connections we can help students make across learning areas. We use our core inquiry to ensure students can integrate their learning in other areas.  We have dialogue with specialist teachers to enhance inquiry into both process and concepts.
  12. We think carefully about how we can establish the “known” – we want to get a good understanding of where our students are at so we can use this to inform our teaching.
  13. We are informed by – but not a slave to – a basic cycle of inquiry so the journey has some kind of structure – not just a bunch of good activities.
  14. We resist the temptation to fill our “planner” all at once! We document sparingly at first and then add to the planner as the inquiry unfolds.
  15. We see reflective thinking –and action – as ongoing. We prompt both on a regular basis. Inquiry is all about reflection – students’ AND teachers’. We plan with an inquiry mindset. 
  16. We include transferable strategies (such as thinking routines) into our planning so we are building our students’ tool kits.
  17. We use digital resources to inform and document our planning and to assist students to plan, research, create, record, share and act on their learning.
  18. We see ourselves as collaborative inquirers – with each other, with our students…and with others beyond our team/school.
  19. We have courageous conversations with each other when we need to – exercising both professional and personal care in our communication
  20. We (mostly) really enjoy the planning process and find it energizing!!

What would you add?  Have you checked up on your team’s planning health lately? Is it time to take your temperature?  

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6 Responses to How healthy is our inquiry planning?

  1. I really appreciated your positive and realistic approach to team planning. In teacher’s college, I found these sessions to be hugely beneficial — sharing of ideas, strategies, and resources. In reality, I’m not yet convinced our teaching planning time is spent doing the same.

    Recently, in a SIP planning meeting, different grade teachers met to discuss new ideas and strategies that could be added to our school success plan for mathematics. In fact, I was encouraged as we shared links and books that we had each been using in our own separate planning time. We all left feeling refreshed and supported. It was a great feeling! Unfortunately, not all planning meetings are spent as wisely.

    Perhaps I have BIG expectations, knowing my Twitter PLN will always be there to suggest a resource, teaching strategy, or simple encouragement — though, they may not always know it! In many ways, I wish our planning meetings were akin to a chat online or resourceful blog post. We should be sharing…it is for the benefit of our students!

  2. almiratantri says:

    Reblogged this on Tantri Almira's Personal Journal and commented:
    Great source for reflection

  3. This is a complete and very thoughtful list – thank you! I wish I had seen it a month ago when we reviewed our Collaborative Planning and Reflection Essential Agreement. I’m definitely going to use it with teachers to ensure that we keep the focus of our collaborative planning meetings on student learning rather than getting sidetracked by logistical issues such as the planning of field trips (see item 5 on the list). Item number 6 reminds me of our debate on whether we should start every year with a clean slate, i.e. a blank PYP planner, or whether it’s more effective to have at hand the ideas from last year’s planner – a bit like a security blanket. My feeling is that we should try for one year having blank planners with everything from the year before – apart from reflections – erased. This would help to reduce the likelihood of falling into the ‘thematic teaching’ trap and ensure that the focus is on the big ideas that should be driving our inquiries. I suspect that our programme of inquiry would be better as a result. Thanks again, Kath!

  4. Mary ann Van de Weerd says:

    I came across this as I was doing some research into how to make my PYP planning meetings more effective! I couldn’t believe it when I found this list. It is great list. I too am going to share it with my Primary Leadership Team as I feel our current essential agreements are about our behaviour in a meeting where as this is great to guide and we can adapt it to meet the ethos of our school how to keep the meeting focussed on documenting our thinking in regard to PYP. I love it.

  5. Our big focus for us this year is to concentrate our energies on the learning rather than on the teaching, although of course the 2 go hand in hand. I have been thinking of ways to concretise this idea and this list does exactly that, many thanks! Some of us are finding that using the PYP planner for our weekly planning meetings is a bit more than restricting, and to some extent leads to superficial conversations just looking to tick the boxes. I’m sure this list will be a good guide to develop authentic conversations that mirror real inures. Many thanks!

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