Inquiry and the Culture of Permission

I have noticed a pattern in the last few years – the teachers that get the best out of students are the ones who develop a culture of permission in their classrooms. These are the classrooms in which you can find a wide of variety of inquiries happening, the classrooms in which you will often find a purposeful mess, the classrooms in which anyone can wander without anyone batting an eyelid, the classrooms in which teachers and students are often at the same level as they learn together.

This kind of teacher says “yes” while others say “no”. This kind of teacher knows that their response to students’ inquiries is their most powerful pedagogical influence. This kind of teacher seeks ways to support, empower and connect their students to the pathways they need in order to take their inquiries further.

Of course, this culture of permission starts with teachers themselves. They must allow themselves to take risks with their students’ learning, to let things happen in the classroom that they are not used to, to risk upsetting more conventional colleagues who don’t really get it and to be strong enough to identify transformative learning as it is happening. They must also be strong and skillful in working with parents so that they too may come to understand what their children are doing and how they can play a positive role.

So… rather than saying “no” or finding some other way to close an inquiry down, try some of these phrases out on your students and see what effect it has:

“OK… give it a go”

“Alright, lets look for a way to do that”

“Hmmm… who might be able to help with that?”

“Yep, you can”

“What plans do you have for this?”

“How might you be able to find out more?”

“Yes, that is interesting… lets take a deeper look”

“Where can you get the things you need?”

“Do you want me to help you look into this further?”

“I have an idea… would you like me to share it with you?”

When teachers respond in these ways, amazing things can happen. They don’t always happen, of course… but they are far more likely. After a year in a classroom where inquiries are responded to with interest, excitement and suggestion a student is well on their way. Imagine if they got to be in those classrooms year after year.


About sherrattsam

PYP Coordinator at International School Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Co-Founder and Co-Director of Time Space Education
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9 Responses to Inquiry and the Culture of Permission

  1. Thanks for a powerful post, one that exemplifies my aim as a teacher of young children. You offer wonderful words to further my work in this regard. I appreciate.


  2. kathmurdoch says:

    Thanks Sam – timely and thoughtful as always. I often find myself using the phrase ‘give yourself permission to…’ and am regularly intrigued by the perception teachers can often have of what they are “allowed” to do. Often times, the limiting expectations and boundaries that we perceive come from ‘the system’ or ‘admin’ (we can’t do that here…) prevent us from feeling we have permission to take risks. It is interesting to explore these perceived limitations as they can at times be self-imposed.

    Using ‘what if’ questions around the planning table can also be very helpful in this regard…’what if…we don’t try to “cover” all the standards?’, ‘what if…. we spend the whole day on this task rather than rushing the children?’ ‘What if we ask the kids before we continue planning?’ Inquiry classrooms really should be places full of possibility….


    • sherrattsam says:

      Thanks, Kath. I love the idea of the “what if” questions and will incorporate them into our planning practices, which are in need of an update so that we can generate about more heat around planning!


  3. Kathryn Schravemade says:

    Reblogged this on The Private Teacher and commented:
    Great post by sherrattsam on the culture of permission.


  4. roula says:

    Thank you for verbalizing what I have often felt so important to maintain in my class. It is interesting at the beginning of the year when we receive new students into our class who have come from more teacher directed and structured classes and see their surprised faces when you offer them a wealth of possibilities that can happen, variety of choices that they can make. By saying ‘yes’ to them, go ahead, try it, solve it… you allow them to feel that you trust them enough to make the right decisions and to take risks and at the end of the day to have the confidence to say to themselves and others: this worked, this didn’t…and that’s okay because tomorrow I can try again in a different way and yes my teacher is also okay with that.


  5. sherrattsam says:

    It is nice when you see the students genuine pleasure at coming into a classroom in which the culture of permission is alive and well. However, it would be much better if it was more normal for them and they go from one “permission classroom” to another each year!


  6. Pingback: Inquiry-Based Staff Orientation – Making Good Humans

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