Professional Inquiry – Educators Exploring What They Need to Know

Stan Kozak, Learning Innovation Consultant Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF)

Professional inquiry, like authentic student inquiry, turns learning upside down. Instead of delivering information as a form of knowledge, inquiry calls on learners to work together to share what they know and then to expand on this base to build new knowledge.

Over the last several years, through our work at LSF, and in collaboration with staff at Natural Curiosity (NC), we have had the opportunity to develop our understanding and practice of professional inquiry.

The practice of professional inquiry that we pursue, and continue to evolve, is guided by the following principles and values:

1. All ideas (and practices) can be improved. What we are doing today will and should change as we expand our understanding of learning.   My role as a facilitator is one of a co-learner that nurtures a collective understanding informed by the insights of those in the group.

2. Learning is directed by those involved.  We agree to come together to explore a topic, theme or methodology but what specifically is addressed and how it is addressed is determined by those involved.

3. We learn best collaboratively.  Knowledge construction is aided when it occurs in the context of a group of learners who want to be there.  Participants add to the understanding of the learning by offering their own version of the questions being explored, and sharing their own experiences and knowledge.   A powerful learning community emerges.

4. The best professional learning requires that we de-privatize teaching.  The facilitator’s first role is to create a welcoming climate in which participants can express their current understanding and the questions and challenges that they wish to explore.

5. Learning is best understood as a system.  Every aspect of formal learning is connected and has an impact on the learning that takes place.  Moving from traditional teaching to transformative learning requires us to understand the interconnectedness of all aspects of schooling and the bigger societal influences on students.

Our experience in facilitating professional inquiry over the last number of years has revealed the following insights:

Addressing the emotional realm of learners is essential. Learning is enhanced when participants feel comfortable enough to express what they know, as well as what they do not know.

Experience leads to greater understanding. It is fine to talk or read about inquiry but experiencing it leads to deeper understanding.

Implementation challenges and assists learning. Our understanding of practice is often challenged by reality. These challenges must be seen as a provocation that sets us up for the next round of our ongoing professional learning.

LSF  has facilitated professional inquiry institutes with hundreds of educators and their insights have been very helpful.  Some comments include:

I feel like I have a deeper understanding of the inquiry process because I was directly experiencing it in the institute.

Using the professional inquiry approach in the LSF/NC institute was enlightening. You feel safe, included and respected.

It was the best learning experience for Inquiry-based learning. I am now clear and more comfortable implementing inquiry while incorporating nature.

In our next series of professional development institutes, we will be aligning our strategies with these principles and insights.  As per the specific content, we do not  know  exactly what will be addressed. That agenda will be determined each time by those in the room.  In this way professional inquiry, like authentic student inquiry, turns learning on its head.

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For more information on the next series of LSF/NC institutes employing professional inquiry, please contact Elaine Rubinoff at elaine@lsf-lst.ca or visit http://lsf-lst.ca/institutes