Inquiry Changing District Cultures

By November 19, 2013Uncategorised

Earlier this month Linda and I spent a few days with educators, parents and trustees in Vancouver Island North. The focus of our time in Port McNeil and Port Hardy was to extend and deepen the inquiry work that is taking place. The more we work with the spiral of inquiry, we more we realize how important it is that districts see inquiry as a means for genuine transformation  – not simply for tinkering at the edges of improvement.  Sometimes at the end of a week of travel and presenting, we head home tired and ready for a bit of a break. Not this time. We both left the North Island energized and invigorated by the quality of the work we saw  – and the commitment of the school teams to work as hard as possible to meet the needs of all their learners.

We particularly enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm of  the school teams in explaining the focus of their inquiries with parents and colleagues from all the district schools in an evening session at North island Secondary School. Last fall was the first time such an event took place and the teams were understandably a bit nervous about how the evening would go.  What a difference a year of focused effort and support can make. The conversations were rich, the questions were probing and new learning was evident. There is still a long way to go before North Island meets its own goals of every learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options, but the momentum is certainly growing.

We asked Scott Benwell to tell us what he thought it took for a district to create a real culture of inquiry,

Here’s some of what he said:

A culture of inquiry in a district needs to be intentionally and intelligently designed.  Necessary elements of the design are:
a.       High quality learning experiences for all (Parents, community, students, staff, leadership).
b.      Public performances and celebrations of learning together.
c.       Clear and repetitive expectations at all levels including Board of Education.
2.       As the narrative in a district begins to change toward a culture of inquiry, leadership needs to point to examples, nurture the emerging practices, and engage with early adopters.  Where leaders spend time counts.
3.       The ambitions for what will be accomplished through an inquiry mindset must find their articulations through the important artifacts and documents in the organization.  In SD85 the required School Plan is based on the inquiry project.  Trustee visits to schools are focussed on the inquiry project and the school plan. 
4.       Peer review of Inquiry Projects.  In order to share and broaden leadership within the district, a peer review process for inquiry grants is essential. 
5.        It is essential to provide robust support for professional growth within the frame of inquiry to really ensure that inquiry becomes a ‘way of life.’  

One of the especially interesting aspects of the North Island evening was that schools were asked to share their work as emergent.  This meant that on their display board were the first phases of the spiral  – scanning, focusing, hunching, and new learning  – with space left to add for the spring showcase the final phases- taking action, checking, and then scanning again. This reinforced the understanding that inquiry is an on-going process with one area of focus leading to the next – a real spiral of inquiry!

North Island is just one of a number of districts that is taking an inquiry stance as the means for transforming district culture and changing results for learners. We are increasingly convinced that this kind of system-wide approach builds commitment, generates enthusiasm, opens up thinking and allows for creativity. We have seen the impact in schools through the networks of inquiry and innovation and now we are excited about exploring more closely the impact at the district level. We invite your comments and observations.

Images from North Island inquiry evening

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Thank you for kind and encouraging words. It is nice to have someone come and share positive and reflective thoughts about the work that is happening in our district. I can see the cycle at work constantly at my school and we appreciate the feedback which, like all formative feedback, adds fuel to the passion that educators in our district already have for being effective teachers.

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