This week I’ve been taking my ELA accreditation. I came in expecting to be challenged. I also came in uncertain what we’d actually be doing.
I’m moving schools in the fall. This week, Miranda, the senior Math/Science teacher, is taking her accreditation as well. This morning we had an activity to plan an inquiry unit – Yah, I know. The idea is a bit ridiculous since we don’t have learners with which to pull the big idea, ask them what is important to them, wonder about what they might want to discover – that took us an hour. Miranda and I went together deliberately. We aren’t just colleagues, we are friends. We have had every prep together over the past two years and often we’d meet and game-plan how best to meet the needs of our students. What these meetings were was a support session to get us on the same page as the high school team. What these meetings were not was a gossip and pity party session where we said negative things about kids and families.
With my move, Miranda and I are saddened and stressed over how we will do-what-we-do without being able to have our weekly check-ins for kids, for our methodological, our pedigocial and our philisophical needs, and for the climate of care in our spaces.
So today, we chatted with the two other educators in our group during the planned activity as we talked through an interdisciplinary inquiry piece.
And it was fun!
I liked that in forty minutes we had something that each one of us wanted to do, and to learn about. Right then! One member of our group said, “I’m so glad we did this. It’s just simple, and maybe it’s not true inquiry but I finally know where to begin.”
That’s big stuff. Important stuff for kids.
How come we don’t do often do activities like this at division PD meetings?
Afterwards it was lunch. Miranda and I sat in the sun and, just as we had done almost every time we are together, talked about teaching and learning. Though today, we talked about ‘what if?’
And interdisciplinary inquiry based learning.
Miranda and I loathe the winter concert. We are required to have our kids participate. On the positive side, it is a month when we work together, though not really team teaching. We lose almost a month of learning; we lose a month of engagement. Let’s be honest, this is true.
In the end, the product is beautiful but the process is painful. Arg! This is the exact opposite of everything I believe and hope for learning to be.
Heck, I don’t even care about a product.
I just want to know that the kids are learning and wondering and discovering and thinking of news ways to learn and to wonder and to discover with their learning. Product is an end. Learning isn’t finite.
At some point, Miranda and I asked ourselves why we didn’t try teaching collaboratively last year. We could have chunked inquiry units into three hour blocks – she’s Math and Science in the time table, and I’ve ELA. The kids could have transitioned between us, deciding where they wanted to be. Deciding just as they do most mornings. They do this anyway. This is why Miranda and I check in; some kids work best with me, others with her. It’s just the way.
Then we began to go back to the inquiry unit from the morning. We began to invision our kids living that inquiry process in our school space, in our common classroom spaces. We kept talking about kids. And then I said, “What if we had done this with the 9s & 10s too? What is it about inquiry that really pushes us? Challenges?”
We’d possibly need time for the division mandated initiatives. Between us, we’d need time for assessment. Easy. We could send a message to the other person to arrange a time to keep a specific group(s) of kids in a space for specific work. We could work in teams with sets of kids. If I or the kids need or want whole group read alouds, for example, we can just set that up. Be flexible. We just kept thinking it could not be more planning than what we did last year.
So why didn’t we change our instruction with the high school kids towards using a team interdisciplinary inquiry model?
Miranda admitted she had been worried about the departmental exams, about covering content. Won’t it be nice to be able to discover the content in a meaningful way, in ways that fit the needs of our kids because that horrid unrelated assessment won’t be looming at the end? Is it possible not to teach, in some way, to that kind of assessment? (If you missed my sarcasm that was redundant)
I didn’t approach Miranda because I was busy, ‘in closed-door-mode’ with a mammoth near yearlong inquiry project with the 6, 7 & 8 students. And I was busy with grad classes too.
We both agreed. The reason we didn’t change, we just didn’t think to ask.
In many of our undergrad courses, we would take three months to plan units that never saw the light of day in our living learning spaces. Today, sitting in circle, in 40 minutes, the four of us as learners, storied our ways of knowing into a beautiful interdisciplinary discovery unit.
Much has changed.
And we need to be reminded to keep it simple.
We need to remember that we are good educators. We need to remember we are busy educators.
So what now?
I can’t go back to my former school. And I like my new school. Change is difficult. I need to begin with big ideas. I need to sit down with my new colleagues and say, “I have this idea. I’d like to try to team teach using an inquiry based learning.”
I don’t know where we are going. I don’t know how we’ll assess it. But I trust my staff and my administrators.
I trust the process. I trust it will be messy and take time.
I trust that we’ll figure it out.
Miranda looked at me, ‘Do you think the new teacher will want to team teach?”
What a great question!