As part of my masters research I am piloting a participatory inquiry project with 3 of my students this semester. I have been fully immersed in the inquiry cycle and doing a lot of reflecting on my practice. While the actual implementation of student inquiry in my classroom has not gone entirely smooth, I can say that the feedback from students is overwhemingly positive. Recently I had the opportunity to hear Brooke Moore (@bmooreintheloop) speak when she visited the SFU Cohort I work with. She spoke about shifting her practice and a little bit on the struggles inherent in change. I have a few thoughts on the process of change and I would love any feedback or advice you could provide.
1. Working with students is key: During my career I have attempted a few major shifts in my practice. In each of my previous attempts I focused on democratizing my classroom with varied results. It seemed that the democratic practices I implemented were always superficial, and I think a lot of that had to do with the fact I implemented them. This time I have committed to working with my students to implement the changes in my practice and so far the results have been much more meaningful. When students are included in the process the buy in is that much quicker and transitions that much smoother. Perhaps more importantly the change is better embraced because it is more effective. When you speak to your students and include their voice the changes that occur will better meet their needs.
2. Baby steps will get me there: Originally I had visions of shifting my entire practice to one centered around inquiry based learning. While this is the eventual goal, I felt that making a drastic change might upset some of the success my students are currently experiencing. Working in an Alt-Ed program I have students who are experiencing success in school for the first time. I felt that shifting my practice completelymight be like pulling the carpet from under their feet. I decided that working with a few students first would allow me to pilot the program and work out some of the inevitble kinks in any new practice before introducing it to my class as a whole. Looking back I am happy I made this decision. It has given me the opportunity to establish a new practice in a manageable way but more importantly it is creating a sense of excitment in my classroom. The students taking part in the inquiry are sharing their experiences and building support for my work at a peer level, something I could never acheive alone.
3. Know your audience: From the start the three students I am working with have been at the centre of the process. I have been gathering evidence on their attitudes towards school through surveys and interviews and the information I have collected has shed a lot of light on engagement in my class. I should note that I have been working closely with these three students for four semesters and we have established a degree of trust where they feel they can be honest with their feedback on my practice. They have no issues telling me they feel something is “useless” or “boring.” I also primed the conversation by showing the RSA video clip featuring Sir Ken Robinson and his thoughts on education reform. This did a great job of articulating some of my feelings about the education system and showed the students that it was ok to criticize the system we work in. Knowing these three students really well has made the process that much easier. We have a great working relationship and that allows me to handle bumps along the way skillfully and personally.
Change is always tough, especially when trying to change something as complex as a teaching practice that encompasses so many different variables. I feel that by working with the students, taking baby steps and knowing your audience can really help towards making meaningful change manageable.
I will continue to update my progress on this process and would love to hear about your experiences in implementing changes in your teaching.
Thanks for reading,