Inquiry Teacher: Elevate Your Mindset

This week, I had the great pleasure of meeting Trevor MacKenzie, author of Dive Into Inquiry and Inquiry Mindset. He was briefly in Hong Kong with his two-day workshop. I was unable to attend but that didn’t stop us from getting together in the evening. After one or two drinks with our mutual friend, Jennifer Wathall (author of  Concept-Based Mathematics), I showed him some of the sights of Hong Kong.

Trevor is exactly as he seems on Twitter: a genuinely nice guy who is always happy to help and advise. He also continues to teach full-time, which I was surprised to realise. This adds even more credibility to his ideas, I feel. You should definitely connect with him if you haven’t already. Trevor’s hugs (yes, plural) reminded me of this quote:

“Social media will never replace a hadshake, but social media done right will change the first meeting from a handshake to a hug.”

Brain Fanzo

After meeting him and seeing all of the exciting tweets from his event attendees, I was keen to revisit Inquiry Mindset. Chapter One highlights the importance of inquiry teachers and outlines their empowering characteristics (as shown in the visual below). In the book, Trevor and co-author Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt encourage us to reflect on these characteristics, score ourselves out of five and consider which ones we possess, which ones we’re working on and which ones we need to add to our teaching repertoire. I could smell a blog post…

Inquiry Teacher

“Teachers are the single greatest factor in ensuring a successful transition from traditional pedagogy to the adoption of inquiry in our classrooms.”

Trevor MacKenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt, Inquiry Mindset

Inquiry Teachers Are Playful

Inquiry teachers approach teaching and learning with joy. They model and cultivate a love of learning and are playful in their practice.

I am playful at times and I think this is important to build relationships. However, the examples of playfulness that spring to mind are usually in informal situations such as recess and Golden Time. I will make a conscious effort to bring more of this playfulness into lessons. In fact, I have been thinking about this since the #PubPDAsia chat last week (playfulness was the topic). In class, I am perhaps too serious at times. However, I absolutely love teaching and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I hope that this shows. I’m also known as an enthusiastic learner. In fact, I’m kind of obsessed with reading, writing, studying and reflecting. As a proud lifelong learner, I like to share my love of learning with my students. I hope that it is obvious and infectious. I also love to implement new ideas in class and I display a positive attitude when things occasionally go wrong!

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Inquiry Teachers Teach Slowly

Inquiry teachers slow down to allow for deeper learning and reflection to occur. They also take the time to embrace and incorporate students’ passions and interests. Inquiry teachers don’t get “bogged down” with content coverage.

I think this is a challenge for all teachers, especially in schools as busy as mine! Time is a very precious commodity. I don’t worry too much about the planned start/end dates of units. I don’t mind being a little behind schedule. However, there comes a point when I feel pressure to move on prematurely. As a school, we’re currently discussing this. For example, with TCRWP, we’re making a conscious choice to go in depth with fewer units rather than offer more units at a shallower level. Despite the pressures of time, I still prioritise weekly iTime (also known as Genius Hour, Passion Time, etc.). To me, students’ passions, curiosities and interests deserve to be part of our very busy timetable because I see great value in these inquiries and outcomes. iTime is perhaps the best example of how I prioritise meaningful student inquiry over coverage, but I need to slow down in other areas of learning.

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Inquiry Teachers Know Their Curriculum

Inquiry teachers know the content inside out. This characteristic debunks the myth that inquiry learning lacks purpose and direction. In fact, inquiry teachers need to know their curriculum in depth so that they are clear about predetermined destinations.

My school has recently changed much of its programme (for the better) and so I’d be lying if I said that I was “deeply familiar” with the content. I’m working on it. This temporary lack of familiarity with some units inhibits my teaching creativity and my ability to purposefully connect students’ passions and interests. However, in all other circumstances, I know the content well and I am therefore in a better position to purposefully teach through inquiry. I’m being slightly hard on myself due to recent changes but I am fully on board with them and committed to increasing my familiarity. I’m sure that I will be back on track shortly.

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Inquiry Teachers Know Their Students

Inquiry teachers are able to empower their students because they know their individual passions, goals, needs, interests and stories. Inquiry teachers know the ‘whole child’. In the book, trust and relationships are described as the “backbone” of inquiry learning. By knowing their students, inquiry teachers ensure that the learning is meaningful, authentic and relevant.

Building relationships with students (and the whole school community) is a foundational part of my teaching philosophy. I score myself highly on this characteristic because of this. I show a genuine interest in my students and I am also prepared to share snippets of my own life in order to build these relationships. Above all else, I hope that my students trust me and know how much I care. I intentionally build these relationships through everyday conversations and playfulness. By allowing for more voice, choice and ownership in learning (especially through iTime), I know my students’ passions and hobbies and, again, I show that I am genuinely interested in them.

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Inquiry Teachers Reflect and Revise as They Go

Inquiry teachers know exactly what is happening in their classrooms (debunking another common myth) and continually reflect on this and revise their plans. They pick up on subtle clues and work with students to move forward in the most effective ways.

I hope that it is clear from this blog that I am highly reflective. Not just on a weekly basis when I publish content, but on an ongoing basis. I pride myself on this. I constantly question my practice and reflect. I celebrate the successes and learn from my mishaps. I believe wholeheartedly that this is making me a better educator over time. However, having read the descriptor for this characteristic in the book, it has occurred to me that I need to use these reflections more on a day-to-day basis to revise, tweak and redirect my students’ learning journeys. Too often, my short-term plans are set in stone. Authentic inquiry relies on flexible planning and teachers who are willing to make changes in light of what is happening in their classrooms. I’m working on it. This will allow me to better meet my students’ needs.

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Inquiry Teachers Go outside to Come Back Inside

Inquiry teachers see huge value in growing a PLN (personal/professional learning network) and calling on global connections to set up partnerships and collaborations that enrich and deepen learning. They identify learning opportunities beyond their schools and use these to enhance inquiry back in the classroom.

I might have been hard on myself above, but here’s my chance to shine! I’m all about this characteristic and I could write about it all day long. In fact, I must have dozens of blog posts specifically about the value of a PLN to enhance both teacher growth and student learning. I’ve also led workshops on this and, frankly, I bang on about it on a daily basis unapologetically. My global connections undoubtedly influence and enrich what happens in my classroom. I could also list many examples of how my students have connected with others worldwide. This is not only possible with a PLN, but insanely easy. If I had a magic wand to improve education worldwide, I’d give every teacher a PLN that’s as fantastic as mine. Need I say more on this?

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“If social media isn’t your thing – make it your thing!”

Joe Sanfelippo

Inquiry Teachers Are Curious

Inquiry teachers are curious inquirers themselves, and this is key to their practice. They share their own wonderings and value the questions from students. Inquiry teachers use provocations to evoke student wonders.

I certainly consider myself a curious inquirer but I’m now questioning how much of this I share with my students. I tend to share my learning with them, but perhaps I’m not explicit enough about the curiosities and questions that sparked these inquiries. Moving forward, I will make a conscious effort to verbalise these in class. Another reason I score myself relatively low on this characteristic is that I still don’t feel like I honour my students’ questions enough. I’m not always sure what to do with them, especially if they all have different questions or if the questions lack depth/scope. I’d like to know how other educators honour their students’ questions (I’m curious about this, you could say). It looks like there’s a chapter on this later in the book. Still, I’d love to hear additional ideas. Please leave your thoughts below.

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Inquiry Teachers Are Passionate

Inquiry teachers have a passion for teaching, learning and their learners. They personify lifelong learning and ignite this same passion in their students and colleagues. They simply love learning and this lifts everyone around them.

I am hugely passionate about what I do. By this point in the blog post, I hope that this is clear. I don’t always get things right and I have a lot to learn, but my heart is in it 100%. I have been told that my passion positively impacts those around me. I certainly hope that that is the case.

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My score across the eight characteristics averages at 3.875. I’ll take that. I’m on the right track and I’m aware of my strengths and weaknesses. By recognising, valuing and working on these characteristics, we can develop our inquiry practice for the benefit of our students. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Inquiry Teacher or any other parts of the book. How do you score yourself? How will you elevate your Inquiry Mindset? Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections below or, better still, write a blog post like this. I have taken so much away from this process! Once again, thank you to Trevor for meeting with me this week. He’s a top bloke!


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