Why should we ask questions? #inquiryed #edchat

A couple weeks ago, the boys and I were driving in and around Brunswick, Maine trying to find someplace to stop for breakfast. We passed a church sign that asked “Does God have a big toe?” and both boys started laughing uncontrollably.

I asked Henry what the sign was asking. “It’s asking if God has a big toe.” I pressed Henry on what the sign was asking and after two or three back-and-forths, he figured out that I wasn’t asking him to tell me what the sign said but instead trying to get him to figure out what it meant. Now, we both missed parts one and two of this sermon and weren’t going to be stopping in on part three, but I shared my best guess with Henry, that the minister giving this sermon was trying to talk about God as both divine and human. The religion behind the question was really irrelevant here, but we were in agreement that the thought-provoking question had more “curb appeal” than any idea shared as a statement of fact.

We decided to drive to Portland to get donuts and continued to talk about questions and started talking about school while Will napped. I asked Henry if he remembered the inquiry-based units at his old school. As an IB school, Units of Inquiry were a staple of the Primary Years Program, the IB program for the youngest learners. Henry loved any time he worked with these inquiry units, and he said that it was because they were learning about important concepts while trying to answer a question, doing authentic research without textbooks and working together to [my words] create understanding. Then, as different groups would share their research, it would push the whole group’s understanding and continuing research further, culminating in a presentation of the knowledge the class had developed.

I loved teaching in the IB’s programs because, eventually, everything I taught was rooted in inquiry, even in the high school grades. My students and I learned together through questions, answers, solutions, and more questions.   And while I’m no longer at an IB school, the IB had a profound impact on the way I teach. I still do some work for the IB as a consultant and workshop leader and it is so energizing to watch a teacher – and even better a whole school district – get how shifting towards an inquiry-based model can have a profound impact on their students’ learning.

And we’ve all been told that Kindergarten is the high-water point of education, as kids start school knowing that the way to learn anything is to ask questions. Slowly, as years pass and grades progress, we teach the questions out of them unless whatever we’re talking about is going to be on the test. We should be doing better than that, and I’d argue that even a school that already values the importance of student inquiry could do an even better job at it.

We ask questions because that’s how we learn, and it always hurts my head a bit when I see a classroom experience unfold without a good provocation, a chance for further questions,  or a chance to detour from what was “supposed” to be covered. So here we are at the start of a new school year, and I wonder how well I’ll do in the third year of the exciting adventure I’m on in helping a faculty let their students ask more questions and find their own answers.


I’m also…

Several years ago, I interviewed for a division head job at my school and – I forget the exact question that led to my answer – I mentioned that I hoped that my new day-to-day would have me out and about in hallways and classrooms that I would barely need a desk. Someone’s reply, essentially, was “Good luck with that because it’s never going to happen.”

I didn’t get the job.

But the derision that met what I thought would be a critical component of my (division) headship upsets me even today because I don’t understand why it can’t be the case. Why does leadership have to equal more desk time?

In addition to my daily schedule, I’ve also been busy with other things. Yesterday, I stood in the cold morning and greeted students as they arrived in various cars and buses for the day. I’ve come to look forward to this part of the day because it provides a chance to put a friendly face on the very start of the day for students who may still be too tired, cold, or not ready to start the day and it also gives me face time with both the students in my class and those that I wouldn’t ordinarily interact with. A highlight of yesterday’s door duty was seeing our head of school finish a morning running workout with some fifth graders and surprising them with hot chocolate before they headed in to start the day. In a couple weeks, I’ll be up at our lower school building with five eighth graders opening car doors and helping our littlest students make their way into the building. Today I pinch-hit for a colleague and helped serve lunch. We have a wonderful — truly wonderful – food service program at the school and I genuinely felt privileged to serve students the food they wanted and needed to get through the rest of the day. Earlier in the week, I had lunch with Kindergarteners and first graders, and one of the K students knew I didn’t really know what I was doing during their lunch period (I normally eat with our upper school students) and led me by the hand to empty our trays and return to our seats.

I’m also playing bass in the seventh grade band.

I’m also assistant coaching sports that I would/could never play, but now looking forward to chances to play in our eighth grade vs. faculty games.

I’ve also been a part of a sort of dads club/homebrewing club that has formed that shows how community and culture can be developed in the most unlikely of situations.

I’m also… doing a lot of things that I would never have understood as critical parts of the school day, and because of them I’ve come to truly appreciate how there is so much more to do in schools than sit behind a desk and let things come to you.

The “I’m also…” things are too important to pass up.