The Spirit of Inquiry: Inspiring Change Through Teacher Development
Maikala Harris~ University of Calgary Student Teacher
As a pre-service teacher at the Werklund School of Education I realize how fortunate I have been to take a glimpse into the Calgary Science School (CSS) for my first field practicum. With a capped student wait list, this charter school is rooted in inquiry and clearly on course with establishing an ecological model of education. Instead of starting with the curriculum, teaching the subject matter, and allowing time only at the end of class for inquiry, at CSS teachers start with and build upon inquiry relevant to student interests and the curriculum.
Alberta Education’s new Student Act signed in May 2013 has initiated curricular redesign that emphasizes inquiry-based, student centered, and collaborative environments. There has been a large debate on how to best incorporate these aspects into an already busy school schedule. Although my time at the CSS has been brief, I have observed an administration that invests in teacher inquiry and collaboration, a procedure that promotes these activities throughout the entire school.
The teachers at the CSS use their planning time to discuss methodology, pedagogy, and the art of inquiry. The ability to team-plan enables teachers to discuss ideas as well as to push each other to create new ways to facilitate inquiry. While talking with teachers at CSS, many told me that by working in a team they are better able to plan larger more meaningful projects, and in many cases include community experts in the classroom discussion.
From my observations at the CSS, I found team teaching to be a meaningful and constant source of peer feedback that leads to teachers regularly challenging themselves. Even if teachers don’t always choose to group their students together there is always a great deal of teamwork and an “open door” policy. At all times teachers at CSS have someone to bounce ideas off of, and as collaboration is an important aspect for student education, it only makes sense that it be fostered first by the teachers.
As an after-degree student in teacher education, I am given clear outlines about how to develop my practice throughout the two-years of the B.Ed. program. I am very intrigued by educational research and have often wondered if the prescribed professional development at my future school will be enough to satisfy my love of learning. The teachers at CSS are given the opportunity to choose multiple professional development conferences that they feel are relevant sessions for their advancement. Also, if teachers find that their own inquiry leads them to pursue higher education, CSS supports them by providing some financial support.
The old adage that it is easiest to teach what you know is certainly true, and is modeled at CSS. Students understand inquiry and team collaboration because it is all around them and promoted by their teachers. Talking with the teachers at CSS I can sense their passion and excitement to show me the depth of knowledge being cultivated, and I know that this love of learning helps shape their students’ views of school.
Inquiry is an invitation to go beyond what is expected, and provides both students and teachers with learning floors not ceilings and makes it “never just an ordinary day” at the Calgary Science School. I would like to thank the staff and students for being so warm and welcoming and allowing me to contribute my own inquiry to the CSS Professional Learning Journal.