On May 30 I had the good fortune of attending the Northwest Network celebration in Smithers. The room was packed, the projects are producing impressive results and the commitment and enthusiasm of the participants were pretty amazing. The teamwork across the Northwest in supporting the teachers and principals involved in the depth of inquiry and transformational practice witnessed is making a significant difference.
Here’s some of what we observed:
1. The importance of a focused inquiry versus a goal – many schools reported that by working through their question, they experienced many unanticipated outcomes. They had a chance to go more deeply as the year unfolded, to reframe their thinking, to expand or narrow their focus, and to continually ask themselves – ‘is this making a difference to our learners and how do we know?’ There was also complete consensus around the notion that inquiry gets a lot harder as teams go deeper,
2. Changing practice is challenging – Prince Rupert Secondary School framed their presentation around professional learning as a game of snakes and ladders. This idea really struck with many of the teams who were able to extend the metaphor as they reflected on learning as much more difficult than teaching. They also used the metaphor to explain the conditions that lead to their finding and climbing the next ladder – as well as the snakes that impeded their progress. This may be a much better image than the implementation dip. The final statement from the PRSS team – ‘there is no losing as long as you keep playing’ – seemed to me to sum up the spirit and determination of all the educators in the room.
3. Trust, social responsibility, community connections, inclusion and respect were themes that connected across all the presentations. As one presenter paraphrased from Kim Schonert-Reichl’s talk at the seminar, “the kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” This caring was demonstrated in a range of ways including the two new teachers talking about the TREC program at Pacific Coast School who captured the imagination of everyone in the room.
4. Increasing respect for Aboriginal ways of knowing through building knowledge – whether through traditional ways of learning and knowing, appreciation of a range of art forms, community collaborations, family involvement strategies, cross age coaching, a focus on Aboriginal content in Math and Literacy – were reflected in a number of presentations.
5. The welcoming nature of the northwest to new schools, teachers new to the profession, and experienced educators new to inquiry was also deeply evident. Having a teacher who started her formal career in January 2011 working alongside a teacher who retired last year but is still involved in supporting the staff at her former school with their inquiry provides a powerful model for our profession.
6. We have talked in other settings about the importance of weaving three ways – from the wisdom traditions of our Aboriginal people, the strong research and evidence base from our profession, and from innovative, imaginative approaches at the leading edge of practice – as we work together to create more responsive, relevant, and personalized learning for all BC learners. This weaving was evident in many schools presentations. Kitwanga Elementary School was one of several schools that provided an exceptional model for what this looks like in practice.
Learning with and from other schools on behalf of the students we serve is at the heart of the network. It is a privilege to be part of this work.