uLead Podcast

In this episode we bring you a session from a LeadMeet gathering that was held at the Royal Glenora Club in Edmonton in January of 2023. LeadMeets are evening gatherings organized by the CSL where local leaders share their tips for positively impacting student learning. In this session, we will hear Meghan Wiens & Lisa Gonsalvez discuss their work with introducing Inquiry practices at their school.
You can also watch a video of this podcast on our YouTube Channel.
For more information on upcoming events, visit the CSL Webpage.

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The uLead Podcast, brought to you by the Council for School Leadership of the Alberta Teachers' Association.

LeadMeet Jan 2023 Session 1 - Full Edited Audio

We're really happy to be here tonight. My name's Meg Weens. I'm the acting principal of Kenai Elementary School in St. Opera. Public. And I'm overjoyed to have with me our acting assistant principal, Lisa Gonzalvez here tonight to share with you our inquiry framework at our school and how we're shifting practice, and most importantly, student learning in our building.

Mark, I kind of feel like this is a hazing us going first, but we'll embrace it. Our school is a small community school of about 340, kindergarten to grade six. We have around 188 families. That is not an exact number, that is an estimate. Um, there are 23 support staff, 15 teachers, two administrators, and a partridge in a para tree.

We are located in St. Albert on a beautiful city park. It's huge. It's mammoth and really, really a stones throwaway from our river valley. The river valley trails. And so that really plays into where this started. I. If we ground ourself in our treaty six territory and in the land, and then a parent community that came to us and said, we want something different out of education.

So as Lisa began with this was really led by a, a want in our community to have something that looked and felt different. So we sat in that for a good amount of time and not to dwell on. History, but Covid really gave us that pause to think and reflect about what that could look like. And when we came to the time where we were ready to start to have these conversations with our staff and with our parent community, what came to the forefront pretty early is that we really wanted to honor an environment that was curious and that was active.

So what came from that was a call to our. , we put out a message asking staff if there was anyone interested in joining a steering committee of people who are excited to learn and engage in some thinking and doing that was potentially a little bit outside of the norm. And we were really fortunate. We thought we would get three to four staff, potentially maybe tap a few on the shoulder.

We had 12 people come to our steering committee meeting our first. So immediately we knew we were onto something really special. We didn't know what it was, and the birth of it being from that organic place was probably, in my opinion, one of the most important features. Starting out, we didn't know or have an agenda as to where we wanted it to go, but we knew it had to start with how we were thinking about learning.

So what you'll see is you look at the process is just snippets of our early steering committee time. It was active on our end as learner. Led by our wonderful curriculum services team, one of which is here. Who is gonna nod Katherine Coin. And I was reflecting today, we actually had a steering committee meeting today.

Uh, there we're still meeting a year later, and I was reflecting that this has been a year of thinking and it's amazing how far we can come in a year. We started with our hearts first. Truthfully, what you're noticed, what you might have noticed on the floor is all that. We really took a lot of time to really co-construct criteria about what matters, what counts, and what's most important in student learning.

What did we want our student students to know? What did we want them to do and who did we want them to be as learners in this new adventure we were taking on? So we began by aligning our heads and hearts and going right back to the root of it and put away all the shoulds for a little bit and focused on where we wanted our students.

it was really important that the work was organic, that it was sustainable, and we've had to journey that this year as we've implemented, and that it held for teachers that autonomy to still see themselves in the work. So this is a, this is work that's a culmination of many different philosophies, ways of thinking.

It's a, it's a collection of best practices that have really come together beautifully to align with what we'll look at in a second, which are, is our four pillars. . What we really wanted, again, is to co-construct all of this criteria as a staff. When Catherine and I would meet ahead of steering committee meetings, we really were reflexive in our practice.

We listened to what was coming up in the past meeting and really planning session by session. We had an idea of where we wanted it to go, but again, it was very open to input and was grown very beautifully through this collaborative. When it boiled down, when we took all those papers and organized them and categorized them, it boiled down to four guiding principles.

So supporting student agency, um, that the kids had agency in their learning in all parts of the journey of learning became, um, one of the guiding principles that rose to the top, creating concrete opportunities for active learning, um, putting student. in the touchy-feely physical part of actively being engaged.

Their learning was the next guiding principle that kind of came through when we met this, um, concept of illuminating thinking and it being about the thinking about. Um, really digging into those metacognitive processes and what, how are we thinking? Why are we thinking, what are we thinking? What is the thinking about?

So that it was deeper, um, and had a real depth of meaning and being intentional. That felt, um, really important to the staff of that intentionality. We didn't want inquiry to just. Inquiry will just happen. That is a natural thing. Inquiry happens. But we also as a staff really wanted to think about how this inquiry process, um, was going to be intentional, aligned with curriculum, aligned with best practice, how we could curate our learning environments, um, so that it was intentional for us as think.

And then that intentionality moving down into the students so that the students would be really intentional in the things that they were producing and the ways that they were learning. So I guess the, the next organic question would be, well, what does inquiry look like at Ken Sale? What does it look like?

So what you'll notice at the bottom is a teaching continuum. , and this is really the heart of the work. This is where we're grounding all of our, um, unit planning and all of our lesson planning in knowing that inquiry is fluid. There are times where the best practice is that direct instruction, but throughout that, throughout the journey, there might be some of that structured or guided inquiry in the middle there.

And then on the end you'll see an open inquiry, which is that time where students are left to really stretch in their areas of. We wanted again, for this to be sustainable. And because it's an elementary school, a lot of the inquiry that we're focusing on is very much in that guided and structured piece.

It's still very much curated. Provocations are created and led by the teacher. The teacher is providing support and the children are really working through that active learning to construct meaning the teacher is present to teach in the in moments. That's necess. The actual perhaps skills or underlying, uh, theory that needs to be there that is not, uh, absent in this.

But the intentionality is that the teacher, as the professional knows when it's time to lean in and when it's time to let students work with the material. So that autonomy again and that accountability on the teacher to know what's kind of reflexive and best practice is very much at the front of this.

We have, of course, two kind of pillars, aligning this with curiosity and agency. We want students to be agents in their learning. The saying goes, and we hear it a lot. Those who do the talking do the learning. So we want our classrooms to be rich with language and communication and problem solving. You're gonna be seeing, this is highlights from our Twitter feed, but this is very much aligned and must be in curriculum.

Curriculum is our what, and we weren't shy to lean into. . What really this program has been for us is really the how and it's tapped into our hearts. It's the why, it's the reason we're doing it. The reason we're here, what's really important again, is that this has been reflexive every time we meet as a steering committee, and now with with our cohort two, which I will speak to in a little bit, it's reflexive practice.

We are coming to our ourselves, coming to each other, and coming to our team of experts. Questions, problems. We're actually engaging in inquiry. A lot of what we lead in the sessions and curriculum services leads are inquiry focused questions. How do we do this? And the provocations are set up for us to explore.

So we are also learning in this process as well. It's so great that we had a steering team meeting just before we came here because now I put this si slide up about play and. Play's got a bad rap. We can't use that word anymore. The parent community doesn't like play. They want it to be something more than that.

And I'm like, mm-hmm. Um, play is very important. Look at all the things play does kids need to play. We have to start in the natural sense of play. But it was just fascinating to me because as we talked around the table and we worked that through it, play is essential to our children. We know that. But that.

Is scary to the parent community we serve because it feels like it doesn't have legitimacy, like play in and of itself doesn't help kids learn. So we flip to this inquiry and we're like, where does that Venn diagram stop of inquiry and play? What would that look? If we really deconstructed those two things, how much of it will really align?

So when we think about our, um, little division one people, we're thinking of how do we continue to, um, inform our community about inquiry through play as, play as the natural state of the child, the natural developments level, especially in those younger, um, little. Of how they inquire, how they learn, how they're curious.

They do that through the act of part and leaning back into those guiding principles of the act of learning is play. And we can't separate play from inquiry and even as they get older, I could read all of this, but I'm like really gonna hope that you guys just like love Passy and like maybe read his book.

So like playing in all the places, but as they get older and. Along that continuum, moving the language more maybe into an inquiry type framework. We really, um, have been wrestling with and pondering, can we do inquiry without play? Yes. What would that look like? And does that deviate? Then from our core values, we even with a grade five, six class, they play in.

but we maybe don't call it play because they're getting older. They don't want it to necessarily sound like that, but they are really engaged in that process of asking questions, planning for how they will answer those questions, reflecting on those questions, looking where they can find the answers to that questions, and continuing along those cycles of inquiry with keeping that play mentality in a forefront for engagement, for active learning.

So last year would, was really where we began about a year ago, planning this very much on spec. We had our steering committee that were engaging in this deep thinking and professional development and working in this framework as learners. And uh, this year we were hoping, at first we trained them like nasa.

We trained 12, hoping we'd have two pilot. Uh, two classes, perhaps a . Listen, train 'em all up. I've seen Armageddon in the movie Train 'em all. We hope to have two classes, maybe a grade one to three vertical split and a grade four to six vertical split. We were able to put on a parent evening to really start to introduce this to our community was really well received, and we ended up with six homerooms of 12.

So half of our school right now is working in this first year pilot of this f. , it's messy. And we're learning. We come to the table often as a committee and as a team of teachers that are trying this out for the first time. And we're really just working on that sustainability. Is it aligned to our vision?

Does it sound like it's illuminating thinking? Is it intentional? Is it creating student agency? Is it active? And when we ground ourselves, and I'm thankful for our meeting today cuz we did realign ourselves. If we align with that, then we're on the right. and it's going to look different based on professionals and rooms and composition.

The path forward is actually, I'm almost, am I more excited? I'm unsure. I'm very, I'm, I'm a very excitable person, as you might be able to tell the path forward this year, we looked to train another group of teachers. So when we put out the call to our staff to come along for this journey, cohort two is what we refer to.

Everybody else on our teaching staff signed up. So in two years we are gonna have all of our teachers, trained is the wrong word, but leaning into this framework, leaning into the work, and into the philosophy. And that is really powerful. And that's what's really exciting, I believe, is how we're being able to push this, roll this out journey, this together as a.

We were really aware that it, we didn't wanna create any false divisions. This is inquiry, this is not, of course it happens in every room. Of course it does. But the intentionality piece and putting the learning that active learning in front as I think what separates or artificially separated these two ideas.

So having everybody trained for next year is gonna be really exciting. It's gonna become a whole school really way of being. And that's, again, if we're talking about organic natures and sustain. That's, I think how we shift practice in a building. What's been really important to this is release time. We had to prioritize the release time.

This couldn't be done in after school or lunchtime meetings or on the weekend. So we've really made a commitment to releasing our staff to come as large groups truthfully and sit and have the gift of time to think, to plan, to collaborate, to co-create, and to really reflect this is work that is done.

Through deep thinking as we hope all learning is done through deep thinking. So that's been really important to us and it's something that we've had to prioritize and maintain, and we will for the next three years as we roll out our four year plan. Aligning our head and our hearts is probably the most powerful work we could do.

Finding our why again, which is like, I know a quote from another person, but digging deep into our why was the most, yes, I'm in cynic. You know, coming into our why was really. Was able to transform our staff and having the time to do that was, I think, very powerful. Thank you. Uh, feel free to reach out to us at any time.

I wanted to leave it on this last slide because it's really you're changing my mind Oh. Of the research. Oh, dear. Oh dear. We have to end on the research page. I wanted to end on the kid page because at the end of the day, it's just beautiful to see the kids engaged in the process and how. . It's really just their natural way of learning and they are here for it.

Um, there is all these books that we read because we did not want to just pick a one way. We wanted to have that organic nature. And yes, thank you so much.