An interesting shift happened when we weren’t looking this year. This became clear to me when I went to the “Innovation Celebration” on June 6 at Richmond Secondary. While there was no pressure to bring anything but yourself, people from all kinds of schools were streaming in with posters, collages and powerpoints that summed up their progress on their collaborative inquiry projects to date. Overachievers were everywhere, but the mood was lighthearted, excited and curious. People couldn’t wait to talk about their work and see what other people were doing.
Last year we set aside over $100,000 for Innovation Grants so that people could apply for release time to try out new teaching and assessment practices that they were interested in together. The idea was to give staff in classrooms a chance to collaborate and try out things that interested them. We also put some additional funds towards technology grants that gave schools the opportunity to buy iPads and explore ways to use them to help kids learn.
This is all well and good, you may be saying, but what’s the shift I’m talking about?
Here’s part of it. We’ve started talking about professional “growth” rather than professional development, as that seems more personalized and in tune with personal inquiry as a way to grow and learn. What’s inquiry? As Assistant Superintendent Lynn Archer puts it, it’s all about “”being curious, asking questions, going deeper.”
As we know, all too often we go to interesting professional development presentations, think them over a bit, file the handouts and that’s it. Nothing really gets used, and it’s business as usual. I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of this one more than once.
In order to really implement a change in practice, people need a chance to ask questions together, try things out, talk about what happened, ask more questions and try some more things. They need to be supported in this cycle of inquiry with time and resources. There’s a large body of research that says this is the best environment to foster professional growth and changes in practice. Implementation isn’t something that others do to you; it’s something you do yourself as you learn new things, often through trial and error and working with others. This is the essence of the shift – we’re beginning to acknowledge and support the idea that professional growth that’s built around exploring personal interests and trying things out with others is the most effective and satisfying way of fostering innovation.
The excitement about collaborative inquiry projects is what made for the buzz in the room at the Innovation Celebration
The projects fell into categories such as:
- Assessment For Learning
- Inquiry-Based Learning in the Classroom
- Collaborative Planning to Support All Learners
- Use of iPads in in areas such as literacy, math problem solving etc.
One of the big benefits of the Innovation Celebration was that people had the chance to talk with other schools who were doing projects in similar areas. This led to idea exchanges and opportunities for further collaboration between schools.
Does this mean presentations by experts are a thing of the past and it’s all about collaborative inquiry now? Not really, as we still need input and new ideas to talk about and try out. Given all the new directions in curriculum, assessment, Aboriginal ways of knowing and the ever-growing diversity in classrooms, we don’t lack for new ideas and input.
But we’re coming to realize that we need time to work together to “be curious, ask questions and go deeper” together to make sense of it all. The energy, animated talk and creativity that came together at the “Innovation Celebration” was a very encouraging way to finish off the year. We’ll be offering more innovation grant funds next year, and while these funds are limited, and can’t fund everything that school groups might want to do, they’ve gotten this idea started – collaborative inquiry helps us to grow together as professionals in a way that makes sense and sticks with us over time.
Acknowledging that, everyone, is a good way to end the year. Now it’s time to wish you all lots of rest reflection, and relaxation. Innovation will be waiting for you for the fall.