In order for inquiry to flourish, you must let go of the need to plan and control.
Today is the first day of school! I am excited to meet new students and to see familiar ones. The clean slate of a new year is always invigorating. Right now, my classroom can be whatever I want it to be. My students can accomplish any task I dream up for them, no matter how challenging. Our classroom can be a true community of learners.
At some point reality will set in, of course. We all hit a wall (students and teachers) after a few weeks when the honeymoon period is over. I love it when the honeymoon phase ends, though. That’s when things get real. That’s when students are comfortable enough in your classroom to be who they are. That’s when the real community building begins.
My classroom culture has been increasingly centered around inquiry for the past few years. I thought I was doing inquiry before, when I would do labs, field trips, and class projects. The problem was that I was the one generating the questions that drove the curriculum. Oh, sure, I would ask kids to share their questions and we’d often discuss them. The problem was that the driving questions, the ones that guide where we go as a group, almost always came from me. That was guided inquiry, at best – inquiry in a box.
Last year, I really began to let go of that control and allow much more open-ended inquiry. I loved the results. I loved the way it impacted both student learning and the culture of the classroom. The goal for this year will be to infuse inquiry more deeply into all of my classes.
What I’ve really learned over the last couple of years of doing more and more open-ended inquiry, though, is the symbiotic nature of inquiry and a democratic classroom. If your classroom culture is teacher-centered and you rule with an iron fist, inquiry is stunted.
Now, I was never one to rule with an iron fist, but I am a planner. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I wanted to have clear plans laid out for coming activities and lessons. The better and more detailed my plans became, though, the less student-centered my classroom became.
This taught me a powerful lesson:
In order for inquiry to flourish, you must let go of the need to plan and control. To reach the goal of an inquiry-centered classroom, all aspects of a classroom must reflect that goal. Today is the day to start building that community.