‘What is the purpose of enquiry and why is it worth doing?’

For me, enquiry is about what we do every day as teachers. We see a need, try to meet it, evaluate how effective our strategy was and then plan where to go next. It is about not settling for a certain standard but always striving to achieve more. Before teaching I trained as a high level athlete and even after a personal best, we would return to training the following week, evaluate our previous training and look at our next goals and how we were going to get there. I see enquiry in the same way, it is a way of working not a one off exercise to fill CPD hours. The more it is thought of in this way, the less daunting and scary it will seem to those using an enquiry approach. I have heard many teachers say “I did an enquiry last year” or “I have too much work to do an enquiry at the moment”. I don’t believe enquiry should be a thing we do, I think it should be a way we think that fits tightly with our ongoing evaluation, assessment and reflective practice.  I loved what Prof. Kate Wall said about the quest to find answers however, you more often then not end up coming out the other side with more questions and the cycle continues again. Questions keep us intrigued and motivated, answers help us to settle. The circle of enquiry keeps learning innovative, it keeps challenging us as teachers to improve ourselves and therefore the outcomes for our learners.

Exploring My Itch

Last year I undertook a Learning for Sustainability 10 week course through Edinburgh University and British Council. Having had time to reflect on my learning from this course over the summer and beginning follow up reading into this session, I have found that this course had a greater impact on me than initially expected. It has revealed ‘my itch’ however my itch is like one of those itches where you can’t actually find the source to scratch it. This ‘itch’ has taken my thinking beyond what was my initial interest of gaining some more ideas to support me with my role as the lead of our school’s eco-committee.

Following this course I re-read the Education Scotland Building the Curriculum Documents with a completely new perspective and outlook. With an improved understanding of Learning for Sustainability and the broad definition of the word ‘Sustainable’ I had the realisation that Sustainability, in various contexts, is at the heart of education in Scotland. The result of this new perspective has changed my role as a teacher. Never did I set out to be simply a ‘knowledge giver’ and always attempted to make my learners independent thinkers, responsible citizens, successful learners and confident individuals through the principles of CfE but I know there have been times when I have found it difficult to adopt this approach. I see myself now very much as a facilitator of sustainable skills and learning and aim to work more collaboratively with pupils to lead their learning. The beginnings of this have resulted in a higher retention rate with more sustainable learning.

I created this diagram to model my thinking of the key elements addressed with an understanding and focus on Learning for Sustainability. I want to explore these areas further with an aim to use Learning for Sustainability to promote the principles of CfE within my classroom.

I’m very much aware that Learning for Sustainability covers such a broad area of education and hope that with further reading I will be able to select and area to start with that will become the focus for my enquiry project.

‘What are the environmental, social or economic conditions of learners in your school and what are the implications for practice?’

During a lesson on fairness and equality which I could highly recommend (click here to view lesson plan), my class and I’s discussion led us to barriers to learning. I had asked the children how they would feel if a doctor treated each patient (no matter what they illness or symptoms) with the same treatment. The all agreed that this would be ridiculous. I then asked the children whether they thought it would be fair that a teacher should scribe for a pupil who struggled with handwriting during a literacy lesson to allow them to access the key learning. They strongly disagreed with this and said it would highly unfair for all the other children who had to write themselves. I was shocked by this response but it alerted me to the fact that as teachers we are trying to use an equitable approach to GIRFEC but for all children to feel included and to GIRFEC holistically, we need pupils to be in on the approach too. Something in my teaching needed to change to achieve this.

I showed my pupils this picture –

We discussed what kind of social, emotional, economic, learning and physical issues may create fences or barriers to stop pupils from accessing learning. Pupils started to become aware of the short-term and long-term barriers each and every one of them was experiencing or had experienced at some point recently. We linked this with resilience work that we have been covering as a whole school but also discussed examples of ‘boxes’ that we can provide linked with the wellbeing indicators to ensure each child is receiving the best chance to reduce/overcome their barriers. This has allowed me to provide more for the pupils in my care as they are also looking out for what can be done to support themselves and others so instead of one pair of teacher eyes trying to GIRFEC, I now have 32 pairs of eyes supporting the wellbeing of our classroom.

With an upper school class it has been evident to me through this learning process that pupils are very aware of wanting to be treated the same however they also need to know that they can receive equitable support in a discreet manner. Pupils have loved the concept of a ‘box’ to help them ‘see over the fence’ and if they are needing discreet support are now using the phrase ‘I need a box’ to ask for help or support.

As for the third of the pictures shown above, our class are undecided whether it is fully possible to remove all barriers in life but we are trying out best to achieve this in our classroom.