My professional growth plan is very much linked to school growth plans.
All schools in BC must prepare a school plan that sets one or more school goals for improving student achievement, the strategies to achieve these goals and the measures for determining success.
It is one thing to measure school growth and improvements in student achievement, it is another to trace results to causes. Schools are not science experiments where one variable at a time can be added and tested. With many teachers and many strategies all at play each year, it is not difficult to acquire data on many areas of student achievement – such as literacy skills – but tracing this growth to the strategies of teachers in a variety of classrooms is difficult.
At Bowen Island Community School, our Growth Plan, poses the question of inquiry:
Will an increased focus on inquiry-based learning that places emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking skills and self-regulation skills improve the level of student engagement and academic achievement?
The question examines the affect inquiry-based learning and critical thinking have on student engagement and academic achievement. As BICS has also focused on self-regulation, digital access for students and teachers, environmental education and place-based learning, tracing improvements in student engagement and academic achievement to any one cause is perhaps impossible; and perhaps unnecessary.
Each of the strategies mentioned above work in concert and I am learning more and more how dependent they are on one another. I often refer to the Galileo Education Network for a concise definition of inquiry. They state:
Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.
The strategies and approaches of environmental education and place-based learning, where students learn in the community and look at issues or problems facing the community and world, is very much aligned with the definition of inquiry as described above. Further, digital access, far from being a strategy in its own right, can be viewed more as an effort to support inquiry by providing students with as much opportunity as possible to delve deeply into a topic, beyond the opportunities people, places, and print found in the community and library might offer. Digital access also allows students to share their inquiries with others. With access to so much information, the ability to assess the reliability of information and make sense of it, core tenets of critical thinking, is vital. In this way, through inquiry, students practise critical thinking skills rather than just learn what it means to be a critical thinker. This practise of critical thinking is core to the philosophy of the Critical Thinking Consortium, which has helped guide BICS’ work in this area. Self-regulation, in the words of Stuart Shanker, is the ability for students to be calm, alert, and learning. It is perhaps the foundation for any other strategies a school might wish to implement. Inquiry is pointless unless students have the capacity to be engaged.
My growth plan involves inquiring into the following questions:
- What does it mean for someone to be engaged in learning?
- What factors (culture, strategy, tactics) lead to learner engagement?
- How can you tell whether students and teachers are engaged and can engagement be traced to particular strategies (inquiry, digital access, self-regulation), tactics or attributes of a school’s culture?
As I begin my inquiry, I am becoming more and more aware of the challenges of isolating strategies and determining their individual impact. Self-regulation, regardless of what other strategies a school might have in place, has tremendous power to improve student achievement. But it is already bundled together with other strategies our school is pursuing. It may not be possible to weigh the individual impact of various strategies but I am looking forward to learning more about measuring results from the formidable combination of strategies at work at BICS.