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Blog: Monday, November 30th, 2015

Connecting the Inquiry Dots

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

 “The hallmark of a school library in the 21st century is not its collections, its systems, its technology, its staffing, its buildings, but its actions and evidence that show that it makes a real difference to student learning, that it contributes in tangible and significant ways to the development of meaning making and constructing knowledge.” 
(Todd, 2001)

Several months ago during our ongoing district level planning, the idea of creating a district inquiry hub emerged. Staff in our Curriculum department wanted to design a demonstration classroom of sorts, where teachers from around the district could bring their students and colleagues to see inquiry based approaches in action. The idea was to make it a safe place to take risks, play and learn about the kinds of instructional approaches embedded in sound inquiry. After months of planning by teams of teachers and leaders, the Explozone was born, and this year opened its doors. See the Explozone video here. While it is still very early, we are encouraged by the interest from our teachers, and the opportunities it will provide for teachers and students to explore their ideas. 

A critical component of the Explozone design was that teachers would commence their inquiry project in their school, in partnership with a colleague. They would deepen the experience with resources and supports at the Explozone site, and would then return to the school to continue the work. In a manner of speaking, the work would germinate at the school, be fertilized at the Explozone site, and would grow back at the school. We had long established Inquiry-based Learning Teams (IBLT), and wanted to ensure that there was a connection between these teams of teachers, and the work we might do in our Explozone. They are connected, but there is a need to make it more overt.

Therefore, one of the dots we have begun to connect is the notion of every school being an ‘inquiry hub.’ Our Learning Commons initiative has started to serve that function. In January 2015, seven pilot schools were launched to explore the implementation of learning commons that focussed on school based inquiry, blended learning and collaboration. We provided a grant to enable the participant schools to purchase furniture, perform renovations, purchase technology, and more importantly connect this to their vision for learning. All participant libraries were redesigned to open the learning space, to make furniture more mobile, and to promote a learning space for co-teaching.  Staff created a plan for their library that reflected the goals of their school to promote inquiry, digital literacy, and/or co-teaching. Pilot schools were required to draft a plan, and share their learning with colleagues from subsequent cohorts. Over the course of the next ten months, they went to work to implement their plans.

Fast-forward to November (last week, as a matter of fact) and our district hosted a ‘Learning Commons Tour.’ It was an opportunity for teachers and administrators around the district to visit the schools that embarked on the journey to expand their culture of inquiry, deepen blended learning, and revitalize the learning spaces within their libraries. The visiting ‘tourists’ were comprised of teachers, principals and vice-principals (and an inquisitive superintendent), who themselves were commencing an inquiry into deepening learning in their school communities. The group started on the western side of the district and worked their way eastward. Visitors were greeted by the principal and staff who took them to their learning commons inquiry in a brief presentation: shared their vision, key action steps, and successes to date, and next steps. Visitors got an opportunity to ask questions of the staff, tour the physical space, and (like true tourists) took lots of pictures and videos. 

All seven schools were visited. After speaking with the Tour Director (our Director of Technology), they shared some important insights that we learned from the experience:

  • All schools demonstrated how they were using the learning commons for instruction. All had specific examples of engagement of staff in co-teaching.
  • The demonstrations showed just how much schools can do with a modest grant, and how they can use their existing staff to move towards inquiry approach -- while raising the digital literacy of staff.
  • All sites demonstrated the positive outcomes by seeking student input into the design of the commons. The mobile nature of the technology is powerful in a flexible learning space. 
  • Each school is unique in its ‘grass roots’ approach to building their learning the culture.
  • The learning commons will assist schools in moving forward with the BC Curriculum redesign.
  • Celebrations of learning through the commons will sustain our momentum.
  • The fact that we have 20 schools applying demonstrates that there is an appetite to move this forward! 

As we begin to advance our strategic efforts, I think it important for system leaders to consciously connect the dots between promising initiatives intended to support the transformation across our districts. The learning commons initiative has become one of several ways we are seeking to support the redesigned curriculum (and the strategic plan) in our district. It provides opportunities for co-teaching and fosters inquiry in schools; there is a path between these school based inquiry ‘hubs’, and the myriad of commitments we make to support teaching and learning in other ways. It is our job to create coherence by helping connect these dots. With ongoing support from leaders around the district, it is our hope that the learning commons will foster greater collaboration among staff, and ultimately also provide a space where learning can be shared in unique and promising ways.

By Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden
Kevin Godden

By Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.