During the last week I had the privilege of accompanying my class to view the exhibition of the nursery and kindergarten learners.
I’ve always been in awe of the teachers working with the little ones. Their classrooms are engine rooms of learning and creativity yet their expertise is often devalued.
There’s a general snark, sometimes sadly heard from those working within the education system, that the lower the age group of students the less important the work of the teacher and the kids. It is underpinned the idea that content knowledge educators at the upper ranges of the education sector possesses is more important than the pedagogical knowledge and fundamental learning skills those teachers working with young children possess.
It was interesting to watch my ‘big’ Year 5 learners go into the kinder area of the school thinking they were there to offer general support to the preschoolers. When the older kids left, they were impressed by the standard of the content on display and the variety of ways the juniors were willing to express their learning.
This experience led me to wonder what is it that we do in schools that kills the natural curiosity, creativity and innate drive to learn that kids bring to the table when they first arrive in schools? I’ve noticed as I’ve made the move from teaching Year 7/8 to Year 5 that the younger kids are a lot more curious about the world around them and more willing to take risks.
Why is that?
Over the weekend I attending a workshop run by the legendary inquiry consultant Kath Murdoch. What was interesting was that Kath didn’t tell things about pedagogy I didn’t already know to the point I found myself finishing some of her sentences under my breath. Don’t get me wrong I’d gladly spend another Saturday listening to Kath, she’s a treasure trove of hands on tips as well as provocations to get the neurones firing.
She made a point towards the end of the presentation that really struck a chord with me.
It is so easy to sit in a workshop nodding our heads that our classrooms should be inquiry-focused, child-centred learning. It is another to actually take the plunge when you go back to your context and have what seems like a 1,000 obstacles are standing in your way.
If only my curriculum wasn’t so structured.
If only my school wasn’t so busy right now I’d find the time.
If only I didn’t have to prepare kids for middle school, high school, their exams.
If only the previous teacher had done a better job so I didn’t have to spend time getting the kids up to speed.
If only school leadership would let me get away with it.
If only I had the resources.
If only the government wouldn’t enact awful educational policies.
I have heard, said or thought all of these things at some point and if you are a teacher reading this, chances are so have you.
I will freely admit I’m the type of teacher who finds something inherently exhilarating about breaking out of moulds and pushing boundaries. However there are also times when I do things in my classroom because that’s what is expected. And that is how education ideas and practices get the life sucked out of them by 1000s of laminating machines to the point where the original intention has long been lost.
The purpose of the practice becomes divorced from the actual use.
When I stop and think teaching as inquiry is not about big revolutionary ideas it is simply a mindset to always ask ‘why I am doing this?’
What purpose does this serve?
Is it helping my students learning?
As an inquiry teacher I am comfortable to say that I am part of the problem of why schools turn kids off learning but I am also part of the solution.