5 Ways to Promote an ‘Inquiry Mindset’ for School PD

Holly Clark
Feb 18 · 4 min read

The notion of a student ‘inquiry mindset’ has become very en vogue in educational circles lately. Inquiry-based learning is effectively defined by educational writers Trevor Mackenzie and Rebecca Bathurst-Hunt, in their seminal book Inquiry Mindset, as “the process where students are involved in their learning, create essential questions, investigate widely, and then build new understandings, meanings, and knowledge.”

As an educator, I love watching teacher excitement for inquiry! Students who learn to ask meaningful and thought-provoking questions develop autonomy and a love of learning. In a modern world, this type of curiosity-based learning acknowledges that students have access to more information than human history has ever seen, and should be developing the skills to effectively use it.

So, why is inquiry valuable for students — but not teachers?

Teachers are in the business of education. That they know how to learn is a given, but PD does not feature or support an inquiry-based approach that acknowledges teachers are capable of more sophisticated learning. I know the frustration of admin meetings planning for schoolwide PD, and no matter what was planned, teachers rarely felt they could use it. Our teachers shared best practices, but weren’t able to help others adapt them for their own classrooms. Other times a lot of money is spent on an outside company to deliver PD, even though teachers often dread these workshops. They tire of presenters who read from a Google Slides presentation, and whose lack of student examples highlights that they have not been in the classroom for years. How is this model supposed to effect any real change in a classroom?

Based on my own experience and countless conversations with teachers, I figured out a crucial problem with professional development: teachers did not have a say in how they developed their practice . This is not just the fault of school administrators; it’s the current model for lesson-planning and teacher-student interactions. Often educators lack the training to incorporate kids’ passions or to even allow them to set their own learning goals. We perpetuate this cycle at the teacher level as well. With no teacher voice, no personalization, or even basic trust, traditional PD fails. For experienced learners, professional development should be grounded in learning theory for adults, not children.

Heutagogy, Not Pedagogy

In Inquiry Mindset, Trevor Mackenzie and Rebecca Bathurst Hunt promote empowering students with the tools, understanding, and skills to make a difference in the world. What if their teachers were similarly equipped?

Adult learners are capable of deciding on a path to learning that may differ from merely accomplishing a task or solving a problem. They can utilize a process called Heutagogy, which is a self-directed and experiential practice. If teachers are responsible for determining student learning outcomes, they should be trusted to determine their own! Learning is a complex process that must be personalized to be effective. Just like students, education professionals need to bring their own background knowledge, ask their own questions and determine their own learning needs. Inquiry allows educators to grow.

Lisa Marie Blaschke of The University of Maryland says, “In a heutagogical approach to teaching and learning, learners are highly autonomous and self-determined and emphasis is placed on development of learner capacity and capability with the goal of producing learners who are well-prepared for the complexities of today’s workplace [their classrooms].” Teachers should be encouraged to take a ‘deep dive’ into their own learning in a way fhF makes them better at their jobs. And isn’t that the real point of PD?

Although Heutagogy has been around for some time, it is a word that is new to many educators. Understanding this type of self-determined adult learning and how it can be used to inspire PD in schools is worth a closer look. It requires an understanding that this is an adult learning theory, and can be much deeper and more sophisticated than personalized learning for students.

For real change to occur in schools, PD needs an overhaul. Let’s start by implementing inquiry and autonomy.

Here are five suggestions for developing and respecting teacher learning:

  1. Let Teachers Determine Their Own Learning Goals
  • Teachers choose areas of study that impact their own classroom and professional goals
  • Teachers create their own learning outcomes that can show growth over time- something that can be used by the administration to chart impact

2. Use Inquiry to Drive Learning

  • Teachers ask essential questions that drive their learning — they find the one or two that will be the focus (but remain open to ending somewhere completely different)
  • Teachers “investigate widely” to discover information that answers their questions

3. Make PD Collaborative and Community-building

  • Get ideas and mentorship from people both inside and outside of the district.
  • Allow teachers to create global “edu-friends” that can help them build on their ideas

4. Create Avenues for Sharing Knowledge

  • Through on-demand learning environments teachers can both deepen their learning and share it with others
  • Through short burst of learning — or microlearning — teachers can find ideas or lessons they can use in the classroom tomorrow and have a place to play with the concepts to make them their own

5. Expect Nonlinear Results

  • Understand there may not be a stopping point or final answer to inquiry
  • A teacher’s original essential question may lead them down a different path than originally envisioned. This should still be accepted and honored as valuable

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