Thursday, September 3, 2015

Leadership of Reflective Inquiry

As I viewed the responses this morning for my Advanced Reading Methods course, I felt my heart getting fuller with the depth of thinking and connections I found on the discussion board.  The graduate students wrote at length about classroom experiences and contexts that pushed them to dig deeper into studying what might work for their own students.  They highlighted excerpts from the Best Practices text, as would be expected in a reading response, but also shared their struggles with rising to the expectations teachers should have for themselves when using "best practices" in their classrooms. While the posts shared elements of "still trying" and "not there yet," the writings carried with them a sense of reflecting for the purpose of inquiring forward, of unmasking weaknesses in order to find strength in the community and the texts.  Peers have begun sharing resources and posing questions of each other, probing for more context so they can both understand and prompt for internally persuasive dialogue. 

My friend in the National Writing Project said she has witnessed teachers all over the country get together to figure things out.  Teachers in different content areas, grade levels, and departments have the capacity to think through issues and work towards solutions.  We see this in groups of teachers who know individually they do not have the answers, who see the group as being smarter than any one entity.
This brings me to the role a leader has in a class, organization, or small group.  A leader, whether he/she is a teacher leader, an administrator, or PD provider must understand the situation of the inquiry or problem, the interaction among the group members, and the continuity or time line for action.  A leader knows how these three elements intersect to create the dynamics of reflective inquiry.  If a leader is responsible for managing the moving parts, how can the leader also solve the problem?  In knowing the terrain, the leader within a school setting can make clear the path for teachers to do the hard work of reflecting, inquiring, testing, and analyzing.

My role in this course was assigning a text, setting up a discussion board, and designing a calendar of assignments.  Much of my syllabus is a credit to my friend and newly-graduated PhD.  My adjustments made the course more accessible to online learning but did not change the content or focus. But I must pause here to acknowledge a leader's role in a course.  The leader's preparation before the course begins builds the foundation for students to be participatory in the work of each class.  I believe the group is smarter than the individual. I especially believe any group I teach will be smarter in many ways than I will be as its instructor.

As a leader in the sense that I instruct classes, I need to acknowledge that it's okay to be the leader and not in charge of the learning. Sheridan Blaua keynote speaker for a National Writing Project annual meeting spoke of research surrounding the proficiency of professionals in different fields.  What I need to remember is that research says having questions and feeling inadequate signals proficiency or at least the desire to get there.  If we think we are proficient, we probably aren't.  It makes me chuckle to think about my friend in the Writing Project who says she hopes feeling dumb is actually a sign of how smart she is--I laugh at this because she really is one of the smartest people I know.

My dissertation research into reflective inquiry has me questioning how group members work together with and as leaders to plan professional development.  I want to know what fosters or hinders reflective inquiry in our professional development planning.  At first, I thought the backtalk of authoritative discourse and internally persuasive discourse would be the static I would need to tune into.  Then I realized the backtalk of these discourses pushes thinking but does not necessarily hinder or foster inquiry.  I paused then to consider the leadership roles within our group and discovered the growth of reflective inquiry when clear leadership is present.  A leader who defines the context, poses questions, and trusts the members with the thinking process encourages and fosters reflective inquiry.  What happens sometimes, though, is people may enter the discussion without having hold of all the necessary intersecting elements in reflective inquiry.

To engage in reflective inquiry, one must look backward to dissect favorable and unfavorable events and experiences so that some may be repeated and others may (hopefully) never be seen again.  At the same time, a reflective inquirer must see enough value in the present work to want to see its positive effects in a different, future context.  If a future value cannot be determined or cannot be seen, whether personally, professionally, in part, or in whole, the inquiry can die before taking root.  A reflective inquirer recognizes adaptability in the problem, solution, and him/herself. Reflective inquiry is about seeking answers to future questions while solving present problems.

I do not know all the answers.  I ask questions, think deeply, ponder inadequacies, and learn constantly.  Am I a reflective inquirer?  I hope so.  My future in teaching will be bleak if I cannot re-envision past lessons and learn from all my previous experiences.  But once I know all the answers, I think I can retire from teaching and leading.