FOSTERING SOCIAL INCLUSION THROUGH A CULTURE OF INQUIRY SEPTEMBER 2005 It would not be an understatement to say that schools are busy places! Along with the increasing politicization of education in recent times, has come the intensification of both leaders’ and teachers’ work. The pressure of being inundated with an endless stream of tasks and problems, all of which need to be resolved ‘now’, has become the reality of our work in schools everywhere. Inevitably, when there is too much to be done in too little time, we find ourselves prioritising in ways that enable us to cope; we focus on the urgent ‘in your face’ matters that demand immediate resolution; we act quickly to achieve solutions that will reassure people that things are under control. We are often tempted to rush into adopting and implementing ‘quick fix’ solutions, ‘glossy package deals’, and ‘sure fired’ programs complete with all-you-need resource kits, CD ROMs, photocopiable masters and accompanying T&D sessions – and in doing so we find ourselves getting busier, and working harder, and yet often still staying in the same place. Inquiry processes (including a combination of critical dialogue, data interrogation, reflection on practice, and action research) offer a systematic, rigorous and inclusive alternative to the ‘quick fix’ option when trying to solve problems and initiate change in our schools. ‘Inquiry’ requires us to be courageous and to resist the pressure to undertake immediate action. We are instead invited to focus on investigating and addressing issues from the inside out and from multiple perspectives, before considering which way forward. An Inquiry approach to whole school change and continuous improvement emphasises understanding before action, and enables us to slow the whole process down while drawing people together to communicate and contribute. Rather than rushing to a generic solution therefore, we are able to engage in a more investigative process to address the situation strategically and from its source, At Myponga Primary School, we have been working towards embedding a culture of Inquiry at every level of our change processes. Our commitment to creating an educationally inclusive school that ‘supports all learners to be successful, contributive citizens’, has required us to make paradigm shifts in our way of thinking – in our way of being – in our way of doing. We have had to let go of the temptation to rely on old ways of working in order to make the kinds of deep differences we were aiming for. Inquiry as a change methodology has enabled our stakeholders to engage with the challenge. Inquiry processes have fostered the kind of community commitment that has ensured a growing valuing of diversity, the fostering of a strong sense of belonging, and the creation of a culture of participation and engagement for our learners in our own unique context. Nowadays, when a challenge or issue arises, we begin not by adopting a solution, but by challenging our perceptions about the problem. We identify stakeholders and seek out their views; we gather and use data to re- think and re-frame the issue in ways that reflect the hopes of those affected; we resist the pressure to rush into action and instead we strive to suspend judgement and engage in a critical dialogue about what is really happening. We pose questions to consider whose voices are being privileged and we ask who is being advantaged / disadvantaged by both the current situation and by any proposed changes. We continually bring our discussions and our decision making back to align them with our agreed core values, and our school’s vision and mission statements. We open up the discussion about solutions to include all possibilities and the focus is always on creative thinking and innovation – thinking outside the square to come up with new solutions to old problems. All this before we ever go to work on the solution! The Inquiry Cycle has taken on a number of variations at our school over the years in order to accommodate our short and long term needs and the differing purposes and contexts, however, in its simplest form, it looks like this : What’s the issue / focus? What next? Who else is it an issue for? Checking out with What's different stakeholders at What’s contributing to now? every stage of the the issue? Inquiry process Taking action What can we do about it? Planning action - Exploring the possibilities At each stage of the change cycle, we are guided by a range of critical questions that support us to interrupt our thinking, examine perceptions and assumptions, analyse and evaluate all available data and information, and explore new ways of seeing, doing, thinking and being. Some examples of critical questions we might use include: WHAT IS THE ISSUE OR FOCUS? ! How is the problem defined from different points of view? ! Who might be least advantaged? How would those least advantaged describe the problem? Do we need to re-frame the problem now we have heard a range of perspectives? ! What was the problem for which the current situation became the solution? Do we need a different solution now? What is the history of this problem? WHO ELSE IS IT AN ISSUE FOR? ! Who is affected by this issue or focus? Have all those affected had an opportunity to have input? Who else needs to be heard? ! With all information at hand, what’s going on? Why is it like this? ! Who can make / is making a difference? ! What is the real issue here? Is it a problem for everyone? ! And again, at this point : Do we need to redefine the problem? WHAT'S CONTRIBUTING TO THE ISSUE? ! What data do we already have? What additional data do we need to gather? ! What is the data telling us? What’s causing the problem? ! What are some possible explanations? ! Given the way we have now described the problem, what’s the most likely explanation? WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT? ! If things were different (or ideal), what would it look like? What needs to change? ! What choices of action are there? Which action/s would best achieve our goal? ! Who/what do we need in order to act? ! What is our agreed decision/ action plan? PLANNING ACTION – EXPLORING THE POSSIBILITIES ! At this point it is time to form an action group/team to support the planned action. Is networking an option? What action groups already exist that we can tap into and work with? ! What decision-making procedures will we use? ! Who will decide? Has everyone been informed about the choice of action? ! What will we do now - short, medium, long term? TAKING ACTION ! Finally, we begin to delegate specific tasks. ! Who will do what? How was this decided? ! What data will be gathered? How will data be collected? ! Has time been allocated to review actions? ! Other considerations: Documenting? Recounting? Retelling what we did? Time lines? ! Keep documenting: What happened? Problems, concerns, successes? WHAT'S DIFFERENT NOW? ! What did you learn? What do you still want/need to find out? ! Did you change another person's point of view? Did your point of view change? How do you know? What is different? For whom? ! How did you feel about what you did/learnt? ! Was the action effective - did it help you to achieve your goals? WHAT NEXT? ! How has what you have done changed what you will do in the future? ! How has what you have learned changed what you will do in the future? ! What goals will you set now for yourself? For the group? And so on…. We use this Inquiry process formally and informally, with staff, parents and students, to create and implement a diverse range of change initiatives. While the story of ‘re-culturing for wellbeing through a process of whole school change’ at Myponga Primary School over the past three years is too diverse and complex to recount in detail here, what is significant and what remains transferable to any school context, is the capacity of Inquiry processes to enable paradigm shifts our ways of seeing, doing, thinking and being as learners and educators. So how, and in what contexts, has Inquiry been used at Myponga Primary School? Some examples include: • Our long-term, whole-school changes are guided by and enacted through action research and Inquiry processes. We have just completed a three-year Inquiry cycle implemented to foster a culture of ‘Wellbeing for Learning’. This change cycle has had a far-reaching impact on the building of community capacity; creating a safe, optimistic and socially just learning culture; and initiating a diverse range of contextual changes at every level of school life. Our ‘Wellbeing for Learning’ Inquiry process has spawned dozens of sub-cycles of Inquiry in what has become a multi-faceted and deeply effective change journey for our whole school community. We are now building on that focus and beginning a new change cycle of Curriculum Review and Reform, through which we plan to embed both social and educational inclusion in every aspect of school life over the next three years. • Every teacher engages in his / her own professional development and performance management using a specifically developed Inquiry process that enables them to identify personal learning goals and implement change for continuous improvement in pedagogy • Our Governing Council meetings incorporate a strong curriculum focus in discussions, and Inquiry practices are used to research and respond to issues that arise • Our SRC, mainstream classes and student action groups all use a range of Inquiry processes as well as another specifically developed variation we call ‘Learning in Action’ (action research) for curriculum learning and citizenship action projects LEADERSHIP IN AN INQUIRY CULTURE When busy school days spin from crisis to crisis, taking time for deep dialogue, active listening and reflection can seem indulgent and yet it is so important to take the time to understand the issues fully first, before rushing to action. An educationally inclusive school examines every aspect of school life, seeks out instances of exclusion, and fosters inclusion at a cultural level (by building community, establishing shared values etc); at a policy level (by embedding inclusive practices at a systems level); and at a practice level (by examining methodologies and activities to maximise participation and connectedness). For such complex, deep, sustainable change to occur however, not one, but two overarching concepts must be present. Firstly, there must be the commitment to creating and sustaining a culture of Inquiry, as described above, and secondly, it is important to simultaneously foster a culture of personal leadership, so that Inquiry processes are both owned and generated by the stakeholders themselves. I strongly believe that personal responsibility and empowerment are key components of any effective Inquiry culture and they are essential for Inquiry based change to work most effectively. Many people think leadership is a position – we tend to see leadership as something that someone else does, but the secret at the heart of a culture of Inquiry is that leadership must become both a CHOICE and a RESPONSIBILITY for each and every person. Educationally and socially inclusive schools never let up – they understand that the job is never done – they recognise that vigilance is essential. If the principal and other appointed leaders become distracted by short term solutions, then the whole school suffers. If those not in official leadership positions think change ‘is someone else’s business’, then the whole school suffers. Stephen Covey says it brilliantly when he states that ‘Leadership is the capacity to influence’, and our capacity to influence is never greater and more powerful than within an Inquiry change process. Imagine for a moment a school in which everyone – the principal, leaders, teachers, students, the grounds person, the canteen workers, the cleaners, the volunteers and community support personnel, absolutely everyone, were to recognize and enact their own personal capacity to influence the inclusion of all others, every single day. Wow! If we want to create deep, powerful, sustainable change in schools, it is important therefore, that we resist using old solutions for new or continuing problems. We need to slow down, take the time to look, listen, interrogate, question and reflect. It is essential that we empower (and skill) every stakeholder to contribute in ways that lead to continuous improvement. Inquiry based change offers a quality process through which we can achieve all of this and more. Trust the process and be amazed at where it will lead. Jillian Jordan Principal Myponga Primary School 2005 Improvement Co-ordinator Southern Sea and Vines 2007 This article was printed in a 2006 Xpress and has been provided for publishing on the web by the author.