Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Networks Matter - a lot!

Spirals of Inquiry
Today we pressed 'send' on the book we have been working on for over a year entitled Spirals of Inquiry. We are grateful to the BCPVPA for partnering with us to publish this book and are very pleased that all the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to supporting inquiry schools - particularly those serving vulnerable communities.

In some ways working on this book represents our gift to the educators we have been so privileged to work with over the past several years within various networks across BC. Your stories, your observations, your questions, and your inquiry journeys have all provided rich opportunities for us to grow in our understanding of the importance of inquiry. Your experiences also reinforce for us the absolute necessity for educators to  connect in substantive ways across schools, across districts and across roles. We have heard this repeatedly from many educators over the past few months -  and we are listening.

We spent last Sunday with thirty of the volunteer network leaders from around the province. Although  not exactly a day of rest, the conversations were lively, the laughter was contagious, and many  connections were strengthened. As a group, we had a chance to reflect on the ways in which inquiry is taking hold through various initiatives across BC and we also explored ways to sustain the emphasis on self and co-regulation that the network represents. One of the key features of the network has been the persistent focus on the six key strategies of assessment for learning  - and the understanding that assessment for and as learning are the bridge to a more personalized, learner-focused system. Despite the progress that has been made, there was no sense that we had arrived in a place where coaching forms of assessment are way of life in every setting, for every learning.

We were very pleased that Maureen Dockendorf was able to join this discussion. The CR4YR initiative provides such a great opportunity for a well-resourced and supported network focused on young readers.  In addition, having the coaches and facilitators from the VIU rural literacy research project led by Paige Fisher  added another dimension of coherence-creation. The more connections and coherence we can create across initiatives, the better. Our discussions led to the set of beliefs that you will find below.  Networks do matter - a lot!

So what is happening next? The case studies from the 2011-2012 schools have been posted on the website and within the next little while we are planning to get small grants out to as many of these schools as we can with the proceeds from last year's seminar. The video clips from the seminar are also posted and we encourage you to check them out.  We know that many school districts find ways to acknowledge and support the dedication of network schools. This local recognition is hugely important and greatly valued.

Any school in the province is welcome to be part of the network. All it takes is a commitment to the core beliefs of the network and a curiosity for learning. A guideline for inquiry as well as templates for school questions are available on the website.

Here's what the network leadership team sees as the core beliefs. We hope you agree.

Networks of Inquiry and Innovation*

Core Beliefs

It is our moral purpose to create a system where every learner crosses the stage with dignity, purpose and options.

We want learners to leave our schools and our learning settings as curious as when they arrive.

To sustain and encourage curiosity in young learners requires that they learn from and with adults who are also curious.

Learner well-being – intellectually, physically, emotionally, socially, spiritually and environmentally – matters.

Social responsibility and the development of democratic citizens matter to us as Canadians.

The imperative of meeting the needs of every learner is simply too challenging for any one teacher, school or district to do in isolation.

Aboriginal education is for everyone. The Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network provides a critical space for educators to explore questions related to changing outcomes for Aboriginal learners AND to deepening knowledge, understanding and respect among all learners of all ages.

A persistent emphasis on learner self and co-regulation and ownership of learning creates coherence within and across the networks.

The relentless focus on the six key formative assessment strategies provide a framework for inquiry action - and for learner engagement.

Engaging adults in inquiry inspires life-time professional curiosity.

Creating a learning space that is not bound by roles or associations can help educators to do their best work. Networks cannot be mandated or contrived. Participation is always voluntary. Networks are always open.

Continually asking What is going on for our learners? How do we know? and Why does this matter? ensures that inquiries are focused on the experiences of learners (and not the interests of adults – no matter how exciting these might be).

Demonstrating how much difference the inquiry has made to the learners  - and their learning - based on thoughtful learning progressions (the BC performance standards) creates a shared sense of responsibility for results.

Documenting the outcomes of school level inquiry through case studies and public showcases builds confidence in the process and also helps to link knowledge and practice.

The seven key learning principles provide a framework for ensuring that our innovative efforts are genuinely evidence-informed and substantive.

Small recognition grants to schools that commit to learning with other schools and then make their learning public are important. Recognition grants communicate that the efforts of a single community is genuinely valued and that their work is part of purposeful, on-going provincial community.

Face-to-face meetings are necessary for building coherence and community.  On-line communities and technology-enhanced communication create additional and vital opportunities for networking and collaboration.

Having a consistent template for generating inquiries and for case studies helps in creating coherence.

* We use the term Networks of Inquiry and Innovation to include what we referred to previously as the Network of Performance Based Schools, as well as the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network, the Healthy Schools Network and recently  the international network of Innovative Learning Environments.