Two years ago, inspired by the work of Harvey and Daniels, we began to experiment with a different approach to parent education, Community Inquiry Circles (CICs) . Our purpose? To engage our diverse, and somewhat transient parent community with the Core of JIS.
An inquiry circle is a learning strategy that allows a group of people to engage with concepts of interest, by inviting curiosity and the exploration of questions. It provides learners with choice about what to learn and a venue to construct knowledge based on what they already know and what they want to learn more about, as they share with others the joy of exploring a question of interest.
Appropriately, our first ever CIC session was led by Kath Murdoch, an inquiry teaching expert who has been supporting the application of contemporary teaching practices at our school. That first session sought to explore the question “How can I help my child learn how to learn?” Kath’s expertise set the stage for future CIC sessions, generating great enthusiasm and propagating the word around the community about the useful, engaging and productive nature of these sessions.
The power of modelling our pedagogical approach is by far one of the most salient points to share. Parents comment on how engaging the CICs are and how much they are learning from those who facilitate and those who join as learners. Facilitators reflect on their growth as leaders, teachers and learners by way of preparing, reflecting in action, and responding to adult learners in real time.
We can spend a lot of time writing articles for our bulletin, pointing parents to research, and presenting our views on teaching and learning, but the real value of why we teach the way we teach is communicated when we actually engage our parents, colleagues and ourselves as learners, thus modelling our beliefs and practices. Involving our parent and teaching community in the act of constructing new meaning has been a powerful tool to strengthen our core. The feedback we gather at each session indicates to us that we are on the right track. Yet we know that we are also not there yet. Perfection is not the aim. The journey is.
For those of you who might be interested in exploring this approach, please read below, and do let me know what you think.
How are the Community Inquiry Circles structured? How do they differ from presentations to parents?
Those who facilitate each CIC structure the session in a similar way to how we encourage our teachers to teach, by approaching the session through an inquiry lens. Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle has provided a flexible framework to support the work of our facilitators as they prepare the sessions. But in a nutshell, the sessions are more workshop based, than lecture based. Time is spent on tuning in to the learners in the group, to who they are, and to what they already know. The rest of the session demands the active participation in learning engagements, dialogue, researching and sharing that learning with others in the room. As facilitators, we prepare, knowing that less is more, and that the art will be in the facilitation of the conversation generated by the activities we have chosen.
How do CIC Topics get selected?
At the beginning of each year, we ask parents and teachers what questions they feel are worth pursuing as a community of learners. We do this via a survey but also by ending each CIC with an invitation to share further questions the group is interested in pursuing in future gatherings. Teachers and leaders also propose questions based on their sense of what might be important for our current community of parents. The intent here is to generate questions that are of interest to different segments of the community and varied in nature, so that choice and voice, two important elements of our program, remain as the cornerstone of this approach.
All questions gathered are sorted and organized so that the sessions can be scheduled in a logical manner. Here are some examples of questions pursued at our CICs:
- how does physical activity enhance cognition and learning?
- what do we know about language acquisition?
- how can we support our struggling readers?
How often do CICs take place?
When we first started this journey, we offered one CIC a month. The sessions have become so popular, they are now held every two weeks on average. Visiting authors and/or other consultants the school brings to work with our teachers and students also have the opportunity to engage with parents during our regularly scheduled CICs.
Who facilitates the Community Inquiry Circles?
Once the topics/questions are organized, the table containing the inquiries generated by parents and educators is shared with our faculty. Volunteer facilitators are sought and others encouraged to co-facilitate sessions. As the success of our approach gets noticed by many, the number of those interested in facilitating has increased, with some even adding their own questions to the pool being considered.