Deepening the Inquiry (synopsis of spring workshop)

Here are notes on the April 2011 workshop of the Teachers’ Center for Democratic Inquiry (which has since become the Teachers’ Inquiry Project — read about it here.)

Deepening the Inquiry  (synopsis)

April 2, 2011

“And something weird is goin on, I can feel it in my chest.”

-Toni Cade Bambara, “The Lesson”

Where does learning take place in our lives?  Where is learning taking place within ourselves?  How do others spark our learning, and what are the processes by which learning grows?  These were some of the hundreds of questions that moved through the room in the second workshop of the Teachers’ Center for Democratic Inquiry, held April 2, 2011 at Jane Addams Hull House Museum in Chicago.

The TCDI workshops of 2010-2011 were designed to bring together teachers from a wide variety of school contexts to reflect on practice and imagine how teachers’ ongoing learning can contribute to education as a sustaining and sustainable life.  The first workshop centered around four processes; the first three were processes of reflection based in dialogue: Civic Reflection; Matrix Leadership; Descriptive Review.  The fourth element of the first workshop was envisioning the Center.  The TCDI conveners worked with the ideas, perspectives, and stories shared in the first workshop to develop a business plan and to plan for a second workshop, focused on delving more deeply into teachers’ questions about their own learning and about the relationship between teachers and students.

Inquiry builds alliances, networks, and power.

–        TCDI Spring workshop participant

The complexity of teachers’ work, holding together the individual and the collective, the personal and the political, the intellectual and the physical, has much in common with the field of social work, which took shape in Chicago under the leadership of Jane Addams and the Settlement movement.  Thus it was important for the conveners of the Teachers’ Center for Democratic Inquiry that the Spring Workshop, “Education: Deepening the Inquiry,” was held in the original Settlement Dining Hall of the Jane Addams Hull House Museum.  Jane Addams’ work was a key inspiration for TCDI planners, who agreed with Addams that “ Teaching… has to be diffused in a social atmosphere, information must be held in solution, in a medium of fellowship and good will…. It is needless to say that a Settlement is a protest against a restricted view of education.”  The TCDI workshop was designed to set reflection within the “social atmosphere” that supports, challenges, and helps to clarify the work of teachers.

Change comes from inside.

–        TCDI Spring workshop participant

We began with a discussion facilitated by Adam and Kelli of the Project on Civic Reflection.  Civic Reflection on Toni Cade Bambara’s “The Lesson” provided a good space for exploring the contexts of learning.  We discussed experiential education and school structures and the relationship between educational objectives and unintended consequences.  We argued over the intersections of individual learning and political education and the impact of the race of the teachers and students in the classroom.  We noticed who is heard in the classroom and how they get heard, and tried to notice who doesn’t get heard.

Does all inquiry ultimately become self-inquiry?  To solve a given problem you have to turn back to yourself and your values.

–        TCDI Spring workshop participant

After a hearty lunch of soul food, generously furnished by the McCormick Foundation and De Paul University School of Education, we re-gathered in small groups to share stories of inquiry.  Joan designed this Descriptive Review process to enable us to listen to one another’s recollections and to watch the patterns that emerged within and between the stories.  We discovered anew the riskiness of inquiry, the personal investment that makes it both urgent and unwieldy.  While inquiry often seems fraught with danger, groping in fields of uncertainty and experimentation in challenging authoritative sources of knowledge, even more dangerous is the suppression of the inquiry.

Empowerment is the ability to pursue questions about your interests

–        TCDI Spring workshop participant

We ended the day with Joby and Shanti facilitating a closing discussion on the implications of reflection for learning.  We explored questions about applications of teacher inquiry to students’ learning, the limits of institutionalized schooling, the development of the character of the teacher and the development of the student’s character, and the responsibility of the teacher in relation to student needs and society’s needs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s