In BC for the past 14 years, school improvement Planning was carried by our School Planning Council or SPC for short. SPCs were mandated to be in place in all schools by the Ministry of Education and were comprised of representatives from parents, teachers and administration. Ideally, SPCs were designed to be an inclusive process with teachers, parents and administration, but in reality, this did not occur in many school districts for a variety of reasons, one being the BC Teacher's Federation recommendation that teachers not participate. As a result, two separate processes came to be, one for the teaching staff and one for the parents, leaving administrators in the middle trying to bridge the gap between parents and teachers.
In the Central Okanagan Public Schools, the SPC process was overall a positive one as administrators did a good job of consulting both teachers and parents, and in many cases only needed one group to work with, as teachers chose to participate alongside parents.
SPCs developed a plan for improving student achievement and setting goals. The SPC was also consulted on a number of other school policies around class size and composition, code of conduct, and other emergent issues.
As of May 2016, the Ministry of Education removed the requirement for schools to have an SPC. Our district believes strongly that although there no longer exists a formal SPC, important discussions about what is going on in the school with regards to improving student learning need to continue to happen and that parents, teachers and administration need to continue to work together to set goals and monitor student learning.
To that end, the process our district has chosen for setting goals is based on the idea of inquiry. Inquiry is about being open to new learning and taking informed action.
So, why choose Inquiry as the vehicle for school improvement? Traditionally, the school planning process has been a positive experience that has focused on data collection and data analysis, and then putting in systems or programs to improve that data. Schools would improve their data, or not, and would adjust strategies and goals as needed from year to year. Data is still central to school improvement, but what Inquiry adds to this overall process is a real focus on systems of professional learning over time that is rooted in curiousity about individual student needs. Inquiry is a systemic and informed approach to school improvement that involves all stakeholders in a school community – school administration, staff, students, and parents/guardians – to be involved in this transformative process. School districts around the world have been using Inquiry to guide their practice for some time, and as a result have been seeing more authentic and meaningful school improvement occur.
The Spirals Of Inquiry is an Inquiry model out of British Columbia, stemming from the work of Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser. The model has us ask questions as a learning community to uncover what is really going on for our students in our classrooms, to structure professional learning around what will make a difference for our students, to take transformative action, and then to measure if it made enough of a difference. The Spirals is allows for constant checking and re-checking over time. By having our students at the center of our school's Inquiry, and by collaboratively tailoring learning and actions to improve their learning experience, our school will dynamically improve over time in a living, and breathing reflection of our school's learning journey.
Inquiry consists of six phases, which, it is important to note, are not linear in nature. That is, work can be done simultaneously in different domains at once.
Inquiry has six key stages: scanning, focusing, developing a hunch, new professional learning, taking action, and checking that a big enough difference has been made. At each stage in the spiral, three questions are asked:
• What is going on for our learners?
• How do we know?
• Why does this matter?
- A wide perspective on learning, informed by learning principles (OECD)
- Finding out what learners think and feel about their learning and
- what their families and communities perceive about their learning
Scanning is NOT:
- seeking evidence to reinforce the status quo
- Only looking at aspects of academic learning that are easily measured
- exclusively what the professionals think
- Using information from the scan to identify an area for concentrated team learning
- Gathering more information if you need it to understand the situation
- Building on strengths or positives, as well as clarifying challenges
- Identifying a common area that the team can work on together
Focusing is NOT:
- The time to introduce completely new areas disconnected from the scanning process
- About assuming you have it all figured out and do not need to investigate any further
- Just about problems or challenges
- About everyone choosing his/her own area of interest
Developing a Hunch
Developing a hunch involves:
- Getting deeply held beliefs and assumptions out on the table about your own practices
- Focusing on things your team can do something about
- Checking your assumptions for accuracy before moving ahead
Developing a hunch is NOT:
- A general brainstorm of all possibilities
- Being obsessed with the actions of others or with issues over which you have limited influence
- Venting about the past, fuming about the present, or finding someone to blame
New Learning is:
- Tailored to the situation
- Directly linked to the focus identified earlier in the spiral
- Exploring and testing how new approaches could be better than previous practices
- Sustained and supported over time
New Learning is NOT:
- Pursuing the latest trends
- Disconnected from the context
- Uncritically adopting new ways without understanding the purpose
- A short-term or quick fix
Taking action involves:
- Learning more deeply about new ways of doing things and then trying them out
- Evaluating the impact on learners and seeking their feedback
- Building trust and cultivating a growth mindset
Taking action is NOT:
- Trying something new without considering its value and relevance in your situation
- Implementing without monitoring the effects on learners
- Assuming everyone feels OK about the change
- Knowing what you want to accomplish for your learners and having specific ways to determine how you are doing early in the inquiry process
- Setting high expectations that your actions will make a substantial difference for ALL learners
- Setting the stage for what comes next
Checking is NOT:
- A routine to follow at the end
- Seeking some difference for some learners
- Judging the capacity of learners to succeed
- Justifying your actions