The Inquiring Leaders

As I mentioned in an earlier post, last night I was the presenter for Inquiry to practice collaborative (IPC) at PennGSE. I presented the text of a REAL School design team meeting from last spring and the group conducted descriptive review. (Some additional tools: here’s the most general explanation I could find and this is a great set of tools for educators looking at student work).

The protocol we used last night were similar to what is discussed in the explanation:

  1. Introduction:
    1. Context – Gabe explains the larger context of the REAL School project and the composition of the design team
    2. Specific setting – Gabe explains the context for the specific meeting that is under review.
  2. J.C.: Focusing question – How are decisions being made by this group?
  3. Clarifying Questions: J.C. fields Clarifying questions (and Gabe shuts up)
  4. Focusing word: deliberation – the group brainstorms all of the words that connect for them to deliberation
  5. Begin Rounds:
    1. Read aloud: Turn by turn, then paraphrased
    2. Pointing: Go back to the focusing question: How does this group make decisions about practice?  Go around the room and point to specific issues in the transcript.
    3. Patterns and themes: Go around the group again, this time members identify patterns or themes from across the text
    4. Questions: Not for Gabe to answer, but questions about decision-making that the transcript seems to beg
    5. Discussion of data: Not evaluative, still descriptive, but free form.  Open conversation, open observations
  6. Ask Gabe what has stood out for him, about the experience,  What he heard.  Things he is now wondering about, insights he had, perplexities, etc.
  7. The group debriefs about the leadership process or other subjects that people will bring up

The members of the IPC dispassionately examined every word that I spoke or misspoke. They noticed the complex interaction of personal values and professional theories. They noticed that I and another member of my team are working together to drown-out the opinions of a third member. More importantly, they noticed the subtle decision-making that was going on in the way that the design team defined, organized and categorized words. Decision-making, the members of the IPC pointed out, was also occurring through the deliberative testing of theoretical and practical conceptual models.

As I have invested myself in the study of my own practice, that practice is most certainly changing. As I walk or take the subway to and from school, I listen to REAL meetings on my headphones. I can hear myself talking for stretches that are uncomfortably long and/or loud or problematically off topic. Sometimes I can also hear myself not talking, letting others take charge of the conversation and perhaps I can slowly hear myself learning to not answer questions but to ask them.

I am inquiring into my own personal leadership practices and I am also leading inquiry into our team practices. At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to James H. Lytle (aka “Torch Lytle” also my long-time advisor). In his book, Working for Kids: Education Leadership as Inquiry and Invention, Torch describes the impact of the system of inquiry and learning he created when he was superintendent in Trenton:

However, it wasn’t the reports as much as the process that was important. Teachers, principals, and central office bureaucrats had the opportunity to spend a week in a school or office other than their own, trying to determine how well that school or office is doing at providing a supportive and effective learning environment. They had a chance to talk in depth about curriculum, teaching, and learning. The had the experience of crossing traditional boundaries and conventions as we all learned together” (p. 109)

At REAL Schools we hope not only to cross traditional boundaries, but to transform those boundaries and create entirely new networks of responsibility and collaboration.


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