Stu­dents ex­plor­ing the ‘why’

Lethbridge Herald - - HOMETOWN NEWS -

The “why” of school sys­tems is the moral im­per­a­tive of ev­ery­one who has the priv­i­lege of work­ing in a school sys­tem. Sim­ply put, it is the ab­so­lute and un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to do ev­ery­thing we can to serve the learn­ing needs of stu­dents. It is grounded in pas­sion for work­ing with chil­dren and youth and a com­pelling need to con­tinue to learn and im­prove our sys­tems, ser­vices to stu­dents, and in­struc­tional prac­tices.

As pointed out by su­per­in­ten­dent Chris Smeaton a few weeks ago in his col­umn, “Know­ing the why,” the fu­ture has not been de­fined for our stu­dents. We only know that com­pe­ten­cies such as crit­i­cal think­ing, cre­ativ­ity, in­no­va­tion, and the abil­ity to col­lab­o­rate and com­mu­ni­cate ef­fec­tively will be es­sen­tial for navigating suc­cess.

In or­der for stu­dents to grow th­ese com­pe­ten­cies, school sys­tems need to keep “why” at the cen­tre of learn­ing. Start­ing at about age two, tod­dlers flood par­ents with the ques­tion, “why.” The “why” ques­tion is one il­lus­tra­tion of the nat­u­ral cu­rios­ity that we are born with. There are times when the re­lent­less “why” ques­tion can make busy par­ents crazy, but it is a gen­uine ef­fort on the part of the child to grow un­der­stand­ing. So why do chil­dren stop ask­ing why, and why does cu­rios­ity wane as stu­dents get older and progress through the grades? Is it be­cause they have all the an­swers to nav­i­gate their world? Or is it be­cause we have taught them that there is a body of knowl­edge to ac­cess and know within a con­fined world of the present, and that it will be “taught” to them in due course? Have we in­stilled in them that you do not ask why if you are in­de­pen­dent and com­ply­ing with what is ex­pected? What is tra­di­tion­ally ex­pected in school? You will lis­ten and learn what is taught to you.

So what is wrong with lis­ten­ing and learn­ing? Noth­ing. But it is not enough, nor is it the par­a­digm of think­ing that will de­velop com­pe­ten­cies that lie out­side knowl­edge ac­qui­si­tion. Whether it is called crit­i­cal in­quiry, ac­tive learn­ing, in­no­va­tion projects, in­quiry­based learn­ing or cen­tre-based ex­plo­ration, in­struc­tional prac­tice is chang­ing in the class­room. There is grow­ing recog­ni­tion that we need to con­tinue to nur­ture and in­spire cu­rios­ity and keep the “why” of the world in the fore­front of stu­dent think­ing.

It is those who con­tin­u­ally seek to un­der­stand, who con­tinue to ask the “why” of the world who cre­ate, ex­plore, in­vent and be­come dy­namic thinkers. Our stu­dents will need to be dy­namic thinkers so they can re­spond to rapid change and en­gage in learn­ing through­out their lives as part of nat­u­ral growth. I am not say­ing that every stu­dent needs to be a great sci­en­tist, en­gi­neer, artist or in­ven­tor. But I am say­ing that those stu­dents who re­main cu­ri­ous, who ask the “why,” and en­gage in learn­ing as a nat­u­ral part of life, will be able to change jobs, use tech­nol­ogy ef­fec­tively and thrive on chang­ing de­mands.

As im­por­tant, or per­haps more im­por­tant, than hav­ing the mind­set to thrive as work­ers within a cul­ture of change, is ask­ing the “why” within their so­cial con­text. It is those who ques­tion ob­served in­equities that bring about pos­i­tive so­cial change. I feel con­fi­dent that with our col­lec­tive ef­fort to grow in­quir­ing minds as schools, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, that our chil­dren and grand­chil­dren will work to­gether to de­fine our world as a place where all chil­dren, re­gard­less of cir­cum­stance, will thrive and grow.

Ch­eryl Gil­more is the su­per­in­ten­dent of Lethbridge School Dis­trict No. 51.

Ch­eryl Gil­more Each Wed­nes­day su­per­in­ten­dents from around our re­gion of­fer in­sights and news on the school sys­tem.

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