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Transformative Inquiry


welcome the awkwardness


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Interactive 2.2 Humble-bees partial summary of their inquiry process

Humble-bees


Jill and Heather both had challenging practicum placements. Heather worked in a small elementary school and she enjoyed her experience.

I felt like I did follow my path with heart. I was shown the way by the amazing staff at the designated inner-city school. Some of the kids had among the most difficult situations I have ever come across (ESL, culture shock, kids who have seen war, kids who are afraid of police, extreme cases of poverty, abusive relationships, anxiety issues, and learning disabilities to name a few.) Giving students a safe space to be kids, to be creative, to have ownership over before and after school, and making sure that community initiatives are there to support them is a very challenging role. The teachers were a source of inspiration every day.



Jill’s practicum was in an elementary resource room in a rural northern BC First Nations community. Her experience was traumatic and frustrating.

[In this setting] the faults and detriments of living with values of consumption and capitalism couldn’t have been more exemplified. I saw the effects of violence, poverty and greed perpetuated through a system without any ways out. I saw these affects through the tantrums, bullying, and behavioural struggles of the troubled, vulnerable and resilient children I taught everyday. And my role? Damage control. I became one more band-aid to a very neglected and damaged history.


I had a general sense of what I was going into, but truthfully, I was blindsided by the unexpected… As for following my path with heart? The reasons behind my being [in this] isolated… school became very foggy. I began to doubt myself – my capabilities and my passion to become a teacher… My mentor teacher’s approach to discipline entailed yelling constantly and commanding control of the class through endless reprimands. He also used a reward system where students would earn points for quality of work or effort. These two methods sharply contrast my preferred teaching style. Forget intrinsic learning, or even reading for fun. We were in damage control.


Fortunately for Jill, near the end of her practicum she was invited into other classrooms in the school and had some positive teaching and mentoring experiences. Nevertheless, Jill left her practicum thinking, “Maybe teaching isn’t my gig.” In their first mentoring session, Jill was reassured that this uncertainty was not something she would have to hide.

Mentor: Yeah, so know that I am familiar with and comfortable having conversations about maybe you don’t want to be a teacher, right? I’ve had those kinds of conversations with other people. Just because this is a teacher ed. program, doesn’t mean that everyone should leave it and be teachers… There’s something here that’s interesting for you, right? And so I’m happy to have that be part of this conversation if it’s appropriate, and it feels like what you want to do.



While Heather and Jill began their inquiry process alone, they soon discovered their common concerns and questions.

  • How do we educate at-risk students most effectively?
  • Where are the gaps in the system and how do we fill them?
  • What are tried and true methods for these kids?
  • What is the history of inclusion/resource rooms and where is it headed?
  • What qualities make a person a successful resource room teacher?

Both Jill and Heather wanted to continue working with learners who were academically or socially at risk of being unsuccessful in school. They wanted to boost their confidence and gather more practical information around all that they had experienced. Both were frustrated over what they saw as lacking educational situations for these kids. Together, they began to explore support networks, and adaptive programs, motivational practices. The mentor sessions became an extension of this work as the mentor bore witness to their wonderings and walked alongside as difficult topics arose.

Heather: It’s so hard... ‘Cause you don’t want to pre-judge a kid, right? … I had a kid who was like this little red-headed boy and you know, almost looks Scottish and then you meet his brothers and they’ve got the same facial structure and they’re very clearly Arabic and the entire family was from like a really terrible part of the middle east – I can’t remember which part but this kid had seen war. You know, like jumped over dead bodies and I had no clue. Sometimes he… was just kind of like a jokester kid and [would] give everybody a hard time. But after finding that out I was – it didn’t really affect anything but –


Mentor: But it helps you understand what they might be seeing in the world? Or what lens they might be looking through?Jill: Or what strategy they’re using to deal with that, right?Mentor: And you know [with] something like that, hopefully it’s not that we shy away from questions, conversations about war or these big, difficult topics, but that we’re mindful of it.


For many pre-service teachers, practicum is a place where they get some of their first glimpses of the deep pain and suffering in the world. Jill and Heather took the time and space that the TI course offered in order to explore these difficult landscapes courageously and with humble honesty. They had seen much grief in their placements and needed to talk about it. They attended actively, and listened generously, to issues that others might have felt were taboo; hence the name that the research team gave to them, humblebees. Spending time discussing their concerns together, they were able to learn much from their different perspectives, and gradually, Heather and Jill began to ask new questions.

  • What exactly are we teaching?
  • What is the purpose of education?
  • When/How does it vary?
  • What is happiness?

Heather: I believe that the purpose of education is to give the students what it is they need to lead successful lives. And if that’s being able to have a strategy to deal with your anger issues then that’s what that child needs. Whereas other children might need extra challenging assignments in order to feel like they’re getting the full benefit out of their learning.


Jill: I think that I would just use… the idea of “successful” because the thing that keeps coming back is what does that mean? I would say [success means having] the tools to live happy lives, because so much of their lives are, you know, too much anyways, right? And then people have this idea that just with some hard work these kids can become like these miracle situations.


Heather: And I guess in even saying “happy,” like, you can’t give a child a happy life. So it really comes down to maybe being a functional member of society you know, and being able to have the skills to interact with another individual in order to get your basic needs met, or whatever…


Jill: I think for me, I don’t know what you’re thinking but for a starting point I want to make a picture of what you know, happy, successful is. Like what the goal is, what is an ideal result for these students that have a tough time? What does that look like? …Not necessarily the ideal student but what are we trying to give them, [what are our] goals?Heather: Yeah.


Jill: Some sort of goals. Although that’s kind of funny because that’s sort of the tough thing again right? Heather: You can make it circular too right? Cause it doesn’t have to be this ultimate goal and now you’re successful. It can be like, here are things that will help you get through and continue on and keep going.


Mentor: And so one of your goals might be to have them be able to be flexible in different situations or something like that? You’re sort of redefining the basics here, right? It’s not just that you want them to read and write and do their arithmetic. You want them to have certain life skills and I think [you might begin] drawing a picture of what those life skills are. … If we don’t even imagine it, then how do we move towards it? So right now what these kids need is people really imagining what could be. And then, you know some creative thinking about how ideas could be enacted.



These concerns led Jill and Heather to interview teachers who do similar work, and to pay attention to their own beliefs, values and attitudes.

Heather: You were saying that a lot of these inquiries…often turn inward, you know? And I can see that. I can see that really clearly because if you don’t know… what is the point for yourself, what is your purpose and what are you doing, right, how are you supposed to communicate that to kids? And I think that they pick that up, they just soak it up. And it’s a long year right?



Heather and Jill decided to continue this line of thinking in their GIC sharing with their peers.

We both had similar experiences with school, in that our school lives were easy (sometimes to the point of boredom) and we felt that recognizing that this is not the case for so many students was a valuable lesson for us. It is one thing to know that intellectually and another thing to see and experience this in the classroom…


  • How do we effectively educate “at Risk Youth?”
  • [What are] systems that work and systems that fail?
  • What is beneficial for students in elementary school? In high school?
  • How do we start changing the system?

After their GIC, Jill reflected on their activity:

Our Guided Inquiry Conversation has led our inquiry down new paths with entirely new (yet interconnected) aspects of teaching. We began the conversation with behavior management [using] a Behaviour Management Car as an analogy to take control of thoughts and actions; as well as a Control Matrix to assist a child in ‘self-regulating’ their attitudes, level of responsibility and sense of self worth. These analogies were well received by our colleagues, and we assumed our conversations would continue in a positive pattern.


Our next activity required teachers to work together to come up with solutions for scenarios. These situations were based on real situations [we] experienced [in our practica]. The amount of conversation wasn’t exactly what we had anticipated. It was almost as if people were nervous about discussing these troubling questions. The level of discomfort among our colleagues was clearly visible. People did not want to talk about these problems.


At the end of class, Heather brought up that this level of discomfort was apparent, and as long as people recognized that the issues exist [they think] that’s enough. But it’s not really enough. Yes, we must create recognition but the next step is to CARE ENOUGH to do something about it.


I have a bias that middle white class privilege shrouds our perception. It is hard work to help out someone when it might mean losing the stability you have for yourself. Not many people felt the need to be ‘self-sacrificing’ like that. I wonder if I have enough self-confidence, courage and balance in my life, to be one of the few.


Heather and Jill were practical and also thoughtful about these complex and relevant issues. They highlighted the apathy they saw around them, but had a quiet determination to make a difference. Some of their journey, including challenges and practical ideas, are demonstrated in these final summary images.

Jill concluded the course by writing about the importance of TI as a vehicle for her growth as a teacher.

My perception has been blown wide open! From my initial ‘path with heart’ to now, I feel my role as ‘teacher-researcher-learner’ is expanding to unfathomable destinations, and new discoveries. I am continually inspired to find out more, to understand, and to learn. With this new perception of Transformative Inquiry I intend to keep looking even when it hurts to look. I will be daring and do what it takes to get down to the nitty-gritty… and hang out in the mess until it begins to make sense. It will be ok to be uncomfortable. I will find contentedness knowing this inquiry never ends, but takes on new shapes, ideas and ways of understanding. It is a powerful process. It means growing. It means living.



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