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Emotional Engagement

Classrooms are never devoid of emotions. They are inhabited by students whose capacities to learn are not exclusively dependent on their cognitive aptitude, but are also reliant on their emotional and spiritual dispositions. Through the industrial model of education, teacher education programs have evolved to emphasize the rational, objective stance. This stance often does a disservice to inquirers. Whether educators acknowledge it or not, “emotional feelings in the classroom . . . over determines the conditions where learning can occur” (hooks, 2003, p.133). Using TI, we seek to dissolve the hierarchical binary forged between the rational and emotional. Indeed, “our thinking body is not separated from our feeling mind. Our mind is our body. Our body is our mind” (Meyer, 2008, p.223). If the purpose of education is to engage in a caring way with the earth, each other and our own souls, then we cannot expect newly minted teachers to teach what they have not experienced within an educational context. Hence, understanding and negotiating emotional terrain is an imperative aspect of the teacher education process for pre-service teachers to flourish in classrooms that are calling to be cared for.

The central question posed in the process of TI, “What do you really care about?” serves as an invitation to enter into our humanness as teachers. It reminds inquirers why they chose the teaching profession: not to become curriculum transmitters but, for most, to become positive change agents in their students’ lives. TI asks learners to follow and explore the visceral aspects of their inquiry question, into areas that can be knotted with complexity and deeply personal. It is crucial for inquirers to honor their own emotions and whatever spiritual beliefs they may or may not have, if they are to engage meaningfully with their students.

Emotional engagement is fostered in various settings and levels, and is contingent on an individual’s disposition and willingness to engage in the process. Mentors try to shift the learners’ perception of their inquiry from being a strictly academic pursuit. If learning is a relational activity, then the affective is inextricably tied to what inquirers truly care about. Through one-on-one conversations mentors seek to validate inquirers’ passions and spur them forward in a significant inquiry journey that is both personal and professional.

Learners are encouraged to walk alongside each other with familiar and unfamiliar inquiry partners. These relationships can act as a catalyst for progressing into deeper relationality and connectivity as learners collectively move beyond the perils of a purely objective way of knowing. Indeed, objectivism can often be hazardous as it functions as a worldview that positions learners in an adversarial relationship to each other and the world (Palmer, 1993). TI intentionally facilitates activities that assist inquirers’ movement beyond a purely objective way of knowing towards a way that is based in authentic and interdependent learning communities.

Additionally, inquirers can use inquiry journals as an uncensored space that can serve as a dumping site for difficult emotions, tarnished memories, taboo questions, and a place to kindle the sparks of innovation.

While many learners embrace the opportunity to explore, as one past student notes, “the life behind emotions”, some prefer not to engage in emotional terrain for a variety of reasons. It is important to note that we do not coerce learners into emotional engagement; the intent is to offer a space where the learning spirit can develop in its fullness. Indeed, “there is no learning without emotion and challenge” (Paul Ylvisaker, 1992, as cited in Sergiovanni, 1994). We believe that teaching and learning are not strictly cerebral activities, but ones that are married to the matters of the heart.

Touchstone Stories

A touchstone is the name given to a smooth dark stone that, when rubbed against gold and silver, was once used to verify the quality of alloys. Figuratively, it has come to signify ‘that which serves to test or try the genuineness of anything’ (Oxford English Dictionary) . . . Such familiar markers are then used to judge the worth of other stories and experiences. (Strong-Wilson, 2008, p.95).

As you delve more deeply into the roots of your inquiry, you may find yourself asking: why do I care about this? Personal memories or stories can emerge as a crucial place to find emotional, spiritual and intuitive resonance, thus connecting in a different way to an inquiry topic. Touchstone stories may relate to a particular student, a learning experience, a life experience or a teaching situation.

Logos invites the researcher to dwell with the stories . . . to tease out the significance of the story for herself, and then for others who might read it (Chambers, 2004, p.12).

We align ourselves with Teresa Strong-Wilson’s notion of touchstone stories. However, we shift from Strong-Wilson’s focus on childhood literary touchstones into the fabric of inquirers’ lived narratives. For the purposes of TI the discourse we provide on touchstone stories is one in which a touchstone story is a past experience that brings meaning to an inquiry question. Dirx suggests that transformation is supported through paying attention to shadowy unconscious and interior thoughts (Dirx, Mezirow, & Cronton, 2006). These could help identify touchstone stories that contribute to our overall understanding of our inquiry topics. For example, one of Ashley’s touchstones (Anger collage from Chapter 2) was when her classroom teacher said her activity was for tree-huggers. And Gail (Popped Bubble from Chapter 2) had a touchstone story around a kindergarten friend.

We encourage inquirers to reach deeply into these stories and find personal significance, to dwell (Chambers, 2004) within these tender and emotional spaces.