Recently, we listened to an episode called "Revolutionary Leaders: Re-Imagine School" on the Reboot Revolution podcast that we thought was especially illuminating. A conversation between four Mesa, Arizona public school leaders, it featured Area Superintendent Dr. Randy Mahlerwein, Principal of Zaharis Elementary Mike Oliver, and two of our friends, Riverview High School Principal Greg Mendez and Westwood High School Principal Chris Gilmore.
Reboot Revolution is produced by Mesa Public Schools, and hosted by teacher Carrie Seather. Its goal, as explained on its website, is an admirable one: to have "conversations with radical educators who are allowing 21st Century skills to inspire their practice." And this particular conversation was definitely radical -- it was all about reimagining what school could -- and should -- be like.
Mesa Public Schools is on a journey to be one of the first districts in the United States to integrate inquiry-based learning at every school. Inquiry-based learning is a type of active (non-lecture) learning that has students pose questions or problems and find their own answers.
Adopting inquiry learning district-wide is Dr. Randy Mahlerwein’s goal and one of the key approaches he’s having Mesa Public Schools take to reflect their Portrait of a Graduate initiative, or "the essential attitudes and skills (see the image to the right) students need to graduate" and be "ready for college, career and community." By promoting students' agency in their own learning, inquiry changes the mindset of the classroom. It creates a space where every student and their ideas are equally welcomed and encouraged.
The group talked about asking a big question, such as "What makes a musician iconic?", and how what's important is not necessarily answering the question, but the process of answering the question -- how teachers teach the process, and let students have agency in researching, enabling them to develop critical thinking and collaboration skills, and become more interested, engaged, and enthusiastic as they immerse themselves in the learning process.
They also discussed how traditionally, school depends on test scores and individualism, but the real world is about teamwork and figuring out problems -- so why do we wait until students get out of high school to let them practice these skills? And equally as interesting was a point about America's sports-driven culture -- aka, teamwork-driven culture -- yet school doesn't seem to reflect that. In order for students to become problem identifiers, as opposed to simply problem solvers, and critical thinkers, school needs to be reimagined to be student-centered and focused on personalized learning and listening to student voices.
As challenging as this may sound, Mesa Public Schools are already in the process of changing the education system. This summer, Riverview and Westwood teachers attended a 1-week training with Dr. Lindy Elkins-Tanton and Beagle to use inquiry learning in all subjects and student success team projects (teams of 9th graders work together in an inquiry project for a class hour per week throughout their high school careers to increase achievement, belonging, and academic success). To support teachers to innovate, push through fear, and shift to active, inquiry-based learning, Beagle provided resources to these teachers, experiencing inquiry learning from a firsthand perspective, a workbook of templates and rubrics (such as the QPI rubric), and plenty of coaching and working sessions to help teachers apply inquiry-based learning to high school Math, Science, English, Art, Social Studies, and even PE. Using these resources, teaching teams created process plans (instead of lesson plans) to explain the steps that students will go through to learn and grow as thinkers.
As the podcast group said, change isn't just about Mesa Public Schools -- it's about making a better Mesa. It makes a lot of sense -- if you can transform schools, you can transform cities, which can lead to transforming countries, which can then lead to transforming the world. Suffice it to say, we're feeling pretty inspired by the transformative power of inquiry.
To listen to the conversation, check out the episode!