I struggle: lessons I’ve learned from being an inquiry teacher

8475376072_bd2422be64_nFriday afternoon, while sitting in an airport, I read a  recent post by George Couros entitled “I’m tired“. I was incredibly impressed, not just because he’s a friend, but because of the sheer audacity & frankness of his words.  How often are people in leadership that honest?  Reflecting on that post for the past three days has led me to writing this post.

I struggle.  I struggle with where I am & what I’m doing. I struggle with the educational system as we know it. I struggle with the painfully slow pace of change.  I struggle with people in power who say they care about kids, but don’t do the hard things to make a really huge difference in creating a learning environment that matters.  With all the research that exists, we know what’s good for kids. Let’s not pretend otherwise. I’m tired of all of the talking and very little of the doing. All the tinkering and cosmetic changes in education mean little. Having Macbooks in a classroom means nothing if they’re little more than a glorified pencil.

Part of this struggle has likely been prompted by my PhD.  At times I feel like I’ve enterd the Matrix.  Systems of power become apparent, and either I have the choice to deny what I’ve seen, or struggle with the sense of disillusionment in light of the truth.  I’ve thought about quitting a billion times, which my supervisor tells me is normal.  That’s not comforting. Sometimes I’m tired. Sometimes I’m angry. Mostly I struggle.

So what does this have to do with being an inquiry teacher?  As much as we talk about inquiry being good for kids, it’s good for teachers too. I’ve grown a shocking amount during the past couple of years because of it.

First, I’ve learned how to struggle.  When I taught traditionally, I didn’t feel I could show the struggle, even though it was there under the surface.  Learning to struggle has helped me to ask questions, in fact, pursue them, even though I might not like the answer. We need inquiry classrooms because struggle is such a normal part of our lives, and kids need to see it modelled and embraced as something good and life sustaining.  When we stop struggling, we stop growing.

Secondly, I’ve learned that I don’t have to be in control. That’s a big deal.  Here’s why: I’ve been teaching for almost ten years, and I’ve had a dawning awareness over the past while that I want to do something else. Not necessarily leave education. I’m passionate about education. But I want to do something else, and at this point, I don’t know what that is.

I want to do something new — likely in the area of my ed tech degree. Something not in a traditional classroom. I’ve even thought, for the first time, possibly something in higher ed. I want to do something that requires me to grow & stretch, at times to the point where I feel like I might shatter.

This is really surprising to me. For most of my teaching career I thought I would put in my 30 years, retire, and then move on to something else.  Safe. Easy. And it comes with a great pension. Sometimes life requires more risk than that. Becoming an inquiry teacher, I’ve learned to take risks.  Not necessarily not to be afraid, but to keep going despite the fear. I want to do something innovative that pushes the edge, where I can collaborate, take risks, have things fall apart & then figure out how to make it work. I’ve come to the conclusion that a change of this nature will probably require my family to move, most likely out of the province.  I’ve lived here my entire life, which leads to the next lesson.

I’m okay with the ambiguity & the mess.  I don’t know all the details.  A couple of years ago that would’ve freaked me out. But one of the great things about teaching in an inquiry classroom is that you never know what’s going to happen. On the flip side, one of the scary things about teaching in an inquiry classroom is that you never know what’s going to happen.  I’ve learned to roll with the punches, to improvise, to problem-solve when things get messy and the path seems unclear.

And at this point, that’s all I know.

About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. Furthermore, I am Buck Institute for Education National Faculty member
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19 Responses to I struggle: lessons I’ve learned from being an inquiry teacher

  1. jim says:

    It’s really great to read your blog! This post resonates with exactly how I’m feeling at the moment (if not for the same reasons, of course!). Taking risks is hard work, but I am often reminded of a quote I keep up in my classroom. “One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore.” (André Gide).

  2. sheilamoris says:

    Wow Shelley, I love this piece. Its great to hear all about your struggles and to think this all came out of hearing George @gcouros say he is tired! Its good that folks feel they can share honestly about the struggles. You are teaching a lot of people what inquiry teaching is all about and are having more influence than you know. We appreciate your leadership. Learning to be comfortable with the ambiguity and the mess is all part of it. All the best with your doctorate. You have bitten off an awful lot. I hope you are too far in to back out now.

  3. cat says:

    This is amazing and the line “Systems of power become apparent, and either I have the choice to deny what I’ve seen, or struggle with the sense of disillusionment in light of the truth.” really resonated with me. I even quoted you in a facebook status!! I struggle as well, with all of the things you mentioned. I struggle with the frustration of people who keep saying they don’t have enough time to care. And I’ve only been teaching for 2 years!

  4. Johblogs says:

    Shelly I can’t tell you how soothing this post is for me. Thanks for the honesty and grit:).

  5. Lisa Noble says:


    Thanks so much. I needed to read your post (and George’s) this week, because I am tired, and I am struggling. Part of it is that it’s February, and February is when I always ask if this is really where I want to be, and what I want to do. There are all kinds of external factors going on, as well, as there are for everybody. But thank you for sharing the fact that you’re struggling, and questioning, and thinking about what comes next. If we are going to be at our best, we need to do that, and yes, we need to help our students learn to struggle along with us, so that they can be at their best, too.

    Wishing you luck along the path “less traveled by”, and hoping things gradually begin to make themselves clearer. Thanks for choosing to fly, when you could so easily walk, and for encouraging others to do the same.

  6. Samantha L. Hines says:

    I FEEL you loud and clear, Shelley! I am a Teacher in Residence. I’m not sure if that’s anything like a inquiry teacher but I would like to know more. I would love to call you for a brief exchange. When is the best time for you? How do I reach you?

    Waiting patiently;

    Samantha Hines Teacher in Residence Human Capital Strategies

    Spaugh Administrative Center 1901 Herbert Spaugh Ln. Charlotte, NC, 28208 980-344-7179 samantha.hines@cms.k12.nc.us ________________________________________

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  8. Pingback: I struggle: lessons I've learned from being an inquiry teacher | Inquiry Education | Scoop.it

  9. Pingback: I struggle: lessons I've learned from being an inquiry teacher | Wright ... | School Library Learning Commons | Scoop.it

  10. Al Smith says:

    Reblogged this on reflectiveteacher2012 and commented:
    I recently attended a teacher evaluation meeting and was taken aback by a few observations very appropriate to this blog because after 32 diverse and rewarding years, I too see myself as an inquiry teacher. At the dinner meeting, graciously hosted by my administrators, a cohort of teachers shared their Personal Growth Plans- an optional process for professional evaluation. I listened to brief reports from teachers that were indicative of some very sincere, passionate and progressive teaching practices and goals. Motivating examples of fellow colleagues, young and old, striving to provide excellent opportunities for teens. I disappointedly also recognized some flaws in how we provide professional development and deliver programs in our public school. I also heard our Principal and Vice Admin share their PGP work. hearing them share what they aspire to do to improve was a rewarding few moments. These passionate people, teachers and administrators, , like George Couros writes, have tired days. It’s a difficult task educating children in our complex times. We are tired. I suppose if we are not something isn’t right, yet we must find balance to remain effective and healthy. Each educator has unique challenges. As a teacher-librarian, my role is diverse and often misinterpreted but the inquiry teacher is more meaningful and also challenging than ever. I’m tired. 🙂 I seek long term collaboration and service but also get inundated hourly with the pressing needs of students and staff. Specialist, non-enrolling teachers are ducks out of water in our system in many ways yet they provide critical support in so many ways. The recent swing to inquiry process and project based learning, along with the technology web2.0 tsunami, has really put my expertise and roving access under demand. I’m tired. 🙂 So when I read Couros’ blog post and now Shelly Wright’s response, I was again rejuvenated by this new connected learning paradigm that allows me to stay engaged with such intelligent professionals so far away and yet so close to home. I’m tired but never feel alone. My school colleagues, my admin team and my PLN have given me new perspectives. If you are not connected to educators online you should be because the support, wisdom and joy of the fraternity refreshes those fatiguing days. Thanks George. Thanks Shelley. Thanks team.

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  12. kringrose says:

    Dear Shelley
    Thanks so much for this particular blog – it rang many bells with me. I’ve been teaching for 20 years and have just – this year – moved into the ‘ official inquiry zone’ having taught in non-inquiry schools before but always found myself inquiring anyway because that is what I do! I hear you when you say it’s a struggle – it is! But what a joyful struggle to have! My struggle is with the people who don’t realise how good they have it and still insist on filling these children with what they think is the right thing – your comments about power, legislation and the structure of schooling rang clear with me too – It is so very frustrating when those who make those top decisions haven’t got a clue what they are doing and how badly their ill thought out decisions impact the rest of us, mostly the children though. Fortunately – really fortunately, I am in a school which has the most supportive LMT but I’m still scarred from a place that didn’t! – I hear you!
    Thank you for your honesty and your reflection, it made me reflect!!
    I’m a new blogger myself and was encouraged by your thought – thank you!

  13. Thank you very much for the post, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    It’s important to be reminded that struggling is natural and necessary, asking questions is part of the learning process and failing is too.
    Thank you again, all the best.

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  16. Hi Shelley,

    I reblogged this, feeling an affinity for the sincerity of your reflections as you search for something elusive, something that is not here, where you are now. Reflection brings you closer, closer to yourself, discovering more and more about what gives you satisfaction as an inquiry teacher. I enjoyed the metaphor about inquiry being enormously scary, and at the same time, enormously wonderful. Enjoy your journey, don’t worry so much with where the destination may lie. Eventually, it’s all about the journey…

    Yes, thank you, for your honesty, because it’s rare to find in the raw form you shared it with us here. You let me, the reader, look inside of you, and find a kindred spirit. Enjoy the journey.


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