A culture of inquiry is “an organizational culture and environment where there is a zeal for questioning and learning; a quest to understand and constantly improve the status quo” (Stichler, 2018, page 10). As such, this culture requires a work environment where all members play an important role in the success of the organization and members are excited to stretch the boundaries of what is typical to what is possible. A culture of inquiry is built on a welcoming climate of trust and validation where teachers can advance their practice through asking questions of themselves and of their fellow teammates.
In the classroom, a culture of inquiry begins with following children’s lead as scientists! It involves opening ourselves up to the unknown and embracing wonderment as a tool to build learning. What better models of inquiry than our fearless and ever-curious young children!
In the Early Science Initiative, just as teachers are supporting children in learning through inquiry, teachers themselves will be supported in learning through inquiry as educators. Positioning teachers as learners is a critical paradigm shift that is at the crux of quality educational systems and effective teaching (Fullan, 2007). A culture of inquiry positions everyone as a learner, wherein we approach problems with questions, and explore answers in collaborative, often experimental ways.
At the organizational level, developing a culture of inquiry requires transformational leadership, healthy debate, license to experiment, collegiality and sharing, and ongoing reflection (Morris, 2017). When leaders engage teachers in decision-making and value their insight, interests, and ideas (i.e., transformational leaders) teachers feel empowered, motivated, and valued. This authentic approach to problem-solving is also effective because it allows solutions to be designed, tested, and modified for each new challenge that may arise.
In ESI, we facilitate our communities of practice through cycles of inquiry. We start with a question that provokes us to look for a solution. Then, we collaboratively create a plan to support change. Next, we test out our plan to see if it works! Finally, we come back together to reflect, allowing us to adjust, revise our approach, and discover new inquiries that will drive our efforts toward continuous quality improvement.