The trusty American Heritage Dictionary defines inquiry as the "close examination of some matter in a quest for information or truth." Inquiry is more intense than simply asking a few questions—it requires that we actively pay attention and dig deeper.
Many of our CFG practices and procedures show a deep commitment to fostering inquiry: we develop focusing questions, we clarify, we probe.
Practicing descriptive inquiry, through activities such as the Collaborative Assessment Conference and Descriptive Review, has the potential to disrupt our patterns of habitual thinking and help us see aspects of our practice more clearly. Engaging in descriptive inquiry opens our imaginations to the possibilities of new ways of doing things.
Instead of using your meeting time to look at student work or explore dilemmas, why not take some time to get to know one student really well? The Descriptive Review of a Child can help you do this. The NSRF website states, "The process is not intended to solve a problem or change a child, rather it allows us to know her better—and as a result use that knowledge to better meet her academic, social, or physical needs." Amazingly, getting to know one child better often gives us insights into many of our students.
Dear Donna: Last week I was in a meeting and Connections went on and on for almost 45 minutes. What should a coach do in this situation?
—PHIL IN FLORIDA
Dear Phil: This is a case where the response depends on the context. For example, if something disturbing happened at school that day, a group might need more time in Connections to personally respond to the event before moving on. Also, you might want to schedule more time for Connections at the last meeting of the year when groups want to share more feelings and have some closure before dispersing for the summer.
However, when a group is new, I tend to be more of a stickler for the suggested time frames in the written protocols. Sticking to the suggested times helps new participants learn what to expect, and it shows that you value the equitable conversations that protocols foster. The suggested times help us balance the needs of all the participants as we take turns speaking, listening, and reflecting in silence. Gentle reminders such as "Remember to speak once until everyone has had a turn" or "Remember we have a norm to watch our air time" are usually sufficient.
When in doubt, remember you can always pause for a "process check." A coach or participant can say something like, "Hey, I’ve noticed that we've strayed from our usual process. Does anybody object to that?" The responses that you get will help you decide whether to continue or draw that activity to a close and move on.
If you have questions for Dear Donna, send them to CFGCoach@houstonaplus.org. Donna Reid is a Houston-based National CFG Facilitator and a consultant with Houston A+ Challenge.