One of the major shifts for teachers as they use something like the Inquiry Learning Plan (ILP) is being learners everyday with and for their students. The ability to ask great questions and guide students through each step of the plan is challenging and requires that teachers be, as Will Richardson in his book Why School? suggests, “master learners.” Now, this term sounds a bit intimidating; I certainly don’t consider myself a “master” of learning; however, Richardson’s call for teachers to be role models for learning and to be learners even before content-area teachers is a core concept behind the ILP:
Teachers need to be great at asking questions and astute at managing the different paths to learning that each child creates. They must guide students to pursue projects of value and help them connect their interests to the required standards. And they have to be participants and models in the learning process.
The ILP requires this type of participation and modeling. Students are asking their own questions and learning how to revise their learning plans as they go. They are designing their own activities and reflecting on their learning. Teachers must be steeped in being a learner both personally and educationally in order to orchestrate it, which requires being open to ambiguity and risk. Knowing content deeply is of course important, but the variety of the work students are doing and the type of guidance they require needs an expertise in learning of content and beyond content. Along with being a learner, Will believes that educators need to “transfer the power.” As he explains,
If we expect our kids to be able to own their own learning, find their own teachers, create their own classrooms, and find other students to learn with, then we need to make sure they have opportunities to do these things in school. But gaining real experience in doing them requires that teachers give students the license to dive in.
We’ve written previously about how the ILP gives students control of their own learning. Through it, teachers can prepare students to learn on their own: devising strategies for learning, overcoming pitfalls, and being open to other perspectives. They can begin to “create their own classrooms” while still under the guidance of a more experienced learner and within a community of other student learners. The ILP is a license to “dive in,” explore, and create.