I love to talk. It’s presumably why I easily gravitated to a career in teaching. But ever since I started teaching a course I absolutely love, I have learnt first hand why teaching isn’t about lecturing or talking. It’s about students themselves asking questions of subject matter and me guiding them where possible to come up with the answers themselves. Education experts call this inquiry based learning and I adopted it in my class this fall semester. I looked for pictures, books, materials around the week’s topic, presented it as a prompt or trigger and asked for questions and questions only. Suffice to say, good questioning is a rich and complex intellectual skill, that works to help both the teacher and student elicit worthwhile information that matters. It also depends on teachers working with students in inquiry.
At first, I was uncomfortable. My students were too. But I learnt quickly that we all had to learn to become comfortable with being uncomfortable with questions more than answers, with pushing paradigms, more than finding solutions. I encouraged my students to first think about the questions they had in mind and not the answers. When all questions were asked, together we brainstormed answers where possible. Some answers were easy, some tough, some I knew, some I didn’t. But the growth and perseverance over the course of the semester had been immense. Knowing that it okay not to have all the answers was humbling to me. I came to academia because I wanted to learn first and foremost and I felt I could learn more from my students. Adopting an inquiry mindset has allowed me to learn, even cultivate a natural love for learning in some of the students I interacted with this semester. From the student interested in rural mental health, to the one passionate about maternal child health or gardening for healthy life, the student focused on provider bias or the one implementing narrative therapy for gun violence survivors, the student exploring how family support matters for kids along the autism spectrum, or multilevel determinants influencing their diagnosis to the student passionate about suicide prevention, sustainability, immigrant mental health, young adult mental health and sexual health literacy or stigma with STI testing, it’s almost like as if I knew all of them intimately and adopting an inquiry mindset allowed me to root for their best work individually. That in essence is the hallmark of an inquiry mindset, that students ultimately grow, that they persevere intellectually and continue to explore their passion more deeply even as the semester ends. Every moment was a learning opportunity, to be better. In fact I was intentional about this, letting them know that inquiry may first lead to failure, but even my attempts at failure (which was more work for me) were all learning opportunities to be better, not a shortcomings or failure. Reflecting and revising was intentional and my attempt to achieve growth and looking back to the start of the semester, my little experiment worked.
As the Fall semester comes to an end, I am completely grateful to my students, every single one of them because they made me learn and in so doing, I became more like them, a lifelong learner, a student, passionate about helping my fellow students thrive beyond their wildest dreams, one class material after another. Keep an inquiry mindset as it’s the most authentic and inspiring learning you will ever experience.