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Synergeo: What’s Hope got to do with it? Conversations on Teaching, Inquiry and Lasting change

Tracy Taylor and Eunice Gaerlan-Price —

There is a relationship between the joy essential to teaching activity and hope. Hope is something shared between teachers and students. The hope that we can learn together, teach together, be curiously impatient together, produce something together, and resist together the obstacles that prevent the flowering of our joy. In truth, from the point of view of the human condition, hope is an essential component and not an intruder. It would be a serious contradiction of what we are if, aware of our unfinishedness, we were not disposed to participate in a constant movement of search, which in its very nature is an expression of hope. Hope is a natural, possible, and necessary impetus in the context of our unfinishedness. Hope is an indispensable seasoning in our human, historical experience.[1]

This quote from Christian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire captures a posture towards becoming a kaiako (teacher) that many New Zealand educators express, particularly when they first embark on the journey towards becoming a kaiako. In the context of Christian Initial Teacher Education, hope provides a steady anchor, a north star, grounded in the gospel message for those grappling with the complexities and demands of learning to become a teacher in Aotearoa New Zealand classrooms. Such demands can appear to pull ngā kaiako away from their initial purposes for becoming part of the profession. The requirements for continuous improvement to lift learner achievement in core curriculum subjects can be experienced as exercises in quantitative, process-focused tasks that detract from the humanity at the core of teaching. Ngā kaiako are expected to engage in professional development to demonstrate their commitment to such continuous improvement.[2] In the case of pre-service teachers, this is usually met with enthusiasm and attentiveness. Yet, as ngā kaiako become focused on improving their key teaching tasks, a tension builds between the demands of the detail in the micro versus the loftier aspirations of the macro. Where is hope when ngā kaiako are knee-deep in documentation, assessment, planning, professional development activities and endless meetings? This article seeks to explore this tension, particularly with regards to teacher improvement through practitioner inquiry. What’s hope got to do with it?

Christian hope is the potentiality of the future. It holds onto the Christian narrative and pulls future possibilities into the present to inform how we live. Hope is a discipline that pushes us to persevere, conquer fear, create, critique, imagine, and innovate, refusing to settle into the status quo, striving towards what could be.[3] A theology of hope lies in the faith in Christ's resurrection, bringing possibility into focus through a hopeful lens that sees new life, new creation, new ideas, and the chance of a new day.[4] It makes sense then that "peace with God means conflict with the world,”[5] a need to act in hope, with faith fuelling and keeping this hope alive through reality's future possibilities. Jürgen Moltmann sees hope as tuning into God, participating with Him through the Spirit, working with him in our work, creation, and joy.[6]

Hope is not escapism; it is part of who we are, as natural as breathing. If we love, then we have faith and hope.[7] Knowing that God brings us hope through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, entering into humanity and connecting through the Trinity, then hope must be found through connection with others, seeing potential, and a future vision of what could be through such connection. Hope progresses humanity in the process of becoming, moving us from waiting to action, teasing us with necessary change, imploring emotions to take action in the world, cultivating our moral character, and pulling us towards the good life in the work of hope.[8]

Hope is made possible through recognition of our unfinishedness as humans. It is this unfinishedness that allows us to perceive not just the possibilities for renewal or formation, but transformation. Our unfinishedness means we cling not to the idea that life is a form of stasis, that whatever “lot” we are given is all we receive, but that through hope, we can believe in humanity’s potential for change.[9]

With this view of unfinishedness reflected not only upon ourselves as educators but also upon our learners as their own agents of change, a theology of hope can thus become a pedagogy of hope. This Christian theology of hope can be encountered in, and expressed through, the classroom where even the most hopeless scenario can be redeemed because of the unfinishedness of life itself. As ngā kaiako, by looking upon seemingly unchangeable, defined, or hopeless situations instead with a theological lens that those situations are in fact unfinished, we embody this pedagogy of hope.

Far from being simply an existential posture, however, a pedagogy of hope can be enacted through a disposition of curious inquiry. Freire says, “[t]he unfinished character of human beings and the transformational character of reality necessitates that education be an ongoing activity.”[10] Hope is dynamic, pushing us to not sit with a static reality but to keep challenging and seeing potential. In that case, a pedagogy of hope is energised by ākonga (student) potential, driven by possibility, creativity and love.[11] Teaching in hope is a humanising endeavour and requires ngā kaiako to inquire, to be curious, to want more for their ngā ākonga:

For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.[12]

The inquiring pedagogue reflects on practice, persevering, challenging, taking action through implementing hopeful dispositions of curiosity, critical thinking, and problem solving.[13] Such hopeful dispositions can find their place through practitioner inquiry.

Practitioner inquiry is an action research approach in teaching and learning that offers a framework for kaiako curiosity and ākonga transformation. Within the context of education in Aotearoa New Zealand, this is known as teaching as inquiry. Teaching as inquiry is a professional practice of self-review and action. The Ministry of Education notes that effective pedagogy means inquiring into the reciprocal practice of teaching and learning through cyclical inquiry and reflecting on the impact of practice on ngā ākonga.[14] Freire himself posits,

…there is no such thing as teaching without research and research without teaching. One inhabits the body of the other. As I teach, I continue to search and re-search. I teach because I search, because I question, and because I submit myself to questioning. I research because I notice things, take cognizance of them. And in so doing, I intervene. And intervening, I educate and educate myself. I do research so as to know what I do not yet know and to communicate and proclaim what I discover.[15]

This process involves sustained reflection and heightened focus on a specific area for systematic, collaborative, and responsive improvement in teaching and learning. This ongoing, dynamic, problem-solving approach to teacher research is analytical and supported by dispositions and frameworks that produce effective, evidence-based results.[16] As ngā kaiako work through the inquiry cycle, assumptions adjust and reconstruct in a recalibration of practice and beliefs.[17]

Aiding the inquiring kaiako in this transformative process is the reciprocal power of collaboration. This co-construction of knowledge includes collaboration with colleagues and ngā ākonga as partners in the inquiry process, mapping ngā ākonga involvement throughout the inquiry cycle.[18] Such a partnership recognises the prior knowledge of ngā ākonga and the complexity of the reciprocal relationship between teaching and learning.[19]

This partnership with ngā ākonga acknowledges the richness of "soft" or qualitative data weighting teacher research.[20] The inquiring kaiako creates measurement tasks that consider how ngā ākonga feel about learning, recording their attitudes and responses as viable data to analyse. These qualitative perspectives relate to the lived world of the practitioner and ākonga, using these contexts to inform effective practice that seeks out avenues of transformation.[21]

However, any notion of teaching as inquiry that relegates it to simply a process of professional development, without acknowledging its philosophical underpinnings of collaboration and praxis, minimises its potential. Teaching as inquiry can be more than just a process. It is a stance, a hope-filled way of being, that can bring about lasting and meaningful change.

Through collaborative learning practice, reflection on practice and challenging one's beliefs, the inquiring kaiako develops inquiry as stance. Stance is enhanced through the practice of inquiry, strengthening dispositions, confidence to challenge the status quo, and reading a sense of dissonance in practice that may have once become routine.[22] As a result, a long-term inquiry disposition develops, replacing acquiescence with an inquisitive and reflective habit of mind, constantly viewing and taking action on teaching and learning through an inquiry lens.[23]

Through the lens of inquiry as stance, ngā kaiako are sense makers, inquiring into practice, trying to make sense of classroom experiences that can improve educational outcomes.[24] Through this sense-making, the inquiring teacher commits to integrity, ethical conduct, effective teaching, and professionalism through a desire to improve educational outcomes for ngā ākonga.[25] These commitments and stance require certain dispositions and attitudes, such as open-mindedness, fallibility, and persistence.[26] With these dispositions in place, the inquiring practitioner can reflect and take action on practice prepared to challenge beliefs, maintain an open mind, accept fallibility, and apply perseverance towards the ultimate goal of improving teaching and learning for ngā ākonga.[27]

There is an intertwining of teaching as inquiry and critical reflection as the cornerstone of transformational teacher development. Through Freire's liberation education theory, ngā ākonga and ngā kaiako are dynamic beings in the process of becoming.[28] This transformative ideology connects with the reflective practitioner developing the ability to question tacit knowledge, challenge knowledge creation, be open to change, be self-aware, and be willing to break away from past and present ideologies in the cycle of constant renewal.[29] Patricia Cranton speaks of the development of emancipatory knowledge as a transformative process, freeing the individual from the constraints of mind and society through critical self-reflection.[30] As Freire says, “[t]hose who authentically commit themselves to the people must re-examine themselves constantly”.[31]

Through ngā kaiako engaging in an inquiry of their practice, this insight has the potential for global transformation in education reform that is far more authentic than any large-scale government policy.[32] Through inquiry as stance, the practitioner and practitioner-researcher roles blend into one working dialectic, combining and constructing what we learn from practice and what we see from our role as researchers to transform teaching and learning.[33] Teacher research is grounded in theories of social constructivism seeking to achieve self-transformation and renewal through reflective inquiry.[34]

Reflection is key to success and transformation in teaching as inquiry. Through deeper introspection, awareness, and understanding start to collaborate in one's thoughts, leading the practitioner to what is possible and emotional investment in the process of inquiry.[35] Reflection and action (praxis) supports the development of inquiry as stance. The inquirer is making a deliberate and systematic commitment to advancing knowledge for their practice, profession, societal inequities, and ultimately, ngā ākonga outcomes. Through inquiry as stance, there may be tensions encountered, such as challenging long-held practices or educational beliefs and confronting fallibility in the face of new steps. In this fallibility lies the need for persistence, humility, and faith, pushing forward and constantly cycling through the inquiry, reflecting, asking questions, collaborating, and taking action.[36] This inner tension is where transformation is possible.

Teaching as inquiry can collectively transform teaching, learning, schools, educational reform, and ngā ākonga lives by pooling the collective knowledge of practitioners.[37] There is a potential to transform how practitioners view themselves through the legitimacy of knowledge produced by inquiry.[38] The transformation of power-knowledge relationships occurs in recognising the ability to reach beyond one's pedagogy, empowering and reinforcing practitioner research and practice as holding value in the academic community. Inquiry is liberating teachers to know they can have significant influence, not just on ākonga outcomes, but at a macro-societal level, creating a more democratic society.[39]

The value of teacher research lies in the reflective practice and humility of rethinking and reconstructing practice and teaching beliefs, positively impacting the relationship between educator and child and transforming teacher development.[40] Through deep self-reflection, the willingness to be vulnerable with one's fallibility and the deconstruction of practice, the inquiring teacher brings about critical transformation and a commitment to profession, practice, and ultimately, ngā ākonga.[41]

When we understand practitioner inquiry as stance and praxis, we see so evidently its connections to a pedagogy of hope. Teaching as inquiry as a pedagogy of hope is people-centred and collaborative. It is the intentional noticing and naming of potential, or unfinishedness, of every learner. Its movements centre around utopian notions of “what could be” and, as such, it is a pedagogy of perseverance, endurance, and dynamism. As a praxis, teaching as inquiry as a pedagogy of hope is unsatisfied with mere theoretical musings or suppositions but rather it is action-orientated and seeks out tangible change through critical reflection. It is a form of resurrection stemming from the outworking of hope in the transformation of classroom practice and outcomes for ngā ākonga. Returning to the initial provocations of Freire, teaching as inquiry as a pedagogy of hope orients our practice towards an awareness of our unfinishedness, and as such, draws us in the most natural of ways into “a constant movement of search, which in its very nature is an expression of hope”.[42]

Tracy Taylor is a graduating student from Laidlaw College’s School of Social Practice (Education).

Dr Eunice Gaerlan-Price is a senior lecturer in Initial Teacher Education at Laidlaw College’s School of Social Practice (Education).

[1] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998), 69.

[2] Education Council, Our Code, Our Standards: Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession (Wellington: Ministry of Education, 2017).

[3] Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope: On the Ground and the Implications of a Christian Eschatology (London, SCM Press, 1967), 16–17.

[4] Yael Klangwisan and T. Mark McConnell, “Theology and Pedagogy of Hope: A Vision for Teaching and Learning,” Stimulus 23 (2016): 21.

[5] Klangwisan and McConnell, "Theology and Pedagogy of Hope," 21. 

[6] Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 30.

[7] Clive Staples Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” Theology 45 (1941): 264-265.

[8] Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc., 2007), 57.

[9] Paulo Freire, Daring to Dream: Toward a Pedagogy of the Unfinished (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2007), 26.

[10] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 84.

[11] Klangwisan and McConnell, “Theology and Pedagogy of Hope,” 21.

[12] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 72.

[13] Nancy Fichtman Dana, “Understanding Inquiry as Stance: Illustration and Analysis of One Teacher Researcher’s Work,” LEARNing Landscapes 8 (2015): 164.

[14] Ministry of Education, The New Zealand Curriculum: for English-Medium Teaching and Learning in Years 1–13 (Wellington: Learning Media, 2007), 35.

[15] Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom, 35.

[16] Mike Fowler, “Leading Inquiry at a Teacher Level: It’s All About Mentorship,” SET: Research Information for Teachers 3 (2012): 3.

[17] Claire Sinnema and Graeme Aitken, “Teaching as Inquiry,” in The Professional Practice of Teaching in New Zealand, ed. Deborah Fraser and Mary Hill (Melbourne: Cengage Learning, 2016), 94.

[18] Andrew J. Stremmel, “The Value of Teacher Research: Nurturing Professional and Personal Growth Through Inquiry,” Voices of Practitioners 2 (2007): 5.

[19] Sinnema and Aitken, “Teaching as Inquiry,” 83.

[20] Fowler, “Leading Inquiry at a Teacher Level,” 3.

[21] Fowler, “Leading Inquiry at Teacher Level,” 3.

[22] Russell Bishop, Teaching to the North-East: Relationship-Based Learning in Practice (Wellington: NZCER Press, 2019), 152.

[23] Joe L. Kincheloe, Teachers Are Researchers: Qualitative Inquiry as a Path to Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2012), 251.

[24] Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Susan L. Lytle, Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research for the Next Generation (New York: Teachers College Press, 2009), 122.

[25] Stremmel, “The Value of Teacher Research,” 4.

[26] Stremmel, “The Value of Teacher Research,” 4.

[27] Sinnema and Aitken, “Teaching as Inquiry,” 85.

[28] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 57.

[29] Leon Benade, “Teaching as Inquiry: Well Intentioned, but Fundamentally Flawed,” New Zealand Journal of Education Studies 50 (2015), 111.

[30] Patricia Cranton, “Teaching for Transformation,” New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education 93 (2003): 64.

[31] Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 60.

[32] Dana, “Understanding Inquiry as Stance,” 162.

[33] Dana, "Understanding Inquiry as Stance," 162.

[34] Stremmel, “The Value of Teacher Research,” 6.

[35] Colin Gibbs, To Be a Teacher: Journeys Towards Authenticity (Auckland: Pearson Education, 2006), 239.

[36] Dana, “Understanding Inquiry as Stance,” 168.

[37] Cochran-Smith and Lytle, Inquiry as Stance, 124.

[38] Cochran-Smith and Lytle, Inquiry as Stance, 124.

[39] Dana, “Understanding Inquiry as Stance,” 164.

[40] Stremmel, “The Value of Teacher Research,” 4.

[41] Gibbs, To Be a Teacher, 236.

[42] Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom, 69.