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Transformative Inquiry

welcome the awkwardness

Negotiating the Swamp as you are Be~coming

The TI approach is specifically concerned with questions of be~coming. In this text we use the tilde (~) in words like be~coming and learner~teacher~researcher, because while you are learning to be a teacher, in some ways you already are a teacher. You are both being and becoming at the same time, hence, be~coming.

Teachers are often primarily concerned with learning and teaching, yet research can be a valuable aspect of a transformative endeavor as well. And, if knowledge is a thing-which-is-becoming (responding and transforming to the experiences and provocations of life) our roles as learner, teacher and researcher will overlap, intermingle and inform each other. As much as you may be hoping that there is a toolkit method that will be able to guide your teaching, there is no simple or prescriptive approach to pedagogy. We need to attend to how we are all be~coming learner~teacher~researchers within educational settings.

Learning~teaching is a complicated and untidy process that can be likened to a swamp – a habitat that is ever changing, multifaceted and difficult to make sense of.

Speak to be revealed; 
listen to be changed
Kathy Altman

...Imagine now, that you are walking barefoot into this swamp. You have been told what teaching is, experienced it from your perspective as a learner, or even from an observation chair at the back of the class. But now you actually enter in. Your first steps feel alien as your feet sink deep into silt. The water is murky, and you can only see vague shadows of what lies below the surface. Unexpected movement, interesting smells and unsettling sounds surround you. There are hidden processes at work here, and you are unsure how to proceed.Nevertheless, you take small steps, and you begin to attend differently. Rather than base your actions solely on what you know intellectually, you pay attention to what you feel through the bottom of your feet. Is that a rock? How deep will the water get? Are there any holes? Suddenly, you lose your footing! Little fish scurry away from you as you frantically try not to fall into the slimy unknown. Your hands grasp convulsively, searching for balance.No intellectual description prepared you for this. Luckily you find your balance through motion and intuition. Whew! That was close. Your pants are wet to the knees now, and your recovered sunhat drips greenish water down your ears...A swamp is it’s own habitat with layers of complexity and multiple living creatures. It is a necessary filter for water in this ecosystem, and provides suitable habitat for creatures large and small. Some of these animals are endemic to that swamp alone, while others are merely passing through. The swamp sits in the context of a larger space. As you move through the space, you gradually improve your ability to proceed without falling. By giving the swamp your attention the sense of it being alien starts to fade. Gradually, you are able to remember where that treacherous hole is, and how to navigate around it.

Like a swamp, many of the questions you have as a teacher will be unbounded (Henderson, 1992). They will have no clear parameters of understanding. These types of questions can evoke unease, and even fear – especially when there is a cultural expectation that teachers be well-informed experts in their area. These questions, and your passion around them, can invite you to examine your emotional knowing as well. Examining unbounded questions promotes engagement in the process of generating understanding, as opposed to the discovery of a set answer or solution. They are rich sites for transforming education into what you imagine it can be.

An unbounded [question] is far more complex because it can legitimately be defined in many different ways (Henderson, 1992).

TI is a process of following these unbounded questions wherever they may lead us. In the course, you are expected to remain within the complexity of your questions, as “unbounded [questions]…may be predicaments that are never fully resolved” (Henderson, 1992). These often perplexing questions are the guide to your process, the root of the complexity of teaching, and the entry points into taking a TI stance. Attending to unbounded questions becomes your guide through the murky swamp. In chapter 4.4 we discuss the process of helping construct a safe-enough space to support you in this swamp.

Throughout this book we will support your journey. In Chapter 2 we share student vignettes to help you understand the journey that students have engaged in. The following chapters will introduce various supporting concepts: re-imagining schools; attending to emotions; considering knowledge, lens and worldview; practicing interbeing; being relationally accountable; recognizing Earth and panarchy; and enacting transformance. We trust these readings will inform your inquiry ideas and introduce you to the exciting process of TI. For now we continue with an overview of the process.

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