Through the Lens of Teacher Inquiry: A Photographer’s Quest for Understanding
This inquiry research project was comprised of three strands: visual arts in education, (digital) citizenship, and indigenous beliefs on education and learning. I created three main inquiry questions. What are the schools of thinking around visual literacy and how can I teach using arts-based methods in the context of the Elementary Connected Classrooms (ECC) project? How is my pedagogy shifting in this technologically-rich teaching and learning environment? What are the traditional Métis and Cree beliefs surrounding education and child-rearing? Participants included students in my class during the 2010/2011 school year and colleagues associated with the Elementary Connected Classrooms project. I adopted the mixed methods approach of qualitative research, employing teacher inquiry, living inquiry, performative inquiry, arts-based inquiry, writing as inquiry, and indigenous inquiry at varying times throughout the research. A metaphor of the photographer is woven throughout the piece.
Findings were complex as themes blended between the three strands. In the art strand, major learnings were how arts-based lessons led to an increase in student awareness and an increase in student ability to see the world in a new way. Other learnings in this thread of my research were how digital photographs, especially portraits, helped build trust and learning relationships in the ECC.
In the strand of research that became centred on (digital) citizenship, one major finding was that students in all three ECC classrooms showed a strong desire to be heard, seen and acknowledged beyond the walls of the classroom to their peers in the other sites. Overall health and how to maintain balance in a world full of new technologies also emerged as a central theme. Through data collection it became apparent that the new role of (digital) teacher is complex, demanding not only strong technology skills but also more profoundly responsible roles such as modelling how to communicate and learn using video conferencing and other new technologies. My learning also led to a deeper understanding of visual literacy as being connected to this digital thread.
The most profoundly personal strand of my inquiry was the learning I experienced in relation to Métis and Cree worldviews. Articulating in words the impact that this research had on me is insufficient; I gained profound insight into my Métis heritage and how it affects my personal and professional life. I realized that my approach to both parenting and teaching stems from a deep caring for children and that this theme is prevalent in traditional indigenous education. I also gained a broader perspective on attending to and honouring each individual I encounter as an educator.
In the end, themes converged. The first convergence was a heightened cultural awareness of the impact that known and unknown heritage can have on a person’s worldviews. The second realization was that perhaps I can use the natural engagement that seems to accompany arts-based learning activities to help students engage with other subject areas in which students struggle to succeed. I also saw much of the inquiry crystallizing into a multilayered definition of citizenship, with the themes of local, national, global and digital citizenship nested within. I realized through living inquiry that, through the communication enabled by new technologies, I no longer feel isolated teaching in a small, rural school district. Finally, I discovered a renewed resolve to place children as the curriculum first and foremost before anything else.