The Central Role of Inquiry in our PDS Collaboration

Professional Development School marks 20 years of devotion to "hard work of teaching." 

 “Before I decided to apply for PDS, I entertained the thought of going to graduate school for English. Many people told me that pursuing a doctorate in English would be more “intellectually stimulating” while other people told me that if I went into education, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do research - one of the things I like most. Both assumptions are completely inaccurate. In the PDS, I am learning a lot about pedagogy, and I also have the responsibility of being competent in the subject that I am teaching my students. This requires me to revisit literary topics and explore texts with a different lens. A teacher’s lens--not a student’s. In terms of research, this program has a required research component, but inquiry becomes a part of teachers’ lives. Some teachers even publish on their daily practices and wonderings. If you share my initial fears about teaching, I hope this anecdote dispelled some myths surrounding the profession. I am very happy with my decision to go into education, and my experiences in the PDS have exceeded my expectations.” 

Megan McElwee
BA, English with Honors, class of 2017, Penn State Altoona
MEd, Curriculum and Instruction, class of 2018, Penn State University Park

In our Professional Development School we imagine a form of inquiry that is self-directed, collaborative, generative, and reflective, supporting the participation of all members in the negotiation and contestation of values, identities, relationships, and knowledges. We seek a teacher education program that prepares not just better English teachers, but different English teachers.

Inquiry assumes that we are constructing our knowledge of many things simultaneously through social symbolic interaction. This natural form of learning is contrasted to traditional school practices in which learning requires memorization of predetermined sequences of information. Traditional practices are neat and orderly where ideas stay within the bounds of single definitions. Inquiry is messy, born out of ambiguity, uncomfortable experiences, "critical incidents," and differences about definitions.

An inquiry stance embraces knowledge that is constructed through the interactions of all partners--students, interns, mentors, and associates. Inquiry is not the reproduction of knowledge we already have and could more easily transfer through texts, lectures, and tests. Knowledge is always local and must begin within that local social experience while it simultaneously transacts with ideas from other local contexts

Our greatest challenge then is to co-construct each school year a new community of inquirers that balance the edgy uncertainty of inquiry with the assured confidence required to run a secondary school classroom full of students who, for the most part, expect traditional forms of literacy to be practiced. By the end of each year we ask each participant to turn one of their many, ongoing, inquiries into a project for sharing that most often takes the form of a presentation and paper.

The central role of inquiry is demonstrated each year at the annual PDS Inquiry Conference.