Becoming Fearless Inquirers

You are standing at a place you’ve never been. All you have is a map, your brain, and a will to find out.

Your map doesn’t have the GPS voice saying, “Enter the roundabout and take the third exit.” Nevertheless, the map is a tool from which you can glean useful information to make your next move.

You have to think about what’s next. You prioritize, you consider solutions, you venture forth after thinking critically about numerous, possible consequences.

Inquiry learning in the classroom is like taking a road trip to a place you’ve never been. If you’ve traveled with open-ended itineraries before, you get more confident each time. You cease to obsess about controlling each and every circumstance. You find possible solutions, hypothesize about possible results of each move, and think critically toward the solution, which optimizes your goal.

But it’s hard to shift.

It may be easier to keep doing the same thing that we’ve been doing for many years. It’s a source of certainty, control, and comfort.

Photo by Tang90246. Used with permission via

Kegan and Lahey (2009) suggest that the problem to embracing change is not a lack of motivation but the “inability to close the gap between what (people) genuinely, even passionately want and what (they) are actually able to do.” In their book Immunity to Change, they show that people and organizations create an immunity to change, a defensive set of strategies to keep from the uncertainty of change.

The authors posit that becoming adaptive to change is something that marks an organization for future success and sustainability. As problems become more complex, people and organizations need to respond with a corresponding complexity in the ways they respond to new, previously unseen problems.

That’s a characteristic of situations requiring an inquiring stance. Full of ambiguity, needing some letting go of control in the classroom, and uncomfortable.

It’s a situation that might result in an implementation dip while we learn how to approach teaching and learning through a cyclical, iterative and open-ended process.

If what we want is for shift in thinking to happen, what we need is support as teachers close the gap between what people want and what they can do. Literature on adult learning and development has suggested that at the heart of adult learning is the cognitive challenge to align individual trajectories for learning with environmental expectations (Drago-Severson, 2009; Kegan, 1982). Providing ‘holding environments’ is necessary to safely transport individuals through their learning trajectories without compromising their sense of identity as they approach efficacy within the environmental expectations (Drago-Severson, 2009).

Providing a holding environment in the midst of shifting thinking and practice has several layers. We need to support individuals’ and groups’ growing understanding of practice.

Self-efficacy is a super energy resource. Photo © Mogilevchik. Used with permission through

How do we create holding environments?

The concept of environments does not just describe the physical and material but also includes the psychological. In the midst of an implementation dip, we can do some or many of these:

  • Provide a workshop targeting the gap
  • Provide collaborative time to explore shared knowledge and understanding
  • Provide collaborative processes to inquire into a range of solutions
  • Provide non-judgmental coaching conversations as individuals embark on unique learning pathways
  • Provide clear guidance on the vision and expected products
  • Create a cognitive space where it is OK to experiment, and that it’s OK when something doesn’t work because it’s just another opportunity to try something else

The mindshift it takes to embrace ambiguity, take an inquiring stance and iterate on the way out of the implementation dip is a matter of thoughtful design of time and engagement. Perhaps providing safe opportunities to learn toward implementation are the first steps forward.


Further reading

Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Kegan, R. and Lahey, L. L. (2009). Immunity to change; How to overcome and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self; Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Featured photo: Safety sign © Arnel Manalang

Author: alavina

Cognitive Coach and author. I simplify personal power so you can use mental resources and find pathways to your goals, be more productive and feel in control every day.

4 thoughts

  1. Aloha,
    This post is so applicable as I embark on my next adventure leaving the comfortable PYP inquiry classroom for my own inquiry into doctoral spaces and educational research. Timetables and details are not quite set even though we already have lectures and journal article round table critiques. Stepping out into inquiry as student is equally as hard as it might be for the teacher but with open mindedness and by developing a positive classroom environment we can ease the pain on both sides and allow the creative curiousity to flourish. I’m excited to read this blog from a different perspective and inspired to see what heights AISZ will climb to in the coming years.

  2. Hi Christi, Thanks for your comment. What an exciting time for you in your research!

    Your idea of ‘easing pain’ and ‘allowing creativity to flourish’ reminds me of the Reggio approach, itself inquiry based that values the truth that comes from the learner. As we learn and what we learn and how we learn – all these discoveries become part of who we are. And, what are our hunches about the risks that we take when we allow vulnerability within ourselves from ambiguity and discomfort, to stretch to the next level? And how will we know if we do not ask?

    Take care and keep us updated on your journeys.

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