Education is an ever-changing entity that constantly bombards us with unique ideals for teachers, students, parents and the surrounding community. Each year, there are new buzzwords, standards, testing requirements – often an overwhelming amount of benchmarks that seem nearly impossible to reach. Education in this era is complicated, but it truly does not have to be. As a former science teacher and current STEM Lab Coordinator, I always aim to run my classroom through an inquiry-based lens. I believe that if entire school buildings operated with that mindset, education today would be more engaging for students. Beyond that, teachers would be able to let go of some of the traditional burdens they have faced, and parents would feel less intimidated by an environment that is drastically different from what they experienced in their youth.
Inquiry-based learning, at its core, is about increasing student engagement by tapping into their curiosities. In my classroom, my students understand that we function as a family. We support each other in our individualized learning at all costs. We learn together, but more importantly, we fail together. I teach my students that failure is simply finding out how not to complete a task, or answer a question, or design a prototype. Failure is an opportunity to learn, not a chance to cease learning all together. Working in an inquiry-based environment helps further foster this mindset within them – they are constantly encouraged to try new things and explore on their own. If they succeed, great! Now figure out another way to make it work. If they fail, it is also celebrated. That way, they are motivated to keep going until they do succeed. Learning is not a linear process; there is no finish line. My students are taught that learning is circular – we learn, we create, we learn more, we try again. On top of that, I am learning with my students every day. I am not afraid to fail in front of them or admit that I do not know an answer. Showing them that I am human and am the “lead learner” in the room, rather than a strict authority figure, results in a much happier and more productive classroom community. THIS is the future of education.
As an educator, my number one goal at all times is to take care of the people in my classroom. My students are exactly that – people first, students second. I believe wholeheartedly that we must care for the hearts in our classrooms before we can effectively take care of the brains. If our students feel as though we genuinely care for them as more than just students, they are more likely to behave better, learn more and care about their education deeply. Above all else, relationships matter. Our world today is inundated with violence, discrimination and negativity. Our classrooms and school buildings should be a reprieve from the daily news, instead of a place where the headlines are created. It is our duty as teachers in this era to protect our students from the adversity in the world while simultaneously educating them about how to be the best people they can be and change things for the better.
Education today will not be the same as education tomorrow, next year, or a decade from now. What remains the same is our duty to provide incredible experiences for our students, because they control what that future will look like.
Megan Hacholski is a Digital Skills Teacher and STEM Lab Coordinator for Brookfield-La Grange Park District 95 in Brookfield, IL. She previously worked as a= middle school science teacher and is entering into her 7th year in education. Megan is passionate about risk-taking in education and inquiry-based learning and believes that students’ well-being should always come first. Megan has spoken at multiple conferences in the Chicagoland area and is highly invested in her own lifelong learning. Invest in the future by teaching, learning and living in the present.