Summarizing My Inquiry Into a Poster

How my Inquiry Started

When I began my inquiry, I knew exactly what I wanted to learn, but I was concerned about framing it in “the right” words. For nearly a decade, I’ve worked as Education Assistant in both public and private education systems. This experience has made me extremely passionate about reaching out to children who have been dismissed or driven from the conventional classroom because of their behaviour. In my work as an E.A., I often had the opportunity to build relationships with students who acted out in class. Through this experience, I realized that many of these students felt unable to respond in the way the teacher was expecting or requiring of them. Now that I’m in the process of earning my teaching degree, I want to learn the best way to respond to disruptive behaviour in the classroom. In particular, I want to learn how to validate the student and their experience in the moment, while also maintaining a safe space and community culture in the class.

Initially, I was torn about how I wanted to present my inquiry question. I was worried about focusing on behaviour specifically, so instead I framed my question as “How we can support students with a history of trauma when their history begins to affect their classroom learning experience?”. Several of the children who made a lasting impact on my life used to act out in the classroom because of trauma they experienced in the past, so I thought trauma might be a good starting point for my question.

Overview of My Learning Process

I attended Ed Camp Victoria in October with my inquiry in mind. I tabled my question and it was selected for one of the break-out sessions. They rephrased it as “Supporting at risk students”. I took extensive notes throughout the session and followed up by watching the Ross Greene videos that were suggested by other teachers who attended the event.

Since then, I’ve asked every teacher I’ve encountered about how they responded to disruptive classroom behaviour, especially when it involved students who have experienced trauma. I’ve included notes from my discussions with Danita Stewart and Kathryn Turnbull in blog posts, but I couldn’t share many of my notes publicly because they didn’t take place in a formal interview. I also interviewed Jen Clarke, a school counsellor, and read several resources suggested by her and other teachers. I’ve blogged about many of these resources as well.

I attempted to practice some of what I have learned about my inquiry in the classroom during my weekly visits. In particular, I’ve been trying to reframe my own response to disruptive behaviour in order to avoid stepping into an unnecessary power struggle (See below: Engage, don’t enrage). Many of the approaches I’ve been studying have helped me get a better idea of what the student may be experiencing in the moment. I’ve also been consistently asking the teachers I’ve observed what kind of classroom managment tools they find most effective (the social contract has been a main feature).

Since none of my classes this semester touched on classroom management directly, I didn’t find a great deal of information I could draw from them in order to tackle my inquiry question. However, I did learn a lot about classroom management and heard about a variety of resources from guest speakers that visited our Wednesday seminiars. I was also introduced to some of the tenants behind restitution (in particular, undestanding the students needs) during a module on student motivation in our Psychology class.

Reframing my Question

Through this inquiry process, I came to realize that the root of my question was more specifically focused on how teachers could respond to the behaviour itself, both preventatively and in the moment. I also realized that trauma was not an ideal starting point for my question. While I do want to be prepared to support any students who have experienced trauma, I also need to keep in mind that there is a line between my role as a teacher and the role of a counsellor or a specialist. “How can teachers respond to disruptive classroom behaviour?” seemed like a much more authentic representation of my inquiry and where it led me.

Summarizing my Learning

Part of my inquiry involved presenting what I learned on a poster that I could share at a gallery walk at the end of the semester. Along with my question, I emphasized that “Behaviour is communication” and also asked “What is the student trying to say?” Then I tried to include specific resources/examples on the poster from each approach that I would like to use in my own classroom. I limited my focus to the four approaches I studied most in depth throughout my inquiry process.


A big piece of what I felt I had learned from my inquiry was to change the way I thought about disruptive behaviour. Underneath each of the four approaches that I studied, I’ve provided an example of a question that challenged my way of thinking. Then, I included specific tools I could use in my own teaching career. Below, I’ve included the questions and examples I included on my poster.


Does the student have a need that isn’t being met right now?

Does the student understand the needs of the class community?

Tools I hope to use during my practicum/ in my own classroom:

  • The Needs Chart (Survival, Belonging, Power, Fun, Freedom)
  • The Social Contract (co-written with students, something I modeled on my poster using post-it notes)

There are a variety of other restitution tools I would like to use (including “my job, your job”, and 30-second interventions) but I chose to focus on the two tools I saw reflected most often in the classrooms I’ve been observing over the semester.

Collaborative Problem Solving

Is the student lacking the social/emotional skills to respond appropriately in this situation?

Tool I hope to use during my practicum/ in my own classroom:

Using the 3 steps of collaborative problem solving when a disagreement or disruptive behaviour occurs:

1) Empathize: Ask the child questions in order to better understand his/her concern or perspective on the unsolved problem (don’t assume you already know!).

2) Define Problem: Adult or other party now puts their concern or perspective on the table.

3) The Invitation: Brainstorm solutions that will address the concerns of both parties that we have now explicitly laid out in our first two steps.


Is the Student lacking the language they need to express how they physically feel?

Tool I hope to use during my practicum/ in my own classroom:

How is your engine running? –  A visual representation of how the body feels when when it is flooded with adrenaline or cortisol, or a happy balance in between.

“Whole-Brain” Thinking

Has their brain been “hijacked” by the amygdala or the emotion-driven (right) side of the brain?

Tool/approaches I would hope to use during my practicum or my own classroom:

  • Connect and redirect: Connect with the emotional right brain before you try to engage the logical left brain.
  • Name it to tame it: Discuss potentially traumatic events so that they don’t become a dormant trigger. 
  • Engage, don’t enrage: When the fight or flight response is engaged, don’t step into a power struggle. Redirect their attention until they are ready to engage their higher processes.
  • Use it or lose it: Exercise the upstairs brain: “What would you do if…?”
  • Move it or lose it: Take physical activity breaks to keep the mind in a happy, healthy space.
  • Let the clouds of emotion roll by: Remind kids that feelings come and go. Fear and frustration and loneliness are temporary feelings that won’t last forever.
  • SIFT: Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts: Open opportunities to discuss Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts to help them better understand their internal self.  
  • Exercise mindsight/mindfulness : Help kids learn how to calm their minds and focus their attention (ex. taking deep breaths, doing meditation exercises, etc)

While Siegel and Bryson run through several other strategies in their book, I chose the main ones I could see myself using in the classroom.

What now?

My inquiry is far from over. I still have a stack of books that I’ve only just began to read. I hope to continue asking my question and finding as many answers as I can throughout my education journey and my career as a teacher.

If you have any suggestions about resources I should check out, feel free to leave me a comment below.

Inquiry Interview: Kathryn Turnbull, Grade 6 Classroom Teacher (My Mentor Teacher)

Throughout my weeks of observing Kathryn and her class, I’ve tried to compile ideas or strategies that she uses in her class. I’ve also tried to jot down words of wisdom she has shared with me that could potentially benefit me in my own class. Since these have occurred over several conversations, and not just one interview, I’ve compiled them in a list below. I’ve bolded points that directly relate to my inquiry question. 

  • Start with silent reading in the morning, play calming music. This starts the day with a calm environment, brings down the energy in the room.
  • “You are distracting me from doing my job right now” or “What is your job right now?” – using “my job, your job” speech from restitution theory to remind a particularly noisy student to listen during an important lesson.
  • Students graph their math improvement so they can refer back to it and see their improvement. It’s not something they need to hand in for summative assessment.
  • While reading, encourage students to think of an inference, make a connection, ask a question, visualize what is happening, and maybe even have a transformed thought (new way of looking at the story, the world, etc) based on what they are hearing/reading in the story. Based on the reading powers method that encourages kids to engage/ learn critical thinking skills while reading.  
  • Alternate allowing students to sit on the carpeted area while reading/doing a test so that they have some choice built into their environment.
  • Ask students to repeat back lunch time announcements to you so you know that they were listening.
  • Encourage mistake making! “I’m so proud of you for trying a new idea. It’s better to make a mistake you can learn from than never try in the first place.” Point out your own mistakes so they know you are still learning too, “Did you see what I just did? See, I’m still learning and making mistakes too.”
  • Be fun and joke around! Treat them like people! The kids say they love when Ms. Turnbull jokes with them.
  • Sometimes she will try to challenge their answers to make sure they are sure. They sometimes second-guess themselves, but they like to hold their ground and be reminded that even the teacher can be wrong sometimes.
  • Have a book conference with kids to discuss the books they are reading. Ms. Turnbull also gets students to write a short review of a book on a bookmark and hangs them at the back of the class. This way they can review books for each other and find out what other people have been reading.
  • Read books you think kids should read! Know the stories so you can get excited about the books you keep in your room. Don’t expect the kids to read something you wouldn’t care to read.
  • Keep a running list on the board of other work/ homework they could start on if they finish a given activity early.
  • Use post-it notes for activities to get them up and moving. Ex. “write one transformed thought you had about the video today and go put it on the board at the back of the room”.
  • Play “war” with cards for kids to practice their times tables. (Jacks = 11, Queen = 12, Ignore the King).
  • Stand at the door and greet them by name when they walk in in the morning.
  • If you can’t follow through, don’t point it out! This can corner you in an unnecessary power struggle that you won’t win. If you have extra time, or a support worker available, to help you follow through on an instruction (“do this worksheet”) then you can point it out and insist they follow instruction.
  • Play Math Bingo to help kids understand how to recognize large numbers when they are read out.

Visiting the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry

lWhen we walked in the front door of the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry in Downtown Victoria, the first thing we saw was a physical version of their very unique school schedule.


Near the whiteboard schedule was a tablet with an attendance app open, so that students could come and go from the school without having to touch base with a teacher every time. The large collaboration space near the entrance was bustling with energy as students sat around tables working on various projects. All of the students had their own laptop, and their was a small art station set up in a back corner.

Jeff Hopkins, PSII’s founder, walked us through the school, which included the large collaboration space, several small seminar room (one featured a fume extractor for science sessions), a tech room with a few desktop computers, a quiet room (where we found a large loom that one student was learning to weave on), and a music room (with several instruments).

As he gave us a tour of the building, Jeff also walked through a few key differences between PSII and a typical high school, which you can see outlined in this document here. Throughout the tour, we were also able to ask questions about the particulars of the school, which I’ve outlined below. Please keep in mind that I’ve only included the key points that stood out to me from our discussion, and not a direct transcript.

What is the Inquiry Process?

1) What are you curious about/want to do/interested in ? What do you do when you are not at school? How often? what else?
2) Take their initial question and do some research. For some schools that’s where it ends. At PSII, that’s where it begins
3) Refine inquiry question.
4)  Develop learning methods (help from teachers) otherwise students tend to fall into old habits. Some kids really like essays, but you want them to make sure that’s not a default. Talk to them about about info graphics, discussions, leading workshops, etc. Teachers helps build learning activities that go beyond research.
This poster, and this page on their website, elaborates on aspects of inquiry-based learning I may have missed/left out.
Things to keep in mind about inquiry based learning at PSII:
– Emphasize the difference between knowing and knowing about. Go beyond knowing about and start knowing inside out
– As a teacher at PSII, you have to pick up the phone and find people who can help. (Some students are already working with a software company and are under a non-disclosure agreement).
– Other times you need to just learn with them (ex. Jeff is learning python right now).
– Sometimes students will completely surpass the teachers in their knowledge (ex. one kid is coding with Matrix algebra to help a machine learn something i.e. neural networking). While the student may need to explain to the teacher what they are doing with their level of skill with the content, the teacher can still guide them through the technicalities of learning.
– Don’t spend all your money on textbooks! You don’t know what’s going to happen when a student pursues their own inquiry question. Buy books based on student interests, instead of forcing kids to read certain material because it’s what you have already purchased.
– In most schools it is “what did you do today”. Why does it matter what they did if they didn’t actually learn anything? Focus on the learning, not the doing.
– Suggested reading: The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson

What does assessment look like?

– We’ve been trained to focus on what people do rather than what they learn. Doing isn’t helpful if they aren’t learning too. With their portfolio they can tell you exactly what they are learning. Report cards are no longer “they did this and that” instead it’s “they learned this through this…”
– PSII is still required to give grades, so they include summative grading assignments near the beginning and end of the year to get those required marks. Meanwhile, they try to do formative assessment all the time. Teachers meet with students 10 or 12 times a day and will type directly into their portfolio while they are talking. Some learning is iterative and requires multiple examples, some is not. It depends on the topic/subject/content.
– All students have electronic portfolio with formative assessment notes throughout. This allows the teachers to check that someone is keeping each student on track. All the teachers are involved with the every student, but usually one or two teachers hone in on each student. It naturally evolves depending on the student’s inquiry.

What do student portfolios look like?

– As they work on their learning activities it can be a reflection, example, or finished product.
– Portfolios are hosted on a WordPress network. WordPress is an easy interface and most websites tend to use it now. Teachers can open the master administration dashboard and see all individual websites. Students tag their posts for competencies. There are context and objectives that are preset, but they can add more but those are required. Tags help teachers bring up all related material.
– The only people who have access to the portfolios are the students, teachers, parents, and individuals who the students choose to share their portfolio with. The server is host hosted in Canada (schools aren’t allowed to store data in U.S.)
– When students grad they can still access their portfolio and export it as a file and upload it onto a public site. The school keeps portfolios active as long as a student wants. Some of them create their own employment and scholarship pages and then they pull those specific parts out.

Do they all have laptops?

Yes. Part of the tuition is a laptop because there are no standard textbooks. They own it and they will have to buy a new one if they break it.

What happens when they aren’t in a session?

– If they aren’t in a session they can do whatever they want. Math all day if they want. However, there is self regulation involved. Usually they will naturally start to get tired of the same task so they want to change it up. Sometimes they don’t though, and that’s okay. Look how quickly some homeschool students move through subjects.
– Every student has to meet the grad standards (math, english, etc), but they are allowed to finish a subject early or continue on with another subject in the next year instead.

How do you get them to do stuff they may not want to? (ex. I hate math, so if I were here I would leave it until June).

– Teach math as a competency. Normally it’s not taught that way. It’s taught as a discrete thing that doesn’t affect anything else. In reality, you are doing math all the time in life, probably in ways you don’t even realize.
– They have hour and a half sessions of math each week. Everyone is working on something similar regardless of levels, then they work to incorporate the math they are learning (to whatever degree is possible) into their inquiry. ex. “I see you are building something, use some geometry”.
– Math isn’t about doing something it and leaving it. It’s about incorporating it into life.

How do you support easily distracted learners?

– Regular meetings and “nudging”.
– Move beyond by teaching them self regulation: “I noticed when you are in the collaborative space you aren’t getting stuff done, why might that be?”
– What worked, what didn’t, why? It’s like a coaching process: reflecting, nudging, teaching self regulation. ex. The quiet space. They know they need that because they are here to learn. The quiet space is not for all day, but needed sometimes when work is getting done. It’s a major problem in your usual classroom. The introverts are stuck with the noise.

What if a student need learning support?

– “We help them”.  The teacher to student ratio makes this much easier, since PSII doesn’t need to hire on any support staff or pull the student out to work with them separately.
– Extra student funding they get goes towards improving that student-teacher ratio and buying tools/special equipment, adapting rooms (sound and light), and paying for O.T. and P.T. for that student.
– There are no modified programs, even Special Ed. students graduate with a dogwood, as long as they can find some way for the student to communicate their learning.
– All students have an IEP on Trello, but some also have traditional IEP

Do you still run into typical problems with bullying?

– PSII does’t have the typical high school environment (no halls and rows of lockers). Classes are paired up based on interest, not age group, so there is that dimension too. Since everyone is so focused on their interests, they rarely seem to get caught up in that kind of drama. Occasionally with new students you will see an an older student correct them by explaining “we don’t so that here”
– When incidents do occur PSII uses restorative justice methods to deal with it rather than punitive. Kids aren’t as afraid to talk to the teachers because they won’t be seen as a “snitch”.

Social environment continued.

– The small group environment builds amazing bonds between students. Some PSII grads are currently traveling together.
– Some students go out and teach elementary and middle school students technical tools like blender (coding, physics), photoshop, etc.
– Kids call teachers by first names. It happened naturally, not intentional.

How does physical education work?

– They all have passes to YMCA (included in tuition). Some students are willing to fit exercise into their schedule, others need to have it slotted into their schedule for them. Different groups go to YMCA every day (strength and conditioning, but also squash, basketball,swimming, etc). Alternatively, some kids go to climbing gyms, join other sports memberships, etc.
– This level of choice allows for a much better buy in for kids. A lot of schools are going another way because of major P.E. drop out.

How do you teach music?

– Several teachers have a background in music. PSII also incorporates youtube lessons and music community members.
– Lots of kids come from schools saying “In my school I have to be good to touch an instrument”. At PSII they get to learn at whatever level they are at. They don’t HAVE to be in band to play an instrument.

How do you teach languages?

– Employ part-time teachers in various languages, build language groups with international students, also use online programs.

Is there a screening process for students?

No. As long as parents understand what PSII is about the student is welcome. They need to fully understand how different the system is; there’s no report cards, no marks, etc.

My Field Experience Inquiry Question

The main assignment in our Field Experience course is to come up with an inquiry question, then to compile as much knowledge as possible on the subject, then exhibit our findings at a gallery walk at the end of the semester. I’ve included my inquiry question below.

How we can support students with a history of trauma when their history begins to affect their classroom learning experience?

Specifically, I aim to

  • do some basic research on how children process a painful experience. This could help to prepare me for the ways that process could play out within a classroom setting.
  • learn the kind of terminology that recognizes “inappropriate behaviour” as the complicated event that it often is so that kids no longer view themselves as “bad” but rather recognize that they are processing a bad experience.
  • compile as many useful tools as possible that could could allow me to maintain a safe environment if/when a student’s behaviour begins to escalate in a way that could threaten the safety of other students.
  • identify key strategies to prevent these situations from happening by teaching students to recognize their own emotions and identify ways to deal with their particular struggle in a way that is appropriate for them.
  • (If/when these situations do happen) outline some exercises that could help students debrief about a situation they may have found traumatic.
  • find resources for teaching empathy to students who witness another student’s outbursts.
  • compile all of these resources on an easily accessible space (this blog) so that other teachers can also look through them for inspiration or ideas.

Throughout the semester I will attempt to write short posts about resources that I find extremely helpful. To prepare for the gallery walk, I will compile all these posts into a table of contents so that I can easily refer back to them later.