INQUIRY MATTERS has a rich history of nurturing inquiry for classroom instruction and ongoing, job-embedded professional development. The Center for Inquiry (CFI), a small school partnership between Richland School District Two and the University of South Carolina, gave birth to this unique conference in 2013. It is a FREE event, co-sponsored by the Center for Educational Partnerships (CEP) at USC and CFI. The conference is designed to inform and inspire pre-service and in-service teachers, coaches, and administrators across South Carolina and beyond. This distinguished spring conference is typically held on a Saturday toward the end of April. Over the years, Inquiry Matters has gained popularity and momentum as a powerful professional development venue that inspires rigorous, authentic, inquiry-based instruction and assessment practices.

Teachers, coaches, and administrators flock to INQUIRY MATTERS because:

  • Teachers are at the heart of the conference, just as they are at the heart of our profession.
  • Classroom teachers and their students conduct authentic presentations in the context of real classrooms to show what teaching and learning through inquiry looks, sounds, and feels like.
  • Presenters illuminate how students learn to inquire, communicate, and share their understandings as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, and social scientists.
  • Students share their social action projects and service-learning engagements through exquisite, informative, and heartfelt exhibits.
  • Teachers, coaches, and administrators demonstrate the power and potential of an inquiry stance for job-embedded ongoing professional development.
  • The conference foregrounds and honors our professional community’s brilliance, experience, and expertise.
  • Pre-service teachers from USC’s elementary program and in-service teachers, coaches, and administrators from partner schools across the state consistently rave about the content, form, and impact of Inquiry Matters on their practice.

Pre-service teachers from USC’s elementary program and in-service teachers, coaches, and administrators from partner schools across the state, consistently rave about the Inquiry Matters’ content, form, and impact on their practice. Year after year, participants describe it as being both informative and transformative. This year’s feedback maintained its positive trend with comments like:

  • “I am speechless, actually. There is so much to carry back for improved practice and action.”
  • “I learned that hope is a verb. I am energized, and my passion is stirred each time I attend this conference.”
  • “The passion for education within this conference has inspired me to follow my dream of becoming an educator.”
  • “Teaching students how to think is the most important job of teachers.”
  • “Inquiry is vital! Not only for students but teachers as well.”
  • “WOW!  I didn’t think this experience would change me like it has.”
  • “As a future teacher, I feel that this conference has helped me grow so much in my understanding of how to create a strong and culturally relevant classroom.”

Save the Date:

Saturday, April 20, 2024
8:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

Center for Inquiry
200 ½ Summit Parkway, Columbia, SC  29229

Pre-register for Inquiry Matters here!

Please join us for an inspiring and informative conference sponsored by the Center for Educational Partnerships at the University of South Carolina and the Center for Inquiry in Richland School District Two.

For information about this FREE professional development opportunity, please contact Dr. Heidi Mills via Heidiannmills403@gmail.com.


Partnership Roots Run Deep

Like most impactful ideas and initiatives, they grow through intense, thoughtful collaborations and partnerships. The seeds for INQUIRY MATTERS were planted in 1996 when the College of Education and Richland School District Two joined hands to create the Center for Inquiry (CFI), a small-school partnership grounded in inquiry-based instruction. The elementary school and partnership have grown deep roots and are still thriving. Together, they are continually working to bring CFI’s mission to life

The students, parents, and staff of the Center for Inquiry, a genuine collaboration between the University of South Carolina and Richland School District Two, are responsible for developing ourselves as more thoughtful, caring, and intelligent people who delight in learning and are committed to creating a more compassionate, equitable, knowledgeable and democratic world!

Soon after opening its doors as the first elementary magnet in Richland School District Two, CFI became a national demonstration site for inquiry in the classroom, ongoing professional development, and continuous school renewal. The Consortium for Inquiry-based Instruction emerged as a grassroots support network for North and South Carolina schools. CFI hosted annual Consortium for Inquiry-based Instruction meetings to offer intentional and systematic support to partner schools. Eventually, CFI and USC expanded this onsite professional development model to include pre-service and in-service teachers by launching the annual spring Inquiry Matters

Although CFI gave birth to the conference, exemplary educators from the USC Professional Development Schools network and partner schools across the midlands have conducted compelling concurrent session presentations. The conference program spotlights an outstanding school in a featured presentation each year. Past featured presentations include the Greenwood School of Inquiry in Hodges, SC; Irmo Elementary and Dutch Fork Academy of Environmental Sciences in Irmo, SC; Inquiry at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School in Rock Hill, SC; Zaharis Elementary in Mesa, Arizona; and Innovations Public Charter School in Kona, Hawaii.

When COVID disrupted our personal and professional lives, we offered this event virtually to give educators the lift they needed and deserved. Thanks to Dr. Regina Ciphrah and her team at Verbalizing Visions, the conference was so successful we capped enrollment at 400, with some schools offering viewing parties.

We are thrilled to announce that INQUIRY MATTERS has a permanent professional home in the Center for Educational Partnerships, thanks to Dean Hodges and Dr. Cindy VanBuren, who have advocated for this event since its inception. We are also pleased that the Center for Inquiry has committed to hosting the conference annually, offering continuity while showcasing a range of educators, schools, and partnerships.


By nature, growth and change are at the heart of professional inquiry.

We are excited to enhance the impact of this very special conference by partnering with the South Carolina Writing Improvement Network (WIN) to launch FREE professional inquiry opportunities through micro-credentials.

Join us to learn how we personalize professional learning through micro-credentials. As we move away from the traditional “one-size-fits-all” approach to professional development, the South Carolina Writing Improvement Network is proud to offer free micro-credentials to SC educators. Be recognized for your informal learning and have the opportunity to earn 12 renewal credits and a digital badge. Innovative educators explore, discover, and implement strategies through informal learning when they identify their own strengths, needs, and interests. Our micro-credential catalog flexes to your unique expertise to promote professional growth and change that reflects your personal, school, and district goals. Check our Literacy micro-credential stacks at carolinamcred.org.

Register for micro-credentials here.

Dr. Heidi Mills is a Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of South Carolina. Heidi’s collaborative research with K-5 teachers at the Center for Inquiry (CFI) is featured in professional books, journals, videotapes, and state and national conferences. As co-founder of the Center for Inquiry and University Partner, Heidi leads the annual INQUIRY MATTERS conference, a professional collaboration between the Center for Educational Partnerships at USC and the Center for Inquiry in Richland School District Two.