Saturday, June 30, 2018

Key questions really matter

Listening to Learners: The Starting Point for Real Change

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This post is by Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, who are co-leaders of Networks of Inquiry and Innovationand the Aboriginal Enhancement Schools Network
Last month in Vancouver, at the annual symposium of the BC Networks of Inquiry and InnovationJordan, a Grade 10 student from a mid-sized secondary school presented an Ignite talkto the 350 educators in the room. Jordan showed the bentwood box she had built in a combined English and Fine Arts class. A beautiful design was etched into the top of the box and poetry circled it. Jordan explained the symbolism of the objects carefully placed in the box - a piece of cactus representing resilience, a vial of water from the lake reflecting openness to learning and a piece of sage symbolizing forgiveness and cleansing. She read an excerpt from the letter in the box that she was giving to a local Elder. And, she thanked the school for providing her the opportunity to learn about the local Indigenous culture, to learn from and with Elders, to read widely, to learn on the land and to create a gift of personal significance. Jordan ended by acknowledging the teachers who created the conditions for learning to flourish. There were few dry eyes at the end of this talk and the audience rose as one to provide a prolonged standing ovation.
What were the conditions that led to this school creating the conditions for the kind of learning that Jordan is experiencing? What distinguishes the BC Networks of Inquiry and innovation from other forms of school networks? How does a shared framework across schools help to keep the focus on deeper learning?
For the past eighteen years, we have been supporting a network of 600 schools within the province of British Columbia that has expanded to include schools in the Yukon Territory, England, New South Wales, Queensland, New Zealand, Barcelona and Sweden. Educators in these diverse systems are voluntarily coming together in pursuit of three common goals: every learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options; everylearner leaving our settings more curious than when they arrive; and, every learner gaining an understanding of and a respect for Indigenous knowledge and culture. In addition to supporting these networks, we have also been involved in developing and teaching graduateprogramswith a focus on developing the kinds of mindsets and skills required to meet the dual goals of high equity and high quality.
Central to our work with schools in the Network is a disciplined and evidence-informed framework for professional inquiry, developed in collaboration with Helen Timperley from the University of Auckland. The Spiral of Inquiryinvolves six key stages of scanning, focusing, developing a hunch, engaging in new professional learning, taking new professional action, checking that a big enough difference has been made and then re-engaging to consider what is next. Like other action research processes, this process asks teachers to engage in a cycle of action and reflection, but what is particularly distinctive about our process has been its focus on understanding the perspectives of students--and then using this knowledge to design more powerful learning experiences.
Spirals of inquiry.jpg
Although the stages in the spiral overlap, paying attention to each aspect is critical in achieving the greatest benefit for all learners. At every stage, inquiry teams ask themselves three important questions: 'What's going on for our learners?' 'How do we know?'and 'Why does this matter?'
The first two questions prompt educators to check constantly that learners are at the heart of what they do and that all decisions are based on thoughtful evidence from direct observations as well as formal evidence sources. The third question helps to ground teams in the importance of the direction they are pursuing.
An additional foundation for the inquiry learning networks consists of four key questions that are drawn from research on social emotional learning and self-regulation. School teams use these four questions with their learners as key parts of the scanning and checking phases of the spiral of inquiry:
  • Can you name two people in this school who believe that you will be a success in life? How do they let you know?
  • What are you learning? Why is it important? How does this learning connect to your life outside of school?
  • How are you doing with your learning? 
  • What are your next steps?
These questions may seem deceptively simple. When used as a regular routine, however, educators have found that they have a profound effect on shifting learning practices to increase learner sense of belonging and ownership. The first question quickly helps educators identify learners who do not feel connected to adults within the school - and propels them to immediate action. The next three questions help move educator thinking from a preoccupation with content coverage to a focus on what learners are actually experiencing and the extent to which they are developing agency and depth.
So, how is this focus on networked inquiry leading to deeper learning for young people like Jordan? When the staff at Jordan's school asked the questions, many students reported that although they were doing relatively well, they didn't see the relevance of what they were learning. They could say what they were doing but struggled to say why it was important. They didn't know how what they were learning in school was connected to life outside of school. They had limited connections to their community and to the land. A number of young people were unable to name two adults who believed in them. These responses from their learners moved the staff to informed and committed action designed to deepen engagement.
By systematically engaging in professional inquiry, educators are gaining confidence in listening to their learners, in reflecting on their current practices, in exploring ways to develop deeper learning and then moving to action. By using evidence about learning that values collective professional judgment, teachers are becoming more curious about the experiences of their learners. By participating in an international inquiry network, school teams are expanding their conceptions of what is possible.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Inquiry & Innovation Summer Institute

Please join us for a two-day intensive working session for teachers, principals, Aboriginal cultural workers, district leaders and others interested in making inquiry-informed and innovative practices a way of life in your school and district settings.
Instructors: Dr. Linda Kaser and Dr. Judy Halbert
Please see the poster and share with your colleagues!  

Sunday, December 17, 2017

2018 NOII Symposium - May 11 - 12

We’re gearing up for the 2018 Symposium on May 11 – 12th, 2018 at the Westin Wall Centre, 3099 Corvette Way, Richmond, BC. Please join us another event showcasing presentations from leading local and global educators, practical school-based sessions, flash chats, ignites and lots of time for networking.


The cost for the 2018 Symposium is $350 (including gst). We do not offer 1 day rates. Please register online here.

Please share the Symposium Flyer with your colleagues.



We have arranged for a limited number of rooms at the Westin Wall Centre at 3099 Corvette Way, Richmond, BC.

To qualify for the group rate of $155 CAD+tax, book early and prior to April 18, 2018 using the information below: 

Phone: 1-866-716-8108 indicating “NOII” or “Networks of Inquiry and Innovation” Symposium.

 Visit our website for more information.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Two UBC MOOCs (free online courses)

Next Offering October 17, 2017 |

Engage with Indigenous knowledge keepers, educational leaders, and resources to enhance your understanding and knowledge of practices that advance reconciliation in the places where you live, learn, and work.

This course will help you envision how Indigenous histories, perspectives, worldviews, and approaches to learning can be made part of the work we do in classrooms, organizations, communities, and our everyday experiences in ways that are thoughtful and respectful. In this course, reconciliation emphasizes changing institutional structures, practices, and policies, as well as personal and professional ideologies to create environments that are committed to strengthening our relationships with Indigenous peoples.
For educators, this means responding to educational reforms that prioritize improved educational outcomes for Indigenous learners. In addition, educators must support all learners to develop their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous people¹s worldviews and cultures as a basis for creating equitable and inclusive learning spaces. To support these goals, teachers, administrators, young people, school staff, and researchers will learn from Indigenous Elders, educational leaders, and culturally relevant learning resources as part of their experiences in this MOOC.
For others who want to build their own competence and the capacity of those around them to engage in relationships with Indigenous peoples based on intercultural understanding, empathy, and respect, this course will help get you started in this process.

Learning Objectives:

·     Explore personal and professional histories and assumptions in relationship to Indigenous peoples histories and worldviews.
·     Deepen understanding and knowledge of colonial histories and current realities of Indigenous people.
·     Engage with Indigenous worldviews and perspectives that contextualize and support your understanding of the theories and practices of Indigenous education.
·     Develop strategies that contribute to the enhancement of Indigenous-settler relations in schools, organizations, and communities.
·     Explore Indigenous worldviews and learning approaches for their application to the classroom or community learning setting.
·     Engage in personal and professional discussions in an online environment with others committed to understanding and advancing reconciliation.


Launches October 31, 2017 |

Mental health literacy is the foundation for mental health promotion, prevention and care and can be successfully implemented through classroom based curriculum interventions that have been scientifically shown to improve mental health related outcomes for students and also for their teachers. A Canadian-developed, nationally and internationally-researched resource, the Guide ­ previously delivered only through face-to-face training ­ is now available online through this UBC-supported program.

In this course, educators will learn how to apply this classroom-ready, web-based, modular mental health curriculum resource (the Guide) as well as upgrade their own mental health literacy. Educators can then use this curriculum resource in their schools to successfully address mental health related curriculum outcomes designed to be delivered by usual classroom teachers to students in grades 8 ­-10.

Learning Objectives:

·     How to apply a variety of first-voice and knowledge based classroom activities that have been shown to significantly, substantially and sustainably decrease mental health related stigma.
·     How to apply a variety of video and knowledge based classroom activities that have been shown to significantly, substantially and sustainably increase knowledge related to mental disorders and treatments
·     How to apply a variety of knowledge based classroom activities, personal exercises and other evidence based interventions that have been shown to significantly and substantially improve: health and mental health self-care; stress understanding and management; mental health help-seeking capacity.
·     Better understanding of all aspects of mental health literacy that can be applied not only in the classroom but to all aspects of an educator¹s own circumstances: understanding how to obtain and maintain good mental health; understanding mental disorders and their treatments; decreasing stigma; increasing help-seeking efficacy.

Visit our website for more detailed information, and program

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

UBC Inquiry and Innovation Summer Institute - Reg by June 12!

There is still a bit of time (although not much!) to register for the UBC Inquiry and Innovation Summer Institute on July 7 & 8. A two-day intensive working session for teachers, principals, Aboriginal cultural workers, district leaders and others interested in making inquiry-informed and innovative practices a way of life in your school and district settings.
This is a great opportunity to bring a team of educators for some in-depth summer learning.
The registration deadline has been extended to June 12.
Please share the flyer with your colleagues.
For more details and to register visit:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Making Things Right

What an action packed few weeks of learning and sharing it has been for the Networks. There have been a number of regional celebrations taking place over the last few days or coming up soon, with school teams sharing their inquiry learning and celebrating how connected learning matters and how this has the potential to “make things right” for our students and communities.  

Those who attended the 2017 NOII Symposium (or followed us on Twitter at #noii2017) will surely remember the significance of “making things right” and how Kaleb Child explained this as being our collective responsibility for our children, as well as recognizing the “racism of low expectations.” Indeed, many of the presenters, school presentations, ignite sessions and flash chats addressed this challenge throughout the 3 day event. 

And this is what the Network is all about – and what the Symposium hopes to accomplish each year. It’s about coming together and working hard to address how to improve the outcomes and lived experiences of our learners. It’s about EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options. All learners (kids and adults) leaving the school more curious than when they arrived. And ALL learners gaining knowledge and respect for Indigenous ways of knowing. We hope you felt these “reverberations” as you participated in the Symposium this year. Here are some comments we received through our feedback survey:
“As for ideas that resonated with me... so many! My biggest one that I came back with and spoke with my District Principal about was the fact that Spirals brings the focus back to the students. It isn't about teachers' professional "development". Instead it is about being reflective educators engaging in "professional learning" in responsive ways to meet the needs of our students. It places the students at the centre of all learning, including the teachers.”
“The power of grassroots, teacher-led development of practice is a force unstoppable. It was a great first experience with the Symposium. One veteran participant described it as coming home to a family of like-minded educators.”
“What jazzed me was the diversity of ideas, the push to go to the next level. Only my second time attending, but by the end exhausted and invigorated at the same time! The importance of keeping it up, pushing through the moments of exasperation and helping each student believe they can be successful, then helping them find that success.”
“The symposium was so inspiring and energizing - it has really given me the push I needed to finish the year off strong, and to plan for the year ahead. I have already begun making connections with other educators and outside groups in order to get our outdoor classroom, and outdoor education program as a whole, rolling for next year.”
“I am changing my job description to inquiry and innovation leader, along with my 2 new teaching partners!”
“Every single person who came was genuinely on the paddling team - from the Yukon, BC, Alberta, New Zealand, Australia, Oakland, Montreal... it was spirit lifting to know so many people who care so deeply - and also who know how to play.”
“I left in a state of awe, gratitude and wonder. My learning will reverberate for months and years to come. Thank you all!”
“Excellent arrangement of speakers, musicians and story tellers. Food was lovely, venue was fabulous, content was rich and evoked curiosity. I have indeed left more curious than when I came - and I came in with a dozen questions! Thanks for the fabulous sessions! Well done.”
We are extremely grateful to those who contributed their time to the event through presentations, leading flash chats, volunteering, and being fully engaged in lively discussions over the course of 3 days. Several presentations and highlights from the Symposium have now been posted on our website here. Some shared comments are also captured below and through #noii2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

Spiralling Into Something Better

Several years ago, well before the inception of the Network, Linda and I spent some time in New Mexico and became intrigued with spiral images that were all over the place. We came home with earrings, candle-holders, necklaces, tee-shirts, coasters and even placemats. Although we have cut back on spiral purchases, the image remained compelling.   

We hadn’t really made the connection to inquiry until our work with Helen Timperley helped us all realize that the inquiry process is much more of a continuous spiral than it is a fixed cycle.  We like the red brush stroked spiral that was designed to reflect our conceptualization of the inquiry process. While we knew the image was right, it was only recently that we learned more about the spiral and what it means to some Native American groups. What we found out made the image even more special.

Over Spring Break I spent a few days with a friend from childhood at an adventure spa in southern Utah.  We hiked, practiced yoga, tried out a barre class (never again), had massages and swapped stories over wine.  The weather was glorious and the red rocks of the canyons were stunningly beautiful. 

On one guided hike, a ranger took us into hidden places where the rocks were covered with ancient petroglyphs of the Navajo people. Spiral images were everywhere. She said that the spiral represents the space between what is and what can be, between the present and a preferred future. It also reflects the passage between life as we know it and an after life. 

Later, we were encouraged to walk slowly around, into and out of a spiral of stones in the red dirt. As we walked in, we were encouraged to be aware of the burdens we were carrying, the hurts, the sorrows, the losses -  a metaphoric backpack. Once in the centre, we were to put the backpack down and imagine it being consumed by the fire and the energy that exists in the core of the spiral. On the way out, we were to be open to new possibilities. I can imagine some of you thinking I must have been on a very strange adventure.

And yet, when I thought about it, I saw some close parallels with what the spiral of inquiry asks educators to do – and where it can take us. Being open to listening to our learners and reflecting on our own practices takes courage and can often feel a bit overwhelming. The backpack of understanding can feel pretty heavy. And when as a team, we decide to put the backpack down (or as Helen Timperley advised us ‘put down the ducky’) we open ourselves up to all kinds of new possibilities. The changes that schools are making when they go into that space of listening to their learners can be life changing for them.  

We say repeatedly that the spiral of inquiry is not an initiative -  it is a way of professional being. The idea that the spiral represents the way between where we are and a better place for our learners makes the image even more compelling.