Reflections on Spiralling Down Under

By August 13, 2016Uncategorised
Linda and I are just back from ten days in Sydney and Melbourne where we had the great opportunity to work with close to 700 school leaders in eleven different sessions held in a variety of settings.  What each of these groups had in common was their interest in applying the spiral of inquiry to developing, deepening and extending the work of professional learning communities. 
In addition to learning, somewhat to our dismay, that it can be really cold in Australia in winter, we also had a chance to reflect on some key ideas that we believe can contribute to strengthening the impact of our inquiry work here at home.
Here are our current top ten:
1    The pull of curiosity can be more powerful than the push of policy.   A challenge for district, school and network leaders is to create the conditions for teachers to be professionally curious.  Intentionally and strategically asking the four key questions  – and then acting on the responses – is a starting point in building educator curiosity about what is going on for their learners.
2.   The power of giving it a go.  We learn about the potential of the spiral of inquiry to change outcomes for learners – of all ages – by giving it a go. Once we have some basic understanding of the spiral of inquiry, we get started and we learn together from our actions. The first time through gives us the opportunity to understand how the spiral works, and after that the work just gets deeper and deeper.
3.     You can start anywhere. While we teach the stages of spiral as a sequence, the reality is that you can start anywhere – as long as ultimately you pay attention to all of the stages. Your curiosity may have been piqued by some new learning experiences that you had during the summer. You may have read an article, seen a YouTube clip or attended a conference that got you thinking about your own learners. So you might go right from new learning to scanning. Or, you may have had some niggling thoughts about your own practices that you aren’t sure are as effective as they might be. You have a hunch that something may not be quite right. Time to scan and to check it out. 
4.     Mindset matters. Ever since Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success was published in 2006 we have been encouraging all our grad students and every participant at any workshop we lead to read this book. Subsequent research studies have validated the importance of mindset in developing confident resilient learners. If you have yet to seriously explore the research on mindset, make this the year it happens.  And once you have done the reading, then make sure you develop ways to teach the importance of mindset directly to your students and to the families you serve. The evidence is simply too compelling to ignore.
5.     The meso level is where change action takes place.  In Schooling Redesigned, one of the final publications from the OECD study on Innovative Learning Environments, David Istance argued that in all the cases reviewed as part of this work, it was a rich web of networks and partnerships that lead to substantive and meaningful innovation.  The argument is no longer whether innovation is motivated from the top or from the bottom, or indeed from the middle.  Rather, it is the extent to which systems support networks and partnerships across all levels.
6.     Shared language and common frameworks build coherence.  The findings of the Learning First study on teacher professional learning in high performing systems ( emphasized the importance of teacher professional learning being inquiry-based, linked and coherent.  We believe that the more BC schools and districts are intentional about using the spiral of inquiry to change outcomes for learners, the more linked and coherent our system will become.
7.     Our goals should be hard and we need to double down.  We have been pushing towards achieving our goal of EVERY learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options for close to ten years. At one point we thought achieving this goal would be a cool way to celebrate Canada’s 150thbirthday in 2017. We won’t be popping the champagne just yet as we aren’t quite there.  As an increasing number of schools and districts in BC take up this challenge – and are able to say how close they are getting to make this a reality – this may be the perfect time to pick up the pace.
8.     Aboriginal education is for everyone. We have been inspired and encouraged by the ways in which educators across BC and the Yukon are picking up their paddles, getting into the canoe, and paddling together to make the changes that are so necessary to support our Aboriginal learners. Our vision for AESN is that together we create an inquiry community where everyone learns and works together to ensure that every Aboriginal learner crosses the stage with dignity, purpose and options –  and that together we eliminate racism in schools.
9.     Keep it simple.  Sometimes it seems like the biggest challenge for us as educators is to keep things simple and focused.  If a one-page plan is good, wouldn’t a ten page plan be even better? Not true.  Whether we are writing growth plans, designing rubrics, creating learning continuum or writing personal professional plans, it is too often the tendency to keep adding and adding.

      Put down the ducky. At the NOII symposium in May Helen Timperley ended her remarks with a clip from Sesame Street  ( that made the point that when we are learning something new, we have to decide what we are going to stop doing.  What’s the ducky you are going to put down??
Ten is such a nice tidy number – and it isn’t quite enough. If we could add one more to the top ten – it would be this. Friendship Matters.  What was so special about being in Australia this time was to see new friendships being formed, to deepen friendships already in place, to create new opportunities and possibilities for collaborative work in the months and years ahead and to hear abut how much Australian visitors to BC have appreciated the warm welcome and gracious hospitality of school districts hosts.  Margaret Wheatley argued that very great change starts from very small conversations. Change happens when one friend turns to another and says, “I have an idea, what if….?”  We have seen great things happen when friends get together and take action on what really matters most. Sometimes those friendships take us on journeys we could not have anticipated.  

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