Introduction to the Spring Special Edition on Spirals of Inquiry

Transformative Educational Leadership Journal, ISSUE: {Issue Date:12} |

Over the past decade, the work of inquiry-oriented BC educators has had a global impact. See how the Spirals is impacting learners and creating learning systems across diverse political contexts and systems around the world including Catalonia, Sweden, New South Wales, New Zealand, and British Columbia in this special edition.


When we first started the Network of Performance Based Schools in 2000 we had no idea how this work would grow.

Originally our focus was on supporting educators to build learner agency through formative assessment and especially through the use of the learning progressions in the BC Performance Standards. Early on, we were challenged to expand our views of what networking could look like when a rural educator asked why the opportunity for schools to inquire together was limited to schools within driving distance of Surrey.

When policy leaders in the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education asked us to expand our focus to healthy living, we weren’t initially sure how that would go. We were honoured when Trish Rosborough, the provincial Director of Aboriginal Education  encouraged us to develop a network aimed at improving the learning experiences of Indigenous learners and we wondered what the response would be.

When our collaboration with Helen Timperley led to the design of the spiral of inquiry, we never considered that this might lead to the set of global connections that are represented in this special edition of the TEL journal.

While we may have been uncertain about how this work would  unfold, we had some strong beliefs back in these early days that still hold true for us, perhaps in these uncertain times more than ever.

  1. This is hard work.

We believe that ensuring that ‘every learner crosses the stage with dignity, purpose and options’ is not only really hard work, it is simply too difficult for any one teacher, school or district to do alone. We need to work together and we need to be open to learning from one another. No one has it all figured out. We have to get beyond the constraints of formal roles, political and professional affiliations, geography and distance. We must share generously.

  1. We need to be accountable to each other.

We wanted to develop a set of professional norms within a supportive environment. Part of this is keeping things simple and telling our stories with honesty and humility. We need to show that our work is making a difference and the publication of case studies is an important way of making our learning visible.

  1. Trusting relationships are key.

Strong professional relations are built over time, with face to face connections and shared work. Regional meetings and the annual symposium over the years have helped to create a sense of community and led to lasting professional and personal friendships.

  1. Networks should not be mandated, constructed or managed.

They ought to be encouraged, supported and allowed to grow organically. Leadership in a network is defined by contribution, rather than by hierarchical roles.

Over the past decade, the work of inquiry-oriented BC educators has had a global impact. The inclusion of BC, and specifically NOIIE, in the OECD study of innovative learning environments brought attention to the efficacy of the Spiral of Inquiry as a tool for disciplined innovation. Now with connected networks in the Yukon, New Zealand, Sweden, Catalunya, England, New South Wales, Queensland, the Northern Territories, and Oakland, California the opportunity to learn quickly across jurisdictions is growing in ways unimaginable twenty years ago.

In January 2020, at the ICSEI conference in Morocco, leaders from some of these networks met for the first time. We laughed, shared stories, enjoyed meals together and learned from each other. Together we participated in a symposium in which each jurisdiction highlighted some of the key aspects of their work.

We were honoured to have Professor Louise Stoll from the University College London serve as discussant at the end of the session. Here are two of her key points:

  1. Context matters but it doesn’t matter

The contexts of the six cases widely differ. Some national or regional contexts are more stable, others more volatile, and some could be considered ‘hostile’ as environments for Spirals of Inquiry. Of course, context is extremely important, but these cases show that Spirals is possible in all of them. Spirals can be adapted to context while staying true to its fundamental principles and phases. Indigenous wisdom, an underpinning feature, brings a special perspective to several cases.

  1. Spirals is not an add on – it’s ‘the thing’

The Spiral of Inquiry is about deep, inclusive and cohesive culture change. It’s a way of approaching every educational problem – with an inquiry mindset. In essence it’s a way of life for many involved educators, schools and – it appears – case study authors.

So now it is your turn to enjoy the perspectives provided in these articles.

We encourage you to reflect on the challenges of the political context in Catalunya, the tenacity of district leadership in BC, the creativity of principal leadership in NSW, the wisdom of facilitation in New Zealand, the inspired teamwork in Sweden, and the complexity of the policy environment in England.  We agree with Louise, “Context matters but it doesn’t.”  We think each of these cases reflect the beliefs that we value deeply. See what you think.

Drs Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser

Co-Founders, Network of Inquiry and Indigenous Education
Network of Inquiry and Indigenous Education (NOIIE) | Transformative Educational Leadership Program (TELP)

Dr. Judy Halbert and Dr. Linda Kaser lead the Transformative Educational Leadership Program at the University of British Columbia ( and the Networks of Inquiry and Indigenous Education ( Linda and Judy have served as teachers, principals, district leaders and policy advisors with British Columbia’s Ministry of Education.

They are deeply committed to achieving equity and quality for all learners—and to networking for innovation and improvement across systems. To that end, they served as Canadian representatives to the OECD international research program on Innovative Learning Environments. They are pleased to support inquiry networks in British Columbia, the Yukon, England, Catalonia, Sweden, New South Wales, the Northern Territories, New Zealand and Queensland.

In 2019, along with NOIIE leader Debbie Leighton Stephens, they were awarded the prestigious Cmolik Prize for the enhancement of public education in British Columbia.

They are the co-authors of The Spiral Playbook (2017), System Transformation for Equity and Quality (2016), Spirals of Inquiry (2013), Leadership Mindsets: Innovation and Learning in the Transformation of Schools (2009) and with Helen Timperley, A Framework for Transforming Learning in Schools: Innovation and the Spiral of Inquiry (2014).

One response to “Introduction to the Spring Special Edition on Spirals of Inquiry”

  1. Victoria Ibáñez

    I deeply admire the work and involvement of Drs Kaser and Halbert

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