Moving Learning Forward

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In early December, I had the privilege of attending the Learning Forward Conference in beautiful British Columbia.  This was my first experience at this learning association’s international conference and it did not disappoint. With the stunning backdrop of the Coast mountains, waterfront area and downtown Vancouver skyline, educators from across Canada, the US and international representatives came together to share, collaborate and learn. Find below some highlights of the rich connections I made in sessions throughout the week. For a further glimpse into my learning for the week visit this Storify.

A highlight of the conference was the time I spent going deeper into the work of Linda Kaser and Judy Halbert.  Their work around the Spirals of Inquiry (Spiral of Inquiry: For Equity and Quality) involves a process looking at these 6 steps:

  • Scanning
  • Focusing
  • Developing a Hunch
  • New Professional Learning
  • Taking Action
  • Checking

Spirals of Inquiry has been on my radar over the past year, but spending time with its creators looking strategically at how  schools can take this collaborative, inquiry-oriented, evidence-based approach to teaching and learning was very beneficial. We looked closely at the concept of HARD goals to centralize our focus, as well as grounding inquiry in the key principles that shape deep, meaningful learning including the First Peoples Principles of Learning, and the OECD Nature of Learning- 7 Principles of Learning. 


We also closely considered the three questions that should drive all that we do:

  • What’s going on for our learners?
  • How do we know?
  • Why does this matter?  .  

The Spirals of Inquiry framework has the potential to be a hugely impactful resource in helping educators to determine strategies for shifting thinking and practice within schools while developing a sense of collective and collaborative professional agency.

A second session, I attended related to this work (Inquiring Professionals: Activating Learning and Changing Lives) involved numerous BC public school districts sharing their experiences along the following question: “In what ways do district strategic initiatives in inquiry based learning act as catalysts for moving learning forward and enhancing student success?” The practical stories, examples and overall learning journeys shared by these many districts helped to anchor and ground the collaborative professional inquiry work within many real and meaningful contexts.  For further examples of how the Spirals of Inquiry and Networks of Inquiry and Innovation support collaborative professional inquiry visit these case studies.

Some of my biggest takeaways from my time spent with the passionate educators connected to the Spirals of Inquiry and related professional inquiry initiatives is the commitment to always placing the learner at the centre and the necessity of these key statements:

  • ALL learners should develop an understanding of and respect for an Indigenous worldview
  • ALL learners should be able to name two adults in their building that think they as an individual will achieve success in life and can explain how they know 
  • ALL learners should leave school more curious than when they arrive
  • EVERY learner should cross the stage with dignity, purpose and options


In recent times, Learning Forward commissioned and supported a study of professional learning across Canada. The release of the results coincided with the 2016 Annual Conference in Vancouver leading to exciting opportunities for reflection and discussion. Lead researcher, Carol Campbell, Associate Professor of Leadership and Educational Change at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE),unveiled the findings of this extensive research study on  Monday at the conference.  In the final report entitled; The State of Educator Professional Learning in Canada she shared definitive findings and important considerations related to educational professional learning in the areas of;

  • Quality content
  • Learning design & implementation
  • Support & Sustainability

For a more in depth look at the findings of the study and how to promote the tenets of quality professional learning in individual school contexts visit the full report here.

Screen Shot 2016-12-19 at 7.31.38 PM.pngAs a follow up to the findings and as a response for a need for support in these areas, Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves, who keynoted at the conference offered  a “Call to Action: Bringing the Profession Back In” .In this call to action, building on the Canada study, Fullan and Hargreaves outline an argument for meaningful professional learning and development. They use the following questions to guide their insights and recommendations around professional learning and development (PLD).

  • What is the essence of PLD?
  • Why do advocates keep making a flawed case for PLD?
  • How are critics making a misdirected case against PLD?
  • What’s the symbiosis (mutual benefit) between students and their teachers in terms of their learning, well-being, and development?
  • How do we understand and underscore the importance of the individual and the collective aspects of PLD?
  • How do we build a culture of professional capital — our call to action?

They conclude with actions for teachers, systems, and Canada to take to establish a culture of collaborative professionalism.



One of the true highlights of the week for me was a session facilitated by Brad Ermerling, and Genevieve Graf-Ermerling entitled, Teaching Between Desks for Deeper Learning. The presenters introduced the notion of “ Kikan Shido”,  a specific term used by educators in Japan, describing the teaching that takes place during critical “between-the desk” opportunities in classrooms. They described how teachers around the world spend hours of class time each week roving between desks, tables or other student work spaces during student activities, group projects, pair work, or individual practice. They shared research and video examples from Japan and the U.S. and explained the power of “Kikan Shido” for facilitating deeper learning using the processes of:

  • monitoring student activity
  • guiding student activity
  • organizing materials
  • physical set-up
  • engaging in social talk

One of the major shifts in teacher thinking and facilitating during these, “between the desks” teaching and learning opportunities is changing the focus from answering questions to asking deep, rich questions, as well as being more thoughtful in planning key questions ahead of time.

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Another interesting session of note was one entitled, Hacking Leadership: A Disturbing Guide facilitated by Antonia Issa Lahera and Kendall Zoller. This full day session examined the many dimensions of leadership, considering implications for both the heart and mind, as well as what role relationships, values and beliefs play in both leadership and implementing change.  It looked to supporting a process for creating innovations within any organization by gaining a foundation in communicative intelligence and adaptivity so that people within any educational realm can lead and grow.

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One foundational piece used as a framework for empowering leaders was the 5 elements for Adaptive Leadership (The Practice of Adaptive Leadership – by Heifetz and Grashaw):

  •  From the balcony- having empathy, stepping back , shifting perspectives from being inside to viewing from the outside
  • Think politically- how to be in service of both citizen and state, the skill of building alliances or relationships with people you may not necessarily agree with, who may oppose our beliefs, build relationships where needed
  • Orchestrate conflict- the goal is not to have conflict, but it is a reality when we are challenging values and beliefs. How can we be mindful in the heat of the moment? How can we use strategies like “third point” to reach our goals?
  • Give the work back -the importance of developing and challenging people, making people slightly uncomfortable but within their capabilities, or comfortable and pushing them in other ways, giving others opportunities to grow
  • Hold steady- what is it that you believe in that you are prepared to stand firm on and not waver from? what happens when values conflict?

We also looked closely at  DThinking from the Institute of Design at Stanford.  This design thinking process is a step by step, interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, that begins with the lens of empathizing, and can be used to approach a myriad of challenges.


We explored the importance of having “communicative intelligence”, and establishing rapport  before anything else with people. We also examined the 7 Essential Abilities of Effective Presenters.


The session was dynamic, and layered, as is effective leadership.  It offered many and varied perspectives around the forces, processes and considerations necessary in leading innovation and change. These words from the presenters summarize it best…. 


The final and powerful keynote to the conference was by Denise Augustine, a District Principal of Aboriginal Education from the Cowichan Valley in BC. Denise shared stories from her family including her grandmother’s struggles in residential schools and her own journey as a learner and educator.  She invited us to imagine an education system that values diversity, inspires innovation and embraces success and achievement for ALL learners. Denise discussed how in order for there to be a transformation in education we must recognize the gifts each learner brings, and nurture those gifts. We must  know the  assumptions and biases we hold with us and learn from each other.  We must make space for our educators to show up with passion, love, and a drive to continue to improve education for all children. And we must empower each one of the learners in our care to become collaborative, creative, courageous, critically thinking, problem solvers.  

It was a wonderful ending to an amazing, enriching week of learning!

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