Spirals of Inquiry: Maintaining Momentum in Term 4 (Learning, Taking Action & Checking)

During Term 3, 2017 many of the educators I have been mentoring were engaging in the initial stages of the Learning phase of Spirals of Inquiry. This has been their first year using Spirals and at times they've found the process to be slow. On reflection, as they read through each phase of the Spirals using this reading by Timperley, Kaser and Halbert, they agree that there is value in slowing down. This has enabled them to engage in some deep reflection on beliefs and practices in order to change, to support their learners. 


The initial stages of the Learning phase can sometimes be described as "scattergun learning". A focus area has emerged from Scanning and Focusing but we are still unsure about this area. We don't know enough about it, so we begin searching for information and research in order to decide where to deeply focus. 

At this stage, I prompt the educators I work with to:
  • ensure their team's inquiries are still aligned to scanning and focusing work and the School Vision (some may be tempted to drift too far away from this into their own preferred areas of learning)
  • use the above mentioned article to review Learning so far (read the Learning phase section of this reading and talk about this as a team)

Learning Design

During the initial stages of the Learning Phase (which of course overlaps with other phases!) we will not have identified exactly what strategies we are going to implement for our learners. We don't yet know enough to design these. I encourage educators to use the grey boxes article to reflect on some key questions - in particular, I like these questions from the article for this stage in the inquiry:

How can you make sure that the strategies you are considering are evidence-informed, current and fit with your context? What designs for professional learning will you use? Over time how will you build in multiple opportunities for learning during the school day? How will you sustain the momentum and keep the learning engaging? How will you address the varied needs of educators in your setting? How will you ensure that everyone – formal leaders, teachers and support staff – are engaged in their learning?

Taking Action

To move forward into Taking Action, teams can do the following:

  • Discuss how you will narrow your focused inquiry further - down to one newly formed team goal. This is often necessary at this stage as teams have identified several areas of focus which could become unmanageable. Ask yourselves: What is likely to have the most impact?
  • Align your focused inquiry to the school, service or CoL Vision and Values and/or focus areas
  • Create or revise learner goals - during the hunch phase you would have identified some key challenges that learners face when engaging in learning. Learner goals can be partly informed by these challenges and the initial learning that you've done.

Learner goals should always be set in partnership with learners and their whānau and they should be aware of your related team and teacher goals. If you have worked alongside learners and their whānau since the Scanning phase, it will be easier for learners to see the relevance of reviewing their existing goals at this stage.

In Term 4, the teams that I work with will be creating a Learning and Change Plan. This is the inquiry process moving into deeper, sustained Learning, Taking Action and Checking. Teams will engage in both theoretical and experiential learning and they will design their longer term solutions for their own practice. Solutions will be embedded into their practice over time. Some Learning and Change plans could take two years or more, while others only a number of weeks.

Inquiries will flow into 2018 and target learners may be in front of new teachers. Fresh Scanning will occur while the Learning and Change plans are adjusted according to where the target learners have moved to and new teaching approaches will be implemented. Ultimately, the Spirals have learners at the heart, and teacher practice is the key player in the change.


At the end of Term 4, we will review the year of Spirals of Inquiry and decide on whether we did things well enough, fast enough, or deep enough. Now that these educators have experienced what effective Teaching as Inquiry can achieve, they will know how to design each phase in their place for an even more effective 2018.

This is also a time for final review with target learners to look at what made a difference for them this year. We will use Story Hui to work with learners to hear their stories and to hear about what changes they noticed in their learning this year as a result of their teachers' (and their own) changed actions. Teachers will reflect on their own actions taken to support this year's learners and will take what worked through into 2018 and their Learning and Change plans for embedding and sustaining into their pedagogical practice.