Leadership and the spiral of inquiry

The spiral of inquiry, learning and action is about learning through doing the work, rather than learning about the leadership of learning outside of our own contexts.

Leading learning

Many people write and talk about leaders leading learning and change, but by doing the work, by engaging in the spiral of inquiry, the whole process becomes the leadership of change.

“I did a course on change management. I got all the theory but didn’t really know what to do. It suddenly occurred to me the other day that the spiral is change management. I’m actually doing it without even realising.”

“The organisation and culture are absolutely critical. The leadership role is around goal setting, and strategic direction and resourcing.”

Further reading

Q & A with Helen TimperleyAERA Leading the Change Series, Issue No 51, October 2015 – How the spiral of inquiry, learning and action is whole school change management. 

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Building on the BES

In this audio Helen Timperley talks about what has changed since writing the BES on teacher professional development and how those changes are reflected in the Spiral of inquiry framework.

In the audio the term BES refers to the report Teacher Professional Learning and Development: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration. 


Further reading

Leading teaching and learning through professional learning (PDF). Helen Timperley in AEL, May 2015, 37(2)  – How an inquiry approach to professional learning may differ from some other typical approaches.

Everyone including me

It is well established that teachers make the difference, so in change situations leaders often assume that their job is to help teachers to change their practice. But this approach creates the ‘everyone but me’ syndrome where everyone thinks someone else needs to change. Leaders think teachers should change, teachers think leaders, students, or whānau should change, and so on.

This mindset needs to become ‘everyone including me’. The collective efforts of everyone are essential to making a real difference to outcomes for learners.

“Inquiry is a collaborative process involving more than just one or two people. To learn deeply you have to learn from one another. The inquiry spiral is a team sport, not an individual endeavour.”

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Working with the spiral of inquiry, learning and action

“Inquiry is a stance. It’s a way of professional being, it’s not a thing. We don’t ‘do’ inquiry. We’re just always asking ourselves and seeking for the evidence that we are making enough of a difference.”

Judy Halbert talks about the key features of the spiral of inquiry, learning and action. (Whole Education, Youtube)


Further reading

Narrowing the gap with spirals of enquiryStoll, L. and Temperley, J., Whole Education website – Information, including an evaluation report, on a pilot programme using spirals of inquiry, learning and action in the UK.

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New Zealand school stories

Pakuranga College: Leaders leading learning

Pakuranga College principal Mike Williams reflects on the school's experience of growing a professional learning environment with inquiry at the heart.

Inquiry at Albany Senior High School

Inside view of Albany Senior High

All staff at Albany Senior High School engage in rigorous professional inquiry with student learners and colleagues on an ongoing basis. The process has developed over a number of years but the purpose has been the same - to ensure academic success for everyone.

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