Several years ago, well before the inception of the Network, Linda and I spent some time in New Mexico and became intrigued with spiral images that were all over the place. We came home with earrings, candle-holders, necklaces, tee-shirts, coasters and even placemats. Although we have cut back on spiral purchases, the image remained compelling.
We hadn’t really made the connection to inquiry until our work with Helen Timperley helped us all realize that the inquiry process is much more of a continuous spiral than it is a fixed cycle. We like the red brush stroked spiral that was designed to reflect our conceptualization of the inquiry process. While we knew the image was right, it was only recently that we learned more about the spiral and what it means to some Native American groups. What we found out made the image even more special.
Over Spring Break I spent a few days with a friend from childhood at an adventure spa in southern Utah. We hiked, practiced yoga, tried out a barre class (never again), had massages and swapped stories over wine. The weather was glorious and the red rocks of the canyons were stunningly beautiful.
On one guided hike, a ranger took us into hidden places where the rocks were covered with ancient petroglyphs of the Navajo people. Spiral images were everywhere. She said that the spiral represents the space between what is and what can be, between the present and a preferred future. It also reflects the passage between life as we know it and an after life.
Later, we were encouraged to walk slowly around, into and out of a spiral of stones in the red dirt. As we walked in, we were encouraged to be aware of the burdens we were carrying, the hurts, the sorrows, the losses – a metaphoric backpack. Once in the centre, we were to put the backpack down and imagine it being consumed by the fire and the energy that exists in the core of the spiral. On the way out, we were to be open to new possibilities. I can imagine some of you thinking I must have been on a very strange adventure.
And yet, when I thought about it, I saw some close parallels with what the spiral of inquiry asks educators to do – and where it can take us. Being open to listening to our learners and reflecting on our own practices takes courage and can often feel a bit overwhelming. The backpack of understanding can feel pretty heavy. And when as a team, we decide to put the backpack down (or as Helen Timperley advised us ‘put down the ducky’) we open ourselves up to all kinds of new possibilities. The changes that schools are making when they go into that space of listening to their learners can be life changing for them.
We say repeatedly that the spiral of inquiry is not an initiative – it is a way of professional being. The idea that the spiral represents the way between where we are and a better place for our learners makes the image even more compelling.