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Learning network with emphasis on Indigenous education wins 2019 Cmolik Prize

May 09, 2019

By Allen M. Quinn

An innovative network of schools and school districts that place special emphasis on Indigenous learning is being lauded for improving the quality and equity of education in the province.

The 2019 $100,000 Cmolik Prize for the Enhancement of Public Education in B.C. has been awarded to Debbie Leighton-Stephens, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser for their innovative Networks of Inquiry and Indigenous Education (NOIIE). The inquiry-oriented, evidence-based approach to learning and teaching has improved education in British Columbia.

“The Network of Inquiry and Indigenous Education demonstrates the transformative power of inquiry through collaborative networks,” says Kris Magnusson, SFU’s dean of the Faculty of Education.

“When educational leaders support each other through mutual learning, and encourage students to adopt inquiry-based attitudes and evidence-based practices, they foster equity, inclusiveness and quality learning for all. Teachers are re-energized, and students feel more connected and demonstrate higher levels of academic achievement.”  

The winner was chosen from 18 outstanding nominations. Established in 2000, NOIIE improves equity in education by incorporating teamwork across roles, schools and districts; and a focus on applying coaching forms of assessment to assist learners to take greater ownership of their learning. Across the province, 18 school districts are in the network, including Victoria, Coquitlam and Vancouver.

“When you create something as a community of people and peers and see it moving through the world in a really good place, making a better province, a better territory and a better Canada, particularly around Indigenous education, is so life satisfying,” said Kaser, co-director of NOIIE.

The heart of the program is the spiral of inquiry, which puts evidence about learners at the centre of decision making to spark professional curiosity and inspire informed action.

Co-director Judy Halbert says NOIIE is dedicated to three goals:

  • Every learner crossing the stage with dignity, purpose and options;
  • Every learner leaving our settings more curious than when they arrived;
  • All learners gaining an understanding of and respect for Indigenous ways of knowing and together to eliminate racism in schools

NOIIE and the spiral of inquiry have had significant impacts on student and teacher learning and is highly replicable to more schools, districts, and education systems as the framework is easily adaptable by design.

Overall, students’ outcomes include higher academic achievement, better well­‐being, and more of a sense of belonging for Indigenous students and awareness and understanding for settler students. Teachers report feeling more connected, supported, energized, and curious about how their actions and learning impacts students. The model of both the network itself and the inquiry methodology builds adaptive expertise and collective efficacy.  

The Cmolik Prize recognizes recipients who have developed and implemented an invention, innovation, concept, process or procedure that enhances educational practice in the K-12 public school system in B.C.

The award was created through a generous endowment to SFU’s Faculty of Education by Russ and Ellen Cmolik, founders of the Cmolik Foundation.


Province-wide Network for Environmental Learning Communities of Practice

Kerrie Mortin

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation Education (HCTF) program contribution is a province-wide network for environmental learning communities of practice.

This contribution is a one of a kind, province-wide environmental education innovation dedicated to supporting B.C. schools, teachers and students with programs, resources and funding to advance environmental literacy and citizenship.

The model is built on its large and dedicated WildBC Facilitator Network committed to implementing and managing change in the education ecosystem.

By addressing teacher challenges and needs through effective support, professional development and resources to influencing best practices in teaching and learning to result in positive outcomes for students.

This model has fulfilled a unique niche in supporting environmental and place-based learning in B.C.  

Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation

Allison Kermode, Norm Hann, Nicolas Teichrob, Anthony Bonello

Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation is an innovative school program that was developed to share and treasure the natural beauty of B.C. with our youth, including its urban-nature areas, and unique coastal wilderness, home to rich First Nations cultures, diverse and productive oceans, and an expansive temperate rainforest.

The Stand team has implemented the program within B.C. schools centered on screenings of the award-winning documentary film STAND, discussions with the filmmakers, educator resources, and interactive activities as a means of fostering environmental stewardship and leadership in youth from diverse social and economic backgrounds. 

The team has shared their film and experiences with over 12,400 students at 98 schools in 34 communities in B.C., reaching high school students in diverse programs, younger audiences (K-7), and First Nations communities.