From left to right: Linda Kaser, Debbie Leighton-Stephens and Judy Halbert

media release

Learning network with focus on Indigenous education receives 2019 Cmolik Prize

May 10, 2019


Shradhha Sharma, Communications Associate, University Communications, 778.782.3035,

Allen M. Quinn, Communications Associate, SFU Faculty of Education, 778.782.7381,





Network of Inquiry (prize winner)

Take a Stand

Habitat Trust (Province-wide Network for Environmental Communities of Practice)


An initiative that is improving quality and equity in education in B.C. and has an emphasis on Indigenous learning is being recognized with Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Education 2019 Cmolik Prize.

The $100,000 Cmolik Prize for the Enhancement of Public Education in B.C. is being awarded to Debbie Leighton-Stephens, Judy Halbert and Linda Kaser, for their innovative Networks of Inquiry and Indigenous Education (NOIIE). The trio’s inquiry-oriented, evidence-based approach to learning and teaching has helped to improve education in the province.

The winner was chosen from 18 outstanding nominations. The 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.

Kaser and Halbert have served as principals, district leaders, and policy advisors with B.C.’s Ministry of Education in the areas of district improvement, rural education, literacy and Indigenous education. 

Leighton-Stephens has worked towards empowering young people from Indigenous backgrounds with their culture, and creating a sense of understanding in non-Indigenous people about Indigenous culture through her work with School District 52’s Aboriginal Education Department over the last two decades. 

Kaser and Halbert have also co-authored  The Spiral Playbook (2017), System Transformation for Equity and Quality (2016), Spirals of Inquiry (2013), and Leadership Mindsets: Innovation and Learning in the Transformation of Schools (2009).

“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.” 

Established in 2000, NOIIE is a voluntary inquiry-based network of schools that improves equity in education by incorporating teamwork across roles, schools and districts; and through a focus on applying coaching forms of assessment to assist learners to take greater ownership of their learning. Across B.C., 18 school districts are part of the network, including schools in 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 center of decision making to spark professional curiosity and inspire informed action.

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

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

NOIIE and the spiral of inquiry have significantly impacted student and teacher learning and are highly replicable to more schools, districts, and education systems as the framework is easily adaptable by design. “We are building relationships and the trust to be honest with each other,” says Leighton-Stephens.

Student outcomes include higher academic achievement, better well¬‐being, a greater sense of belonging felt by Indigenous students, and enhanced awareness and understanding among non-Indigenous students. Teachers also reported feeling more connected, supported, energized, and curious about how their actions and learning impacts students. 

The Cmolik Prize was created through a generous $1.3 million endowment to SFU’s Faculty of Education by Russ and Ellen Cmolik, founders of the Cmolik Foundation. The Cmoliks are both passionate about education, and have been inspired by visits to schools around the world. They wish to encourage practitioners, researchers, administrators and policy makers to enrich teaching and learning, particularly to stimulate a desire to learn and to develop life skills to become productive and responsible members of our community. 


Province-wide Network for Environmental Learning Communities of Practice

Kerrie Mortin

The Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation Education (HCTF) program is a province-wide network for environmental learning communities of practice. This contribution is a one of a kind, environmental education program 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. It addresses teacher challenges and needs through effective support, professional development and resources to influence best practices in teaching and learning and 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, and Anthony Bonello

Take a Stand: Youth for Conservation is an innovative school program developed to share B.C.’s natural beauty with 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 team has implemented the program in B.C. schools with screenings of the award-winning documentary film STAND, discussions with the filmmakers, educator resources, and interactive activities to foster environmental stewardship and leadership in youth from diverse social and economic backgrounds. The team has shared their film and experiences with more than 12,400 students at nearly 100 schools in 34 B.C. communities, reaching high school students in diverse programs, younger audiences (K-7), and First Nations communities.





As Canada's engaged university, SFU is defined by its dynamic integration of innovative education, cutting-edge research and far-reaching community engagement. SFU was founded more than 50 years ago with a mission to be a different kind of university—to bring an interdisciplinary approach to learning, embrace bold initiatives, and engage with communities near and far. Today, SFU is Canada’s leading comprehensive research university and is ranked one of the top universities in the world. With campuses in British Columbia’s three largest cities – Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey – SFU has eight faculties, delivers almost 150 programs to over 35,000 students, and boasts more than 155,000 alumni in 143 countries around the world. 


Simon Fraser University: Engaging Students. Engaging Research. Engaging Communities.


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