Inquiry & Learning for Change

Co-Director, Deeper Learning Dozen

DLD Logo represents pattern emergence and pattern replication in the superimposition of a "strange attractor" graphic with a nautilus shell.

Closing Circle, Cowichan, 2018

For the past five years, I have co-directed the Deeper Learning Dozen, a community of practice of senior school and district leaders from school districts across North America (US and British Columbia) focused on district transformation to support equitable deeper learning for each and every young person and adult. Using innovative theory and practice from the field about communities of practice as spaces for collective learning and practice change; complexity theories such as Cynefin, emergence theory, emergent strategy, and the Six Circle Model; equity and racial justice work from the National Equity Project’s Liberatory Design process and Caroline Hill’s equiryXdesign; cutting edge performance assessment systems design from the work of the Assessment for Learning Project and the Center for Innovation in Education; and deeper learning pedagogy along with trauma informed classroom and school culture practices from such organizations as Lead by Learning, Engaging Schools, and Adaptive Schools, and the SoLD folks; we created innovative, playful, and powerful learning spaces for adults to challenge and support the development of their transformational leadership.

We focused our work in the community of practice on three principles: 1) (In)Equity is Structural, (2) Adult Learning and Student Learning are Symmetrical, and, (3) Leadership Accelerates Emergence.

Awakening the Canoes to Their Purpose

Dyads in Vermont

Empathy Interviews


An emancipatory organizational design is a series of fractals (that is, symmetrical forms at all levels) of what we want to see in the learning environment.


Coaching Linked Learning Pathway Teams for College and Career Readiness

As a coach with ConnectEd, the California Center for College and Career, and later, as the Pathway Coach Coordinator for the Linked Learning Office in the Oakland Unified School District, I worked with a number of high school “Linked Learning Pathways” in Oakland, CA.  Linked Learning is a promising approach to the redesign of high schools, so that all students will be prepared for the full range of post-secondary and career opportunities.  Linked Learning provides students with a program of study that integrates rigorous academic courses required for admission to CA public institutions with technical courses organized around broad industry themes, and includes work based learning experiences and support services.  Coaches support the teams of teachers as they design their Pathway, develop a clear sense of what they want their graduates to “know and be able to do,” craft culminating performance assessments so they will be able to tell if their students know those things, and create interdisciplinary project based learning settings so that the learning experience of students is radically different from high school as we know it.  Linked Learning is one of the best approaches I have seen to high school redesign for deeper learning and equity.

As a coach, I

FADA Outcomes "Fruit Tree"

FADA Outcomes “Fruit Tree”

also helped teachers (and other coaches) to create “communities of practice” where they could develop as professionals, “stewarding” their own knowledge as it informs their improving practice, in cycles of inquiry and continuous improvement.  Having worked with many high school reform initiatives over my thirty years coaching and consulting, I am really impressed with the quality of ConnectEd’s approach, the tools and materials that have been developed to support the work, and the transformation of high schools to create more equitable and deeper learning for all students.

FADA Planning Process

FADA Planning Process

Mandela MarketPlace & Foods Cooperative

Inquiry & Learning for Change was honored to work with Mandela MarketPlace and Mandela (Worker- and Community-Owned) Foods Cooperative on clarifying their Mission and Vision, and refining the ways that the two organizations work together to achieve that Mission.  Moving from a powerful Mission to “work in partnership with local residents, family farmers, and community-based businesses to improve health, create wealth, and build assets through cooperative food enterprises in low income communities” to systems and structures to make that happen is hard work!  In the process, we all discovered ways that their respective organizations could be better structured, with greater clarity of relationships between them, and the systems necessary for effectively delivering on their Mission.  Included in that work was helping them take leadership and initiative in defining their roles and responsibilities, their work flows, clarify their decision-making processes, and refine their systems of communication and accountability.

LA County “Circle of Fire” exercise

Graphic Brainstorming, the 'Circle of Fire'

Los Angeles County Office of Education, Division of School Improvement, School District Consultant Team Community of Practice

We called this exercise, “The Circle of Fire.” The exercise was part of a workshop I&LC designed and facilitated (as a part of a three year contract) for consultants in the LA County Office of Education who represented expertise in a variety of areas needed to support whole district systemic reform. Those people formed district consultant teams. I&LC worked over three years to help the teams form a community of practice that supported building knowledge and skill in their professional activities as consultants with the school districts that LACOE served.

LA County clients work to create the Circle of Fire

The “Circle of Fire” was our attempt to use brainstorming and collaborative graphic representation to convey “whole system” coherence in school district reform work. It was an exploration of all the interconnected facets of work (which we divided into “pie slices” and then re-assembled into a whole “pie”) for the consultants so they could support school districts to align, and make coherent, policy and practice, in systemic redesign.

Brainstorming elements of the Circle of Fire

The “pie slices” were:

Each slice had six “layers,” which we portrayed in concentric circles, representing the learner, the classroom, the teacher professional community, the school, the district office, and the school board and community.

Los Angeles USD

Inquiry & Learning for Change worked with LAUSD Local District 7 on major school redesign efforts aimed at shifting the culture of schools and the community toward higher expectations for student learning.  Much of the work involved facilitating school level decision-making teams to support smaller design teams to design and implement small learning communities within the large comprehensive high schools, to create a more personalized learning environment, and working with the Local District staff to organize community engagement events and support the school redesign efforts.

NatureBridge / Headlands Institute

A team-building game at NatureBridge Olympic Peninsula Campus.

Inquiry & Learning for Change worked with NatureBridge over a two year period on two different projects. The first was an evaluation at the Headlands Institute (now Golden Gate), and the second focused on NatureBridge’s organization-wide strategic planning process.

Headlands Institute Evaluation

Inquiry & Learning for Change helped design and co-facilitated a highly participatory evaluation (called Empowerment Evaluation in the literature) of their Field Science program. Working with a broadly representative stakeholder group, we used innovative facilitation techniques including narratives of powerful experiences, collaborative concept mapping exercises, large group idea clustering and voting, and collaborative logic model generation to design the evaluation. We then supported the staff to design data collection and analysis processes that were sensitive to the culture of the organization that yielded intriguing results.

Strategic Planning

Inquiry & Learning for Change coached and consulted the NatureBridge Strategic Planning Coordinators team as it designed and conducted a rigorous, year-long self-study and planning period to determine best ways forward with the implementation of its strategic plan. At the same time, Inquiry & Learning for Change helped design and facilitated the end-of-year Education Summit, where education managers from all of NatureBridge’s campuses came together to reflect on learning from the year and plan coordinated strategies for moving the educational work forward.

Community Learning Center Schools

Innovative facilitation techniques in practice

Community Learning Center Schools asked Inquiry & Learning for Change to help design and facilitate a series of Vision, Mission, and Strategic Planning retreats over a two-year period as the charter school organization grew from one Alameda charter school into its own small, entrepreneurial educational organization with two schools, serving a diverse population of elementary through high school students in Alameda, CA.

Retreats included all stakeholders, from “learners” (what they called the students) and parents to “facilitators” (what they called the teachers), to board members, and members of the community. We used innovative facilitation techniques and participatory graphic recording tools to enable all participants to engage in substantive conversation, hear differing viewpoints, brainstorm and problem-solve, and contribute creative ideas to moving the organization from its adolescence into sustainability.

Happy Chaos! (Melanie Ida Chopko, Graphic Recorder)

Graphic brainstorming results (Melanie Ida Chopko, Graphic Recorder)