What's your problem?

The room was quiet but that didn't last long. I asked our staff to bring an artifact or anecdote showcasing a problem they were facing with their teaching practice. The room erupted with stories and teachers sharing pieces of student work. As stories were shared within each group I saw teachers listening to each other in a way I had't experienced in the first 6 weeks of the school year. I saw every single person in the room completely engaged, listening deeply, and talking from the heart. I hated to put an end to this moment but it was necessary. I took comfort in knowing that they were going to continue these conversations for the next 90 minutes and I was going to lead them through a series of activities to help them create a picture of their problem, called a fishbone diagram.

After getting grounded in their problems I challenged our teachers to create a one sentence problem representing the groups' ideas. This problem statement served as the "head" of diagram.

Next, we discussed factors that we believed were contributing to our problems. As teachers shared ideas they began categorizing these ideas and added them to their picture of the problem.

Finally, with our categories agreed upon, we asked a chain of "whys" to help us get an even stronger understanding of all of the different factors and reasons that these problems may be occurring in classrooms.

As this week's session came to a close I felt inspired by the conversations I heard and the deep thinking the teachers' experienced through their work together. People lingered a little longer after we finished and continued some of their conversations as they walked towards their cars to head home.

Before they left, I had them complete an exit ticket so I could get a clear picture of where each person was with their thinking about this process and their problem of practice. Three questions were measured using a rating scale of 1-5 and two questions were open ended. The rating scale questions yielded a very high level of excitement about this work. I also coded the responses to the open ended questions and had several themes emerge.

There were five themes. The biggest bucket of ideas from the open ended questions fell into a category that I labeled deeper thinking. That is, teachers asked some provocative questions like, "How can we dig even deeper into this problem?" and "What is the best way to verbalize the complex and deep topics we discussed?" Another category that emerged was what I called productive struggle. Teachers expressed some doubts about their own thinking and ideas. For example, one teacher wrote, "I am not really sure if we are describing the problem in a clear way. I think there are too many ideas and not one big problem." A third category that emerged was this idea of solutions or next steps. We have teachers who, after spending 90 minutes of deeply understanding the problem are wondering how we move forward, "I am wondering about how we are going to turn this work into strategies. How are we going to find solutions to these problems that are bigger than just the Early Years School?" A fourth category that emerged was how the work in our division fits into the bigger picture of our school. For example, teachers wrote, "Is school going to echo this work?" and "How will this work connect with our Nido curriculum?" The final category that emerged from the open ended questions was centered around shared beliefs (or maybe a lack there of), "How do we align differing opinions regarding practice within my group especially regarding PK to first grade differences?"

I am excited to have teachers really engaged and actively thinking and talking with each other about these ideas. This work is the very beginning of our arc of professional learning for the year and after seeing what happened today, I have no doubt that our teachers are going to learn some "hacks" to address these problems that will not only improve their teaching practice but that will have really positive impacts on student learning in our school.

Here are a few final thoughts from teachers to close out this post. I am excited to share how this work evolves next week!

"We have so many things to think about. I hope we have time to share all of our thoughts!"

"Today’s PD was very beneficial towards developing my teacher math mindset!"

"I really enjoyed the step by step directions so that it wasn’t overwhelming."

"I would love to know the other staff’s ideas around our problem statement."

"I love this idea of grouping us and giving us time to reflect on what worries us. Thanks!"

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