Meaningful Problem Solving (Professional Learning that Shifts Practice Part 2)

As our society evolves and schools work to meet the needs of learners, educators need to develop new skills, knowledge, and mindsets.  Working with teachers across diverse has given me insight into how they want to learn and what they want out of their professional learning opportunities. This series will feature a more in depth look at each of the 10 characteristics of professional learning that shifts practices

Part 2 of this series is focused on Inquiry-based, Actionable  opportunities for meaningful problem solving.

I have been thinking a lot about not only asking the “right” questions, but creating experiences that provide opportunities to grapple with challenges that are meaningful to individuals in their context. In order for teachers to do this in their classrooms it is important that they have similar experiences in their own learning.  To facilitate this shift in professional learning in one school, I worked with school leaders to rethink typical grade level collaboration that mostly consisted of planning to a more structured problem solving approach.

Establishing the Culture for Inquiry-Based Problem Solving

To support the teachers to understand how to rethink their role and how to create the desired learning experiences, we created interest based groups to problem solve challenges that teachers were facing in their own classrooms.  To begin, a common understanding of community guidelines for how we would work together was foundational to ensure we met our goals:

  • Be curious and open to all ideas
  • Seek  to improve learning (students and educators)
  • Expect growth, not perfection
  • Focus reflection how to improve your work, not others
  • Ground work in evidence of learning, not assumptions

As we determined the area of focus and narrowed the problem to solve, the teachers were driving their own learning and worked all day to research, question, and collaborate with their peers to improve their practice.   Mixing up teachers across grade levels and creating a space to work together created opportunities to hear and share new perspectives on shared goals. They were soliciting feedback and providing suggestions to one another because they were invested in what they were working on and were eager to create better systems in their classrooms.  I find this point important to accentuate as there is a lot of talk about how to motivate and incentive learners in many contexts.  Yet, as evidenced throughout this type of learning experience, when the learning is directly tied to one’s own goals and daily work, the solutions created to solve the problems are often reward enough.   When learners are empowered to work on issues that matter to them rather than just going through the motions, the time and energy spent isn’t a chore, it’s productive and improves both job performance and satisfaction. 

Providing Time and Space for Inquiry-based Learning

This was a teacher’s reflection at the end of our day that really had an impact on me.

“We are capable of solving our own problems if we are given the time and the space figure it out.”

This statement is so powerful to me for a couple of reasons.   First of all that this needs to be said highlights the fact that so many teachers do not feel empowered to solve their own problems and the rarely get time to work on their pressing challenges in a productive learning community.  Secondly, many take this work home and struggle with these challenges after hours, some might seek out some other resources and learning opportunities, and others might just deal with whatever exists because they don’t know a better way.  It is critical to create the space and time for teachers to solve problems in a way that is built into the work day as part of their professional roles and responsibilities, not an add on.

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This is part 2 of a 5 part series on the 10 Characteristics of Professional Learning that Shifts Practice. Check out the rest of the series:

Purposeful Professional Learning- Part 1

Moving from Planning to Action- Part 3

Creating Safe Learning Environments – Part 4

Create Your Own Adventure- Part 5

 

 

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