Monday, September 7, 2015

Creating a Community of Learners: Problem of Practice Sessions

This summer I had the opportunity to attend #ECET2 (Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching) in Seattle.  ECET2 is hosted by the Gates Foundation and was unlike any conference I've ever attended.  It was such a collaborative environment.  There were no 'rock stars' or 'groupies'.  Everyone was friendly and willing to help.  When I registered I was asked what types of educational problems I'd like to work to solve at #ECET2.

For a little over a year, I've been thinking and reading about creating Community of Learners.  As teachers we are excellent at creating this kind of community in our classrooms with our students.  Teachers are my students and I wanted teachers to see themselves as a community of learners in our school and beyond.

In Seattle, we were placed in Colleague Circles.  The first thing we did in our circle was to write about a problem or something that was bothering us at work.  Then we exchanged our writing with someone across the table and commented on each other's problems.  We shared our problems with the table and choose 2 to work on over the next 3 days.

We worked through a specific protocol called Problems of Practice.  One teacher presents his or her problem.  The other group members ask questions to help understand the problem.  This is so key.  Many times the problem you think you need solved is not the real issue.  Questioning helps uncover the real problem.  Then the group members offer solutions while the presenting teacher listens.  This is so hard, to sit and listen, but it really helps you focus and lower defenses.  In the final phase, the presenting teacher reflects on the process.  A notetaker records the session for the presenting teacher.  This is very helpful so that the presenting teacher can be fully present.  It also helps the presenter after the session as he or she might not have heard every suggestion.

I was so excited to implement PoP when I returned from Seattle.  My principal was very supportive.  This past Friday, our ELA department participated in our school's first PoP session.  I can not tell you how excited I was!  Not only did the presenting teacher gain important feedback and ideas, the other teachers learned as well.  And they had fun with it as well!  It was an important step in creating our Community of Learners #CofL!

PoP, donuts & silliness!

You can see the #ECET2 Problem of Practice protocol here. You can also see how we modified it for our school here.