Monday, January 19, 2015

Problems of Practice

                  Interested in pursuing a passion that addresses a nagging challenge? Could you be interested in solutions leading to sustained change? Attending the California League of Schools Technology and Common Core conference, I discovered a set of strategies from Ms. Jennifer Magiera that get to the heart of a problem of practice.
                  Ms. Magiera is a tech coordinator for schools in Chicago and has developed tools and strategies for engaging students using technology.  She accomplished this by establishing steps to address a problem of practice she struggled to address. With consistent focus, Ms. Magiera developed strategies to best engage students by giving them decisions about what they wanted to learn. While this may not be your problem of practice, her strategies for clarifying and addressing a significant challenge can be of help to your productivity.
                  A problem of practice (PoP) is defined as a classroom, school or district-related challenge that generates a passion to address. According to Jennifer, a PoP is a problem that keeps you awake at night. It is that constantly surfacing issue that challenges you. She spoke of identifying it, understanding its impact, and devising steps to address the PoP.
                  PoPs range from involving a single individual to a large group (e.g. elementary reading teachers or students at a school). Coinciding with the amount of people affected, the challenge rates from low to high in its level of frustration.  Starting with the Gripe Jar, Ms. Magiera focused attention on what really bothers us asking us to individually write challenges down on post-it notes. Once issues were surfaced and ranked by degree of frustration and level of impact, the participants do a gallery walk to observe what others did and note those things that resonate with others (and include a comment or two). The process concludes by selecting the problem that you have the power to address and that affects the most people.
                  Once identified, the problem of practice is analyzed. Using specially-shaped paper notes, all facets of a problem are identified and written separately on a note. These notes are then placed according to their interrelatedness. For example, improving access to student results may mean improving the functionality of student management program which means attending trainings to better understand what the system has to offer. These two facets would be related and would share sides of their notes. This creates groupings that expose impacts and factors to be addressed to overcome the problem of practice. In some cases, a connected note may have numerous other notes connecting to it.  The connection of the separate subgroup of notes, or joint, becomes a significant area of focus for addressing the PoP. Finally, the process involves creating a Teacher Individualized Exploration Plan (TIEP), an action plan for addressing the problem of practice.
                  Often we share our frustration, challenges, or annoyances but the feeling is fleeting only to return in the future. The PoP process seeks to identify the critical issues influencing our work and come up with a plan to address it. Its value is quite apparent. The PoP process could be used when future direction is sought or when a situation is stuck and not progressing. For an individual, these steps could be used to establish a personal direction that is more likely to be sustained. Regardless, this problem of practice toolset presents much potential to help leaders move forward in addressing those nagging challenges.  Thank you, Jennifer Magiera.

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