By Teachers, For Teachers
Education is a in a constant state of change, whether due to shifting demographics, policy changes, or new technology. Not only does this force teachers to continually modify their approach, it compels teams of teachers to continually work together to collectively adapt and assimilate teaching strategies.
So it’s no accident that you’re finding yourself in a series of meetings and discussions revolving around change. As a teacher, you are a key stakeholder in the change process – your contributions to the discussion are important!
Sometimes, though, it can feel challenging to envision all the elements related to the current discussion or adequately capture the proper scope of change. To help your team facilitate a productive, actionable discussion, consider using some of these discussion tools and teaching strategies that help teams visualize the elements they’re working with.
The “head” of the fish points to the overall objective the team is considering. Stemming from the arrow-like head are multiple vertebrae, on which the team can write down the various areas of resources and/or steps necessary to get there.
Another common way of utilizing the fishbone diagram is to write a current problem or consequence at the fish head. The vertebrae are used by the team to list different areas of causation and brainstorm what specific elements are creating the problem. This allows your team to understand what’s creating any given problem and thinking through what to do about it.
This isn’t advice on your golf game – it’s a unique way of using color and shapes to help your team focus on the right things. So often we pay attention to the symptoms of the problem rather than the root causes of it. But you can’t weed a garden by plucking petals, and you can’t cure a lack of sleep with a cup of coffee. To really fix problems, your team has to attack the causes of the problems themselves.
“Go for the Green” is a simple red circle with green stems sticking out of it – so it looks something like a drawing of a sun. In the red circle your team writes the target problem you’re confronting. On the green prongs you write as many possible causes of the problem as you can conjure. Then your team decides to “go for the green” and focus on what they can do to confront those causes you listed instead of complaining about the problem at the center. Now, instead of watching your weeds regrow, you’re pulling them out by the root and they’re gone for good.
The sci-fi title for this tool comes from the way the diagram looks as your conversation progresses. As your team strives for change, it’s important to focus on those factors that help promote the change and those factors that stand in the way of change. This diagram helps you visualize both those factors at the same time.
Imagine change as a horizontal line on an x-y graph that you want to try and raise. There are forces that help push that line up, and forces trying to push it down. For every element your team brainstorms that might impede your change, put an arrow above your line pointing down. For every element that might promote your vision, put an arrow under your line pointing up. Now, rate each arrow’s strength on a scale of 1-10. What are the areas you need to reinforce for promotion, and what obstacles are the strongest that need confrontation?
Once you get over the fancy name, the tool is self is relatively simple to use. There’s not one particular design or format that an innovation configuration map needs to come in. Sometimes it looks like a spreadsheet, sometimes like a flowchart, and sometimes like a web. What makes an innovation configuration map is the presence of two items: A specific outcome or objective, and a hierarchical list of variations toward achieving that outcome.
This tool is most commonly made on a spreadsheet; each row represents a portion of the strategy and each column is a variation of how implementing or working towards that strategy might look. Teachers creating this tool might see similarities between it and a rubric. The difference is that it’s not a tool for grading; rather it’s a tool that helps all stakeholders understand their collective roles, objectives, and ideal implementations.
Flowcharts are great for displaying relationships, hierarchies, and processes. Anything with structure or progression can be displayed through a well-organized flowchart. When working in groups, it may be helpful to collaboratively produce a flowchart that depicts what the different steps and decision points are for your team. Doing this for your team helps to crystalize in each member’s mind what the steps and scenarios are, which ultimately streamlines conversations and decision-making.
When we go to make any decision, we automatically weigh the pros and cons, balancing our choice with alternative options. When making important decisions in groups, it might be helpful to quantify this decision making with a decision matrix. For such a matrix, picture a spreadsheet where the left hand column is populated with various options, and the top of each column to the right lists different desired outcomes. Your team’s job is to put a number inside of each square in the middle, rating (normally on a scale of 1-10) how well each option achieves each listed desired outcome.
Once you’ve rated how each option might meet your goals, all you have to do is add up the numbers in each row. The option with the highest score is likely the option that will best suit your purposes.
This simple diagram of two overlapping circles is fun to use in the classroom, but we can use it in ourselves as well! The Venn Diagram is custom made for comparing and contrast, and it’s often we find ourselves in a situation where this is exactly what we’re discussing. When we want to discuss a new curriculum to an old, two teaching strategies, our class’s results on assessments, incorporating technology, or a score of other education topics, it might serve us well to organize our thoughts using this tried-and-true visual tool.
So when it comes to collaborating with fellow professionals, consider how you might use any of these seven tools for visually depicting your conversation. Education is a complex topic with an often-overwhelming array of problems, consequences, root issues, objectives, techniques, and resources. Sometimes using one of these tools may help your team work together and better understand the multiple facets of your conversation.
What are your favorite tools listed in this article? What others have you used that you could share with us, too!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.