PLE 3: Identifying a High Leverage Problem of Practice
Based upon themes identified from the literature and data collected from all previous learning activities, learners will identify and propose a specific problem of practice that will drive the organization and supports for teacher learning, and discuss next steps for implementing action.
Learning Goal for PLE #3 follows:
To enable aspiring and practicing educational leaders to inquire effectively in order to identify a problem of practice that can focus a school’s professional learning efforts on the needs of students of color and those situated in poverty.
The learning–or inquiry–activity resulting in the identification of a problem of practice that focuses a school’s professional learning efforts builds on the two previous learning activities. In the prior learning experiences, learners collected information through inquiry into (1) the extant norms and practices of a school’s professional learning environment and (2) the cultural and historical context of that professional learning environment, with emphasis on how these norms and the cultural-historical context bear on the experiences of students of color and those situated in poverty. With such information in hand, aspiring and practicing school leaders are prepared to engage in an iterative process designed to reveal a high leverage problem of practice.
According to Bryk, Gomez, & Grunow (2011), a high leverage problem of practice is one that, if addressed, can act as a wedge in the status quo practices in a system or organization and render change throughout the system or organization. We add to their characterization of a high leverage problem the following condition: if a problem that holds the potential for organizational change is understood and addressed by a collective of stakeholders it is more likely to render change. The “collective of stakeholders” we have in mind here is based on a model called “School-Academy-Community (SAC) Partnerships (Dostilio, Perry, & McCown, 2011; ProDEL, 2011). If–across the boundaries of school, academy, and community–there is agreement about the problem to be investigated, any solutions designed to address that problem are more likely to be met with support from relevant constituencies.
Thus, this third learning activity engages learners in proposing a problem of practice that will focus the professional learning efforts within a school and the actions for vetting and reaching a consensus on that problem across the boundaries of school, academy and community.
Readings and Resources
Bell, D. (2004). Silent Covenants: Crown V. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. New York. NW: Oxford Press.
Booth, W., Colomb, G. & Willliams, J. (2008). The Craft of Research (3rd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Darling-Hammonds, L. (2010). The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine our Future. Teachers’ College: Columbia University.
Gawande, A. (2007). Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance. New York, NY: Metropolitan Books.
McCown, R., Miller, J.A., Schreiber, J.B., Welch, O.M. (2007). Scholarship for Schools and Design-Based Research: Framing the Argument for CPED at Duquesne. CPED@Duquesne Working Paper (WP:07-10-01). Pittsburgh: Duquesne University.
Schreiber, J. & Moss, C. (2002). “A Peircean View of Teacher Beliefs and Genuine Doubt.” Teaching and Learning 17(1) pp. 25-42.
The readings listed above represent a variety of perspectives that can inform inquiry into how teacher learning can be focused on the obstacles that face students of color and those situated in poverty. Learners can be assigned to small reading groups and the readings “jigsawed” in order to prepare learners for the learning performances listed below. Note: some of these reading were suggested for earlier learning experiences and should be taken into account when assigning learners to reading groups.
PLE 3 Learning Activities
- Based upon new insights gained from previous learning activities, each reading group should make connections to the assigned readings, specifically noting what they learned and discussed previously. The identified key points from the assigned readings, and parallels drawn from new learning, should inform the proposal of a problem of practice as described below.
- After reviewing the major themes from each assigned reading, each group prepares a “briefing.” The briefing could take the form of a short document that summarizes the key points that should guide the preparation of proposals or the briefing could be delivered as a group presentation to the entire class.
- Each learner will prepare a proposal that argues three claims:
- A naming claim: a problem of practice is named, i.e., identified
- A framing claim: the named problem of practice is framed as particular to the experiences of students of color and those situated in poverty; and
- An action claim: a set of actions for vetting and reaching consensus–across the boundaries of school, academy, and community–that the problem of practice is worth the investment of time, energy and resources holds sufficient potential to leverage positive change to improve the experiences of students of color and those situated in poverty.
- Each student will fill out a posttest measuring perceived efficacy after completing all learning activities. The posttest should ask the same or similar questions as that of the pretest in PLE 1.
- Pre and post test data will be analyzed. Students should generate recommendations that will inform the next steps for putting proposals into action.
- The students will have a class-wide discussion on the “next steps” for problem of practice proposal (See teaching notes for guide).
- Problem of Practice Proposal Evaluative Criteria:
The following questions can be used to guide assessments of the major claims constituting the proposal.
The Naming Claim:
Has the author provided reasons and evidence–from interviews, readings, and other sources–that the problem of practice …
addresses the extant norms of professional learning in the school?
accounts for the cultural-historical context as it applies to students of color and those situated in poverty?
is a high leverage problem?
is defined through the process of systematic & intentional inquiry? (c.f., Schreiber & Moss, 2002)
The Framing Claim:
Has the author provided reasons and evidence–from interviews, readings, and other sources–that the problem of practice named …
is informed by critical social theories and epistemological frameworks?
is situated in relation to institutional networks of power?
addresses one or more cultural dimensions of power?
recognizes inequitable structures of power between dominant and subordinate communities?
The Action Claim:
Has the author provided reasons and evidence–from interviews, readings, and other sources–that the actions taken to address the problem of practice named and framed …
is informed by critical review of data and perspectives across the boundaries of school, academy, and community?
is situated within relevant theoretical and empirical antecedents?
fits the context in which it will be implemented?
Is based on collaborative inquiry?
- Formative Assessments:
- The briefings generated by each group can undergo formative peer review within the group authoring the briefing.
- As the groups distribute and/or present their briefings to the rest of the class, another round of peer review by the “consumers” of the briefing can be undertaken–as proposals are being developed–and feedback supplied to the group authoring the briefing.
- Proposals can proceed through drafts that successively approximate the complete proposal. It is suggested that drafts be peer-reviewed after drafting each of the three major claims.
- Sample Post-test
- Why to you make that assertion? (What are your reasons for making that claim?)
- What evidence supports both the reasons and the claim? (If no one in the group can cite specific evidence either from the interviews, the town hall meeting, or the literature, then the question becomes: What evidence would we need in order to support the reasoning and the claim?)
Please rate each item as it best relates to you according to the following scale:
1- Strongly agree
5- Strongly agree
I am able to inquire into the problems in my school that affect students of color and students situated in poverty?
I am confident in my ability to fix those problems in my school that affect students of color and students situated in poverty.
I have the ability to organize the learning environment in my school so that it promotes the success of and better aids students of color and students situated in poverty.
I am aware of how teachers in my school learn.
I know what teachers in my school learn.
I am able to overcome individual and structural obstacles for the success of students of color and students situated in poverty
I am confident in my ability to engage the community in driving teacher learning that focuses on the success of students of color and student situated in poverty.
I am able to organize and support teacher learning that drives promoting success of and aiding students of color and students situated in poverty.
I am able to critically review problems with teacher learning in my school.
I am able to use feedback from the school and community to drive teacher learning that better organizes the environment for success of students.
PLE 3 focuses on naming a problem or practice within the learning environment. As leaders work through the PLE they should be able to respond affirmatively to the following questions as demonstrated in their final product
Have you argued compellingly that the problem of practice …
… is a high leverage problem that is likely to yield educational improvement?
… is defined through the process of systematic & intentional inquiry?
… is informed by critical review of data and perspectives across the boundaries of school, academy, and community?
… is informed by critical review of data through multi-disciplinary lenses?
… is informed by critical social theories and epistemological frameworks?
… is situated in relation to institutional networks of power?
… recognizes inequitable structures of power between dominant and subordinate communities?
addresses one or more cultural dimensions of power?
PLE 3 requires that aspiring and practicing educational leaders use data–including the perspectives of participants–collected via interviews and the town hall meeting to argue the problem of practice that should focus a school’s professional learning efforts in service of students of color and those situated in poverty.
As students are engaged in their briefings and in preparing their proposals (the three claims: naming, framing, and action) it is important to consider that nature of the evaluative criteria for the Problem of Practice Proposal.
The criteria are in the form of questions that–if met–lead to the question being answered affirmatively. Another way to engage students in their work, both generating their proposals and then defensing them is to think about the criterial questions as defining a claim (see ProDEL, 2012). Using Booth, Columb, & Williams (2008) framework in The Craft of Research, a claim is an assertion around which one builds an argument. According to Booth et al., the core elements of an argument are as follows:
CLAIM … REASONS … EVIDENCE
Educational leaders need to be able to argue effectively. As a way of developing their capacity to build and communicate their arguments, students can be encouraged to engage each other using the core elements of an argument (see McCown, Miller, Schreiber, Welch, 2007). For example, as students are engaged in groups to prepare a “briefing,” they can be asked to listen for claims made by their colleagues. When a claim is heard, they should expect that they will then hear the reasons why that claim is being made and then some reference to evidence. Depending on the prior experiences of the students, you might give students a kind of short-hand to get them started:
When a claim is heard, the listener should be prepared to ask the following questions:
As students are developing their proposals, they could be encouraged to consider their own proposal them as “recruitment tool”. That is, a document that could support their efforts to invite, recruit, and otherwise earn followers who would join in efforts to address the problem of practice. The point here is that their leadership efforts should not be focused on telling others what to do or to developing followers who are loyal to them personally. Rather, they should try to “lead” others to the work that has been named, framed, and made actionable through the earlier PLEs.