Schools often don’t leverage the best resource we have to address practical shared challenges in education: the teachers. Teachers have a great deal of insight and firsthand experience of what works and what doesn’t work in schools for themselves and their students. Yet, as Russell Qualgia and Lisa Lande write in Teacher Voice: Amplifying Success, “Teacher voice is a powerful, yet extremely underutilized tool in education.”
One way to include teacher voice in meaningful decision-making and expertise sharing is to host a solution summit.
What is a Solution Summit?
A solution summit is a 60-to-90-minute structured activity centered around an educational challenge. Teacher meetings, faculty meetings, and in-service times are excellent times to host a solution summit. Instructional coaches, administrators, or even groups of teachers can use a variation of this protocol with groups as small as three or as large as 300, depending on the needs of the group.
During the summit, small groups of individual teachers share strengths, knowledge, and skills. The school benefits from solutions to current problems and proactively learns about other potential future challenges identified by these teacher groups.
Topic: Almost any topic can work as long as it is something that teachers can collaborate, share expertise or ideas, and problem-solve around. They might be district-wide problems like how to run classrooms during the pandemic or classroom challenges like implementing project-based learning or remediating struggling students.
Roles: Each group has the following three roles.
- Facilitator: This person runs the protocol so that each section is completed in the allotted time frame. The facilitator keeps the conversation moving, invites participants into the conversation, and ensures that everyone gets a chance to speak equitably.
- Timekeeper: This person keeps track of the time for different sections of the protocol and lets the facilitator know when it is time to move to the next section.
- Recorder: This person takes notes on a blank recording sheet during the protocol. The recorder should share the document with everyone in the group and any other people participating (e.g., administrators, decision-makers, or educators) in the solution summit.
Structure: Solution summits are structured like this. Each group is provided with a solution summit protocol, which provides more details about how to structure a summit.
- Determine an educational challenge or challenges to focus on for the solution summit.
- Explain the why, what, and how of the solution summit with a presentation, slide show, or screencast.
- Assign or allow staff to self-select groups—ideally, four to six participants.
- Select or assign volunteers in each group to be facilitator, timekeeper, and recorder.
- The facilitator invites the participants to individually think about “successes” (partial or complete).
- The facilitator directs the participants to talk about challenges, issues, and concerns about the identified educational challenge and asks clarifying questions.
- The facilitator poses the question, “What would help you the most right now,” and the group discusses answers to this question as a group. Then, the group decides which three of the answers are a priority from the group.
- Teachers leave the summit with teacher-level solutions that are within their sphere of influence to control and the names of people they can contact for additional support. Additional needed proactive solutions outside of the teachers’ sphere of influence are identified for administrators to enact positive change.
Solution Summit in Action
In October 2020, our district implemented a concurrent teaching model due to the pandemic. Each day, half of our students were physically present in the classroom, while the other half of our students were virtually present on Zoom. Concurrent teaching was very challenging, and teachers had many concerns and questions. Since this was a pandemic model of teaching, there were not many best practices or instructional strategies available in the research or literature to help teachers successfully navigate this model of teaching.
As instructional coaches, we knew that despite the challenges, teachers were innovating and finding ways to make a very tough teaching situation work. What we didn’t have was a way to share those challenges and successes. We decided to hold a district-wide solution summit to give teachers a platform to share their challenges and solutions. We also wanted the administration to listen to the teachers and learn how they might better support the teachers moving forward in the pandemic.
Introduction and setup: We created a screencast explaining the why, what, and how of a solution summit to our staff. The purpose was to find reasonable, practical teacher-level solutions for teachers to successfully teach concurrently. The goal was also to provide needed information to instructional coaches and administrators about needs and support for teachers going forward.
Collaborative discussion prompts: For the solution summit on concurrent teaching, we divided the discussion into three parts.
- Participants shared their successes (big wins or small wins) that they found helpful with concurrent teaching.
- Participants discussed things that challenged them with concurrent teaching and discussed what they were doing or trying to do to remedy those things. An example of a challenge topic within the teacher’s control might be “What is the appropriate amount of asynchronous work to assign to students?” or “How can I best divide my time between the students face-to-face with students who are virtual?” Teachers needed to make these decisions, and there were zero best practices or answers out there for teachers to be able to refer to. An example of a challenge topic that was not within the teacher’s control and therefore beyond the scope of the conversation might be, “What type of Covid model of teaching (full return, hybrid, all virtual) should our school district be doing?”
- Groups answered the question, “What would help you the most right now?” After brainstorming ideas, the group selected three to put on the recording sheet.
Because there were no expert solutions to the daily challenges of concurrent teaching, we had to turn inward, leverage the expertise of the collective staff, and find answers to the questions that teachers were asking to solve the adaptive challenge that teaching concurrently presented. Teachers were able to leverage the insights of other teachers into their own classrooms. Plus, they were able to form relationships with people in the district whom they could contact to follow up.
Outcomes: As a result of the solution summit, teachers learned about effective instructional strategies and technology tools from their colleagues. Teachers also told us that even though pandemic teaching was hard, they felt they had learned things to implement immediately.
Teachers were able to make individual decisions on the classroom and planned learning community level. In addition, the administration was tasked with communicating clearly to parents the expectations for students on Zoom, and administration was tasked with clearly communicating with parents how grading and work expectations for students would be during this time frame.
Empowering teachers to solve problems is essential to moving schools forward. The solution summit protocol provides a blueprint to allow educators to collaborate, build each other’s capacity, and meaningfully problem-solve challenges that their school encounters. Teachers are the boots on the ground, and if you want positive reform and action in education, you need to listen and act on the teachers’ voices to do it well.