Where school leaders find solutions to urgent challenges


Kelly Jasper

Twice a month, Arizona school and system leaders gather for rapid-fire crowdsourcing of solutions to immediate problems. 

What’s the key to unlocking remote student engagement? Someone has a resource for that. 

Can anyone share the pros and cons of different hybrid learning structures? Principals, chief academic officers and lead teachers are all here, ready to weigh in.

School leaders habitually face a flow of urgent and immediate challenges even in the best of times. And 2020 isn’t the best of times. During a pandemic, as many schools figure out how to operate remotely, in-person or hybrid modes while keeping kids, teachers and others safe, the volume and pace of urgent challenges does not let up.  

Each Problem Solving Huddle for Leaders is a fast-moving virtual meeting in which education leaders can share current challenges and quickly find solutions. They launched last month as part of ASU Prep Digital’s Arizona Virtual Teacher Institute, which provides professional development to help educators adopt new digital, blended, hybrid and tech-rich instructional practices.

The huddles are free to Arizona educators through an investment from the Arizona Department of Education, the Governor’s Office, Helios Education Foundation and Arizona State University. They’re led by Brent Maddin, executive director of the Next Education Workforce at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. 

MLFTC spoke to Maddin about the challenges leaders are facing and the solutions they’re finding in each huddle. Arizona educators can register now for the next huddle on Oct. 30, which includes insight and resources from leaders of The Danielson Group.

Question: What makes these leadership huddles unique and not just another video conference call? 

Answer: These are fast-paced, 45-minute, bang-for-your-buck learning sessions. They’re efficient. These huddles are for busy leaders who we know are trying to squeeze in yet another thing. We value their time.

It’s really an interesting mix of district-level leadership — you know, chief innovation or chief academic officers — or people who are serving in cross-school but district-level positions like a curriculum coach. We also have teacher leaders, principals and assistant principals joining us.

It’s totally normal to bring your lunch and attend whichever of the sessions suit your schedule. We’re not going to pretend to solve everyone’s problem in 45-minutes, but sometimes a simple conversation or access to a resource unlocks the solution to a challenge. That becomes the key to unlocking bigger puzzles and challenges. 

What can school and system leaders expect when they join you for a leadership huddle?

Think of them as if they have three acts. In act one, we hear from a really interesting outside organization or group who has something concrete to offer to school leaders. So far, we’ve had resources from Transcend on reopening schools safely; TNTP presented on virtual family partnerships; and The Learning Accelerator brought resources on engaging students in online settings.

In act two, we break the leaders into small groups so that one person is able to present their problem of practice. Everyone weighs in through a structured protocol.

After 15 minutes, we’re in act three, which is rapid-fire solutions for the other participants’ challenges. People leave after 45 minutes with concrete ideas, resources and solutions.

What sorts of problems are shared and what kinds of solutions have been found?

We’re addressing the immediate problems that challenge schools, which include problems of remote engagement, how to simultaneously teach students online and in person, school schedules, and pros and cons of various hybrid learning structures. We’ve also talked about how schools can utilize team members in creative ways, especially in this COVID-disrupted context. 

We’ve shared with participants some of the documentation and resources we’ve created around support roles for educator teams in online and hybrid environments, and how they can deepen and personalize learning for their students, even with the challenges of the current climate.

There’s a hierarchy of needs, and right now schools are grappling mightily with so much uncertainty that the need to be nimble in their responses is paramount. We want to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to radically rethink systems and structures around schooling and teaching and learning, but first we have to attend to these very immediate needs that leaders across systems, schools and classrooms are facing.

At MLFTC, we have developed expertise and we have a platform that allows us to look across a lot of different contexts, both within the state and across the country. We have relationships with experts and thought leaders who are grappling with the same questions that leaders in Arizona are. These huddles are one way we can open up our connections and networks and be of service to teachers and leaders across the state.

Problem Solving Huddles for Leaders

Join the next Problem Solving Huddle for Leaders at 11 a.m. Oct. 30. The Danielson Group will share resources around a framework for remote teaching. 

Register now for Oct. 30 or visit the Virtual Teacher Training Institute to view all training events.