Education Opinion

Guide Teacher Learning with Problems of Practice and Backmapping

By Learning Forward — July 08, 2013 3 min read
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It seems like just yesterday when Santa Fe High School’s team flew to Denver for the 2012 Summer Learning Forward Conference. At that conference, our team worked tirelessly with the Learning School Alliance’s network of schools to identify our problem of practice and to utilize the backmapping model to plan professional development for the 2012-13 school year. The problem of practice we identified was to improve student attendance by offering engaging lessons throughout the year. We wanted students to want to be at school because they did not want to miss the exciting experiences happening day-to-day.

August came, and our professional development for the beginning of the year focused on “teaching outside the box.” Teachers were introduced to instructional strategies that would hook their students and keep them engaged. They planned and prepared learning experiences for students in ways they had not considered before. Some examples of these out-of-the-box strategies include a social studies teacher bringing his guitar and singing songs for the class to discuss elements of the constitution or locations of the continents or another teacher having her students create tableaus of major moments in history for them to perform for their peers. You could walk by classrooms on any given day this year and see a number of engaging activities, including role-plays of CSI investigations, cell phone scavenger hunts over literature read, use of a green room for video productions for school announcements, or debates being held using a philosophical chairs model.

Learning is fun at Santa Fe High School, but we also know that it must be rigorous with plenty of support for our students. Our faculty accepted this challenge and implemented several new supports for our students. Freshman teachers met weekly in teams to discuss how to support student grades and behavior, making parent communication a priority. Lunchtime was utilized to help freshman students who had missing work. Schoolwide, personal phone calls and conferences were set up to meet with parents midway through the year to discuss course requirements and individual student needs. Assistance with homework or test preparation was offered to all students on Saturdays.

All of this could not have occurred without a growth mindset and a willingness to trust and work collaboratively. Teacher leaders stepped up and led collaboration efforts for teams to develop exciting learning experiences. Trust was developed by having an open-door policy so that peers could take learning walks throughout the school to observe best practices in action. Department heads took the risk of videotaping their lessons and sharing them to model the reflective practice of teaching. Curriculum walk-throughs helped our staff to examine the implementation of the curriculum and the level of questioning so that the highest quality of teaching occurred. These walk-throughs were carried out by the principal, assistant principal, curriculum specialists, and department heads.

Our alliance team met at least twice a month to ensure we remained focused on improving the outcome of our problem of practice. We had monthly webinars with other teams in our cohort to exchange ideas and ensure accountability within our cohort. We committed to monthly calls with our alliance leader who assisted us and guided us to reach better conclusions when necessary. Our leader was an invaluable part of our process in keeping us focused as we moved to the next level.

It’s been a great year of learning and growing in our capacity to teach high-quality, engaging lessons. Students smile on our campus as they walk to class knowing that their teachers are making every effort to create out-of-the-box experiences for them that will also challenge them to think at high levels.

Examining our problem of practice and working through the backmapping model made an impact on how we at Santa Fe High School did business this year. It was a great beginning to what we expect to be a continued journey in professional development and implementation of best practices!

Mandy Scott
Principal, Santa Fe High School

Brad Hubbell
Assistant Principal, Santa Fe High School

Tia Timm
Instructional Coach, Santa Fe High School

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.