Cooperative Problem-Solving

Author: Aubrey Yeh
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My work, at the central district office, has been pretty busy lately. I’ve been charged with taking point on a big puzzle…

…dun dun dun…

The master schedule for specialists! 

In my district (of 56 schools), elementary art, music, & PE are on a 3-day rotation, so they teach each class every 3rd day. 5th graders also have instrumental music, which happens 2x/week (not on the 3-day rotation). 6th-12th graders have class most days, but these schools often employ a modified block schedule or regular late start or early release schedule (one day per week).

Figuring out how to fit all of the teachers (and fill their contracts, which are all different) together with all of our school buildings (which all have different schedules) with the number of students requesting each class (which is different in every place) is no easy task. Many teachers work at anywhere from 2-7 schools, and it all has to work out, and not just on regular days, but also block days, late start days, early release days. It requires so much information and so many different perspectives!

Luckily, I don’t have to do it alone.

When I started thinking about how to approach this “problem” (as in, a problem to be solved, not something that is bad), I imagined getting a bunch of stakeholders in a room and going through a design thinking process. While that sounds great, it would probably take a couple of days, and that is too long to be taking teachers & principals out of their buildings.

Image result for stanford design thinking process

As a result, we are going through a shortened, modified version. I started with a small group of stakeholders for one afternoon to all share our perspectives and help figure out our priorities & design constraints. This helped us empathize and define what we wanted to solve.

Next, I asked teachers to create the perfect schedule in their perfect world. I was actually inclined to start with principals, but in our small group, the principals said it would be better for the teachers to try a first draft. This gave us the chance to ideate and dream about what could be! What I love is that teachers gave me their best thinking, which highlights things that I wasn’t thinking about (for example, logical driving routes including right turns rather than left turns during tight commutes).

I’ve been able to take the teacher’s schedules as a starting point and combine it with things I know & see from the district lens, and make adjustments. The next step has been calling principals to see if this prototype might work in their individual buildings. Sometimes the answer is yes; other times, we have to pivot and explore alternate options. What’s great about this process, though, is that it is not happening in isolation. I ran into a bump in one school after talking with a principal. I mentioned it to a teacher, and less than an hour later, I had a text from her with a possible solution. I ran it by the principal, and it will work! I love having so many people around who can help me with this thinking, because honestly, it is daunting and overwhelming!

The great news? It feels like it’s finally coming together! This coming week, I will bring it to all of the principals to test the idea out and see what issues we still have. There are still approximately a hundred details to be worked out, but if we have the big pieces in place, I trust that the rest will follow. It feels like we really hit a turning point last week where we could place enough pieces to start to see the big picture.

I am thrilled that this project is coming along, but even more thrilled that we are doing it together. I know this phrase gets thrown around a lot, but this process has truly been an example of being #bettertogether. We each have a piece of the puzzle, and when everybody gets to share their thinking and take ownership over a small part, it comes together much better than if one person (me!) was trying to figure it all out by themselves.

And that, my friends, is my leadership lesson & takeaway for the week.

Is there something that you are in charge of where collaboration needs to be expanded? What steps can you take to bring people together to problem-solve?

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Cooperative Problem-Solving
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