One School District’s Common Workshop Day

Disclaimer: This article was not endorsed by any school district in New Hampshire. The opinions and material discussed here are completely my own ideas, including any unintentional errors.

The school district I retired from, and in which I now do frequent workshops, holds a district-wide professional development day each year. Teachers from all the district schools come together for workshops on topics that vary over time. This year the keynote speaker was Bruce Wellman, a Vermont-based speaker for Solution Tree, a large corporation considered by many to be the leader in school improvement. They provide speakers on topics such as data analysis and management, professional learning communities, response to intervention, and more.

This year I was one of the presenters in a break-out session. My workshop on MBTI took up the whole morning, and after lunch we all assembled in the cafeteria to listen to the keynote about using data. I originally thought I would skip this session since the data piece seems no longer directly relevant to the workshops I conduct (plus my eyes instantly glaze over when the word “data” comes up), but a district administrator had stopped in to my morning workshop to share a discovery from the speaker’s handout about the way teams need to work together in order to successfully achieve their goals and effect true school improvement. Mr. Wellman recommended that schools locate and use effective resources and toolkits to ensure that the best possible results come from highly effective teams, and that paraprofessionals be included in this work. Paras could even be the best source of data about individual students because so much of their time is devoted to working “in the trenches” (my words, not Mr. Wellman’s).

As we learned more about dynamics helping or hurting the outcome of a team inquiry into data, it wasn’t hard to see that the strategies and recommendations made a direct correlation  to the dichotomies of MBTI.

Four pairs of archetypical preferences were discussed in the handout:

  • “Task-Relationship” is about the individuals’ need for focus on the task versus the need for inclusion and colleagueship. That would be the “Thinking-Feeling” dichotomy of decision-making in MBTI.
  • “Certainty-Ambiguity” is about the need for clear and precise progress as opposed to a level of comfort with ambiguity and seeking more information. This is the “Judging-Perceiving” dichotomy — our attitude toward the outer world and how we organize.
  • “Detail-Big Picture” is the focus on the specifics/details of a project versus the preference to see the wider view. This is the Sensing-iNtuitive preference for taking in information for information we pay attention to.
  • “Autonomy-Collaboration” is about schedules and structure, reward systems, teaching practices and even physical plant needs. Sounds like a big, important component. It is about “Extraversion-Introversion” or where we get our energy and how we like to communicate.

While I know that MBTI is important and can make a dramatic difference for educators, students, teams, and professional learning communities, sometimes I feel that administrators in schools reject these concepts as being silly, or unnecessary. Fortunately the district administrators believe in it, and so for four years I have been teaching about MBTI to all new teachers and have conducted many workshops and classes on it as well. The connection between Mr. Wellman’s recommendations and my own practice is one of validation and I want to shout out, “Look! MBTI works and this is important stuff!”

Getting back to MBTI theory, there is a Type-driven protocol for team building that incorporates all of Mr. Wellman’s bullet points. The MBTI Zig-Zag model was created in order to empower teams,  so that all important decision-making components are considered.

The speaker also stressed that groups cannot move forward unless all individuals feel safe, a tenet I have also heard from Eric Jensen in his work on brain-based learning. And unless each of these four dichotomies is addressed, many people will not feel safe, which will set up barriers that will stop progress, or will slow it way down. All constituents need to be willing to adhere to the norms of good teamwork.

Mr. Wellman also noted four huge shifts in values relative to educational teams, and these are worth noting.

  • Professional autonomy, where the teacher closes her door and does her work in isolation, is shifting toward collaborative practice, for both students and teachers, where cooperation and working together in partnerships is becoming the norm.
  • Knowledge delivery, where the teacher is the all-knowing guru, is moving toward knowledge construction, where the learner is internally motivated to find out the information and use a hands on approach to understand the material. The implication here, especially regarding the “hands on” component, is that multiple intelligences and project-based learning can be used as a best practice that will result in dramatically improved student achievement.
  • Externally mandated improvement, or “Get those scores higher or else!” is evolving into internally motivated improvement, in which the students and teachers want to improve.
  • “Quick fix” — where a school or district tries to apply metaphorical band-aids on the problems of student achievement is morphing into a model of continuous growth over time, with deeper understanding of the data and how to work with it.

When I retired from teaching in 2011, none of this shifting had begun, or at least I never saw it included in any models or recommendations at the classroom level. When Mr. Wellman illustrated what could be done with a “released test item” I was amazed at the possibilities about what could be learned from the data. Prior to 2011 we were simply asked to take those released items and administer them to our students for practice. This is remarkable progress.

These new models represent the first sensible, smart ideas I have seen yet for implementing positive change in schools. Without buy-in to these “new” team dynamics models, no progress will happen, but I left the presentation feeling hopeful and optimistic that the school district will attain these important shifts in key values, and smart planning by dynamic teams will channel positive energy and bring about positive results.

 

 

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