Solving Problems Without Making Judgments

Topics: Overcoming Challenges

If you’re having a problem as a team that you can’t solve, a modified fish bowl discussion might help.

I was able to observe this practice in action during a recent professional development convening for South Carolina educators. During the discussion, one person sat in the center of the room and shared a challenge that they were having, surrounded by two circles of their peers and building administrators – the people sitting in the inside circle could speak, while the ones on the outside couldn’t.

The role of the individuals in the outside circle was to be active listeners, while the inside circle could provide insight or advice. At any point, someone could switch places in the circle, or even take the center to share a related story or problem.

It was very clear during my observation that this approach disarms that sense of judgment that people sometimes have when they try to solve problems together. It’s a cross between problem-solving and information gathering that brings different voices – and different roles within a school or an organization – onto a level playing field. The person in the middle is given everyone’s full attention to describe what they’re experiencing, and everyone can’t respond at the same time. No one knows what challenge the individual in the center may be bringing, so there is the expectation to come in with an open mind and a desire to listen.

While the educators during this session discussed how to approach resistance to personalized, competency-based learning and what they could do to help each other share best practices, I could see this kind of discussion working for any problem in any organization. It creates a middle ground for sharing ideas without judgment – which benefits everyone.

Teacher inquiry labs offer South Carolina educators the opportunity to observe personalizing learning in action in the classrooms of their peers.