When a principal in Washoe County noticed his teachers weren’t collaborating productively in their grade-level teams, he reached out to a district coach, Sundae Eyer, for assistance. Eyer had just attended a REL West webinar on learning huddles— discussions connected to teacher practice, focused on high-leverage instructional practices, and framed by improvement science (a problem-solving approach centered on continuous inquiry and learning).

What she heard sparked some questions:

  • Could engaging these teams of teachers in learning huddles help them to better listen to each other and trust each other?
  • Could the huddles serve as a scaffold for “reflective practice,” a key professional learning standard in Washoe County?

Eyer and her colleagues from the Department of Professional Learning began meeting with teams of teachers every other week, using the learning huddle protocol introduced in the webinar. Eyer and her team slightly modified the goals portion of the protocol to meet the teams’ needs and were excited to try out a discussion format focused on writing instruction that emphasizes teacher agency and ensures every voice is heard.

Initially, the teachers were resistant to the learning huddles. During the part of the protocol where teachers are prompted to say how they are feeling about writing instruction, teachers’ responses were negative. However, by the third or fourth huddle, as Ayer noted, “a switch flipped.” Teachers got excited about sharing ideas, setting specific goals for their classrooms and sharing what they tried in their classrooms.

Through their discussions, the first/second grade team observed that their students had great ideas for their writing but would often forget them by the time they put pencil to paper. The team decided to focus on helping students write complete thoughts independently. Teachers experimented with an app that allows students to dictate their thoughts so they can access them later.

Now, teachers across the school are embracing the huddle protocol and feel their team meeting time is more productive. In fact, when a huddle scheduled for December was cancelled, teachers were upset. For Eyer, the power of the learning huddle protocol is that “it helps build those relationships of trust and vulnerability as we focus on the students.”

Learn more about the dynamic professional learning being catalyzed by these learning huddles in Washoe County:

  • View the webinar Using Learning Huddles to Improve Teaching and Learning,” which describes how Washoe teachers are participating in learning huddles to engage in grade-level inquiry, examine data and evidence together, and test “change ideas” as they strive to improve students’ writing.
  • Watch a video excerpt of a two-day training that introduced Washoe teachers to the learning huddles protocol.

This post originally appeared in the March 2019 REL West Newsletter.

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