Who knew that such a simple metaphor could yield such rich conversations and actions around solving instructional challenges? 

I first learned about this idea from Betina Hsieh, a professor in California who shares her practices on Twitter and on her blog and have been using it ever since in a variety of coaching contexts. Not only does it instantly facilitate conversation and collaboration, it encourages teachers to think beyond the surface level of any instructional challenges to a deeper, more systemic root that can become a focus of professional learning.

Here’s how it works:

Project an image of a tree with clear roots for teachers to view. If you can, give teachers a copy of a template or provide them with chart paper to create their own and capture their thinking.

As a group, choose the most pressing instructional challenge your school faces and write it on the trunk of the tree. Invite teachers to think about the ramifications of that instructional problem and how it manifests in the classroom. Write those classroom consequences on the leaves of the tree.

Next, ask teachers to go deeper and consider the true root of the problem. While we can spend our time trying to remedy every item written on the leaves, our time is better spent tackling the underlying issues to make a larger impact. Document each root cause that is identified and chart it.

Then, it is time to trace the roots back as far as we can go. When you identify one root cause, ask yourself why this root cause is an issue and note your new root cause. Trace the roots as far as you can to get a solid understanding of the larger structures that are impacting teaching and learning in your school.

Finally, ask teachers to circle the most pressing root causes that demand our attention the most. Spend a few minutes brainstorming how we might address that root problem collectively, rather than continue to address individual classroom effects. Use the information you learn to support your future professional learning initiatives and classroom coaching.

Did you give this a try? Share your tree images below so we can learn from them!
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