Building a Community of Creative Problem-Solvers

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Öğretmen Ağı Creative Solving Program
2018 – ongoing

The Story

This is the story of how identifying change agents and giving them agency can create meaningful impact in the most conservative sector of all: education.

Despite all the necessary ongoing policies and practices in the education field, teachers feel alone. They are expected  to meet one constant demand throughout their day: A quick fix. Quick fixes ‘save the day’; yet they do not respond to the education system’s recurring realities. In the blink of an eye, problems turn into ongoing systemic conundrums, leaving teachers with the idea that they are powerless, and that is just the way it is. 

The Öğretmen Ağı Story showcases how creating a community of creative problem-solvers can lessen teachers’ feelings of loneliness and increase their creative confidence, eventually generating meaningful educational outputs.

Challenge
How might we unlock teachers’ creative potential and transform them into change agents?
Chapter I

A Program To boost Creative Confidence

Not so long ago, a teacher did everything she could to create a change for her students. Her sole focus was on enhancing her teaching skills and providing the right learning environment for her students. She kept being part of many initiatives aimed for her “empowerment” but was never part of the process. No one ever asked her what she needed or included her in the decision-making. The teacher did not give up, but she was fed up. The ghost of the idealist new graduate she knew from years ago had faded away. Each and every year, she lost an authentic part of herself; she had to make sure not to mingle with others, stay low, and keep up her daily business. This was the case until she met Öğretmen Ağı (Teachers Network) and the  Creative Problem Solving Program. After every interaction with the community, she gradually took her power, her confidence in herself, and her satisfaction with teaching back.

Öğretmen Ağı, a community platform within Sabancı University, aims teacher empowerment through creating a sustainable learning environment where teachers collaborate with their colleagues. When our paths crossed in 2018; we undertook the role of designing, creating, and delivering the right kind of content; we intended to identify and empower change agents in the education system along with all of their active participation, insights, and feedback. 

You know what they say about learning a new language; it opens up a whole new world for the individual. This is what the Creative Problem Solving Program offered when we have initiated the program together with Öğretmen Ağı of Sabancı University: a whole new world of possibilities. 

In 2018 we developed the program’s core, identified the program principles, rolled-out the programs in 3 cities, and coached newbies so that they all can facilitate their programs. By the end of 2018, we had planted the seed of a community, a plant which we would delightfully watch as it grew beyond our imagination. 

“Most of the solutions that are proposed to us until this day have been top-down. (…) I believe what we do here, creating solutions with teachers, is very effective. Because we are the ones who are facing these problems. We are the ones who will create the solutions. The YPÇ program is invaluable, as all the prototypes we create can be practiced in the classroom.”
– Creative Program Solving Program Participant

During the last three years, 444 teachers participated in the program. Twenty-eight of them have been trained to become ‘facilitators,’ and 72 of them have taken the role as ‘experienced teachers’ to guide the newcomers. Today around 5,000 teachers are part of the Creative Problem Solving Facebook Group, where they actively interact and share their learnings.

The Program delivers a tool for teachers to creatively generate solutions to the challenges they face. Teachers work together around a defined theme during the program and create creative solutions accordingly. Regardless of their background, their teaching years, or field of expertise, they can benefit from the program and become a part of the community. 

Program Participant
"I am not alone anymore; I feel more powerful. Whenever I say something to my students, I know that there is a network (supporting) behind me."

The program is continuously revised to enhance teachers’ creative confidence. It consists of in-person sessions, field practices, and “Experience Sharing” sessions. Throughout the implementation, teachers work collaboratively in smaller groups and build their skills together. In the in-person sessions, teachers are exposed to individual and group exercises devised from Design Thinking Methodology tools. In between the in-person meetings, they also go through research and test phases where they get a chance to dive deeper into the problem and test the prototype solutions they created in the classroom.

Creative Problem Solving Program Core Principles

Never be afraid of making mistakes.
Fall in love with the problem.
Embrace a human-centered approach.
Don’t act alone.

Design Thinking Methodology Steps

1. Understand
2. Define
3. Ideate
4. Prototype
5. Test

Program Participant
"I am never afraid of problems. I have my colleagues (friends) and creative problem-solving methods to overcome challenges."

Until No Teacher Is Left Alone!

As our community grew, 2019 is marked as the year of ‘expanding’ the program. We launched a website where teachers can use instructions and exercises developed for the sessions.

We drafted recipes and tools for creative problem-solving. We kick-started a “Creative Solutions Center” where each program’s outputs and creative solutions are shared for every teacher to implement. We delivered the “Facilitator Trainings” to hand over the programs’ facilitation to the teachers to enable them to carry out their programs throughout Turkey with the operational support of Öğretmen Ağı. 

In 2020 our main focus was on impact assessment. Though the global crisis of COVID-19 took a halt to the program’s face-to-face interactions, our Creative Problem Solving Program’s Impact Assessment report has shown that teachers have become well aware of the Design Thinking Methodology steps. They have improved their capacity to practice these steps in a daily classroom setting. In contrast to a one-shot program, the community we have created, together with the teachers, allowed them to continue their endeavors to get the most out of the program.

“[The program] enabled me to have a birds-eye view of my profession. I realized that I have been reacting falsely to the problems I face. With the Design Thinking Methodology, I grasped the importance of other stakeholders. I got in contact with them through trial and error. Instead of being solution-oriented, I tried to understand the problem, and I thought that I needed to do something.”
– Creative Program Solving Program Participant

The program eases the teachers’ loneliness. This is also assured by the fact that the teachers involved become part of a nationwide, active community; that is ‘Öğretmen Ağı.’ One of the program’s most valuable assets is that it provides a feeling of belonging. We also observed an improvement in teachers’ creative confidence through their positive attitude towards facing problems. The teachers have increased motivation and belief in their work due to the program. 

Today the program is now run by teachers themselves with the operational help of Öğretmen Ağı. This living and breathing community of change agents tolerates no hierarchies; as a network of facilitators, experienced teachers, and participants. It is continuously evolving, testing, and revising when necessary. 

This story continues…

Chapter II

Creative Confidence Advocates

Our community does not cease to grow.
Following the COVID-19 crisis, we rolled up our sleeves to offer the teachers digital solutions. We have conducted a series of  ‘Step by Step Creative Problem Solving Webinars,’ in which around 150 teachers came together.
We recently designed a “YPÇ Constellation Program” where a group of our ‘all-star’ facilitators came together to rethink the education system as a whole and generate creative solutions to its current problems. We are also running a ‘Digital Solutions Program.’ We are currently in the making of co-creating a grand “Creative Confidence Festival” with the Öğretmen Ağı and the Change Agent Teachers in April of 2021.

Are you interested in this story? Are you a teacher looking for collaboration or new ideas to try out in your classroom?

Learn more about the program and check out the existing creative solutions!

Connect with us to learn more about the project.

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