A new approach to problem-solving: Introducing a collaborative protocol

As I provide coaching to various schools, my goal is to help school leaders and teachers address instructional and logistical issues while improving teamwork dynamics. Some problems require extensive work to solve, while others can be resolved with a single meeting or a few.

To simplify the process of working through challenges that are not overly complex but still require thoughtful consideration and creative thinking, I have developed an adapted version of the plus-delta protocol called the plus-delta-solution (PDS) protocol. This updated strategy emphasizes effective collaboration and communication as crucial components of problem-solving within teams, creating a safe environment for everyone to contribute.

I have successfully implemented the PDS protocol with school and district leaders, yielding positive results. This protocol is particularly useful for teaching teams to identify challenges to student success, leverage strengths, and find solutions. It can also be modified for use with students to address classroom issues such as internet safety, digital citizenship, bullying, and social exclusion.

4 Ways the PDS Protocol Benefits Your Team

1. Promotes structured communication: Establishing structured communication between colleagues provides a platform for sharing ideas, observations, concerns, and solutions in a focused and productive manner. This approach can be used to solve instructional issues and logistical problems, such as resource allocation and event planning.

2. Encourages diverse perspectives: By establishing norms and shared agreements, the PDS protocol ensures that all team members have the opportunity to speak and contribute their perspectives. This inclusivity helps explore different angles to a problem and prevents tunnel vision.

3. Facilitates documentation and review: The protocol can be used to document discussions, ideas, and solutions, enabling the team to track suggestions, concerns, and decisions. This documentation also supports goal alignment and prevents revisiting previously discussed points.

4. Establishes feedback and reflection mechanisms: Incorporating mechanisms for feedback and reflection allows team members to refine their thoughts, practices, and approaches to problem-solving. This fosters a culture of learning and improvement throughout the school.

The four-step PDS protocol outlined below takes approximately 25–40 minutes to complete. Feel free to customize and adapt the directions and timings to suit your audience. Additionally, graphic resources are provided to assist with implementation.

4-Step PDS Protocol

Step 1: Define the problem (5–7 minutes). The purpose of this step is to establish a consensus on the problem that will be addressed in the subsequent steps. If the problem is already agreed upon, that’s great. Otherwise, provide question prompts to encourage open discussion.

Possible prompts for the teaching team:

  • “It’s hard to focus on instruction when ____ behavior is a constant concern.”
  • “I’m having difficulty with a specific management task.”
  • “I’m struggling to keep up with the intended pacing in my lessons.”
  • “I’m overwhelmed by a constant challenge.”

Step 2: Identify pluses and deltas individually (4 minutes). In this step, each team member uses small posted notes to identify the positives (what’s working well) and the deltas (the challenges or areas for improvement). The focus should not be on solutions at this stage.

Step 3: Discuss pluses and deltas in small groups (7 minutes). Team members collaborate to develop a PDS chart, including three columns—plus, delta, and solutions. They use their posted notes from step 2 and avoid redundancy. The discussion should not focus on solutions yet.

  • Select two colleagues to work with.
  • Create a PDS chart with three columns.
  • Discuss the pluses and deltas, avoiding solutions at this stage.

Step 4: Develop solutions (10–20 minutes). This step involves thoughtful reflection and consideration to find appropriate solutions to the identified problems. If necessary, outside experts may be brought in for assistance. The following prompts can guide this step:

  • Individually provide solutions and/or resources to address the problems.
  • Discuss the solutions with the thought partner from step 3.
  • Engage in reflection and open discussion with the entire team.

Problem-solving is a challenging task that requires careful thought and consideration. However, with a collaborative approach like the PDS protocol, teams can find value in working together to discover solutions.

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