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  • Writer's pictureallisonjolester

Unraveling the Threads of Teaching: Mind Mapping Your Felt Difficulties

Hey there!

Ever had that nagging classroom challenge, a relentless conundrum, or just a peculiar itch of curiosity you couldn't quite place? Today, let's chat about mind maps, your new favorite tool for unpacking these pesky practitioner mysteries or what we call "felt difficulties."

What in the World is a Mind Map?

Picture a tree. The trunk is your central idea (or problem or wonder). Branching out are themes or sub-topics. And from those, leaves, flowers, and maybe even a squirrel or two (okay, maybe not the squirrels). In essence, a mind map is a diagram used to visually represent and connect ideas around a central topic. It’s as if doodling and deep thinking teamed up for the ultimate combo.

So, How Does This Help with Practitioner Inquiry?

Mind maps are not just cool doodles. They're powerful tools for practitioner inquiry. When we're swamped in the daily grind, we often miss the forest for the trees. These maps allow us to zoom out and see patterns, connections, and gaps in our understanding. They also present an incredible way to transition from a broad 'felt difficulty' to a specific, researchable inquiry question. You know, the kind that can genuinely transform your practice.

Let’s Get Mapping!

Grab your pens, markers, or even crayons! Heck, throw in some glitter if that's your jam. You can even create your maps digitally, check out these platforms Canvas, Padlet, or Jamboard!

Let’s dive into two mind map forms tailored for educators:

1. Solution-Driven Mind Map: For The Fixer-Uppers

Ideal for educators seeking to implement strategy-specific changes.


  1. Begin with Your Challenge: Central to your map is the heart of the matter. In the circle labeled "My Felt Difficulty," inscribe the primary challenge you're grappling with.

  2. Identify Keywords: Help yourself synthesize what words and important ideas encompass your felt difficulty.

  3. Symptoms and Their Showcases: Draw a branch sprouting labeled "Symptoms/Manifestations." Here, detail the ways this issue makes itself known. These are the observable patterns or behaviors stemming from your central difficulty.

  4. Digging for Roots: Connect another branch titled "Potential Causes." Dive into the underlying reasons for these symptoms. Consider both the apparent and the obscure.

  5. Memory Lane: Attach another limb labeled "Initial Solutions Tried." Recall strategies you've already employed to tackle the challenge. Note their outcomes and perhaps a few surprise results.

  6. Feel the Feels: Emotions matter! From your central challenge, have a branch for "Feelings & Emotions." Express how this issue resonates emotionally with you.

  7. Turn the Key: With your "Inquiry Opportunities" branch, metamorphose your reflections into actionable research questions. Aim for open-endedness!

Remember, this isn’t about pinpointing blame or diving into a spiral of despair. It’s about clarity. It’s about unpacking the knotty, tangled threads of classroom challenges and laying them out in the sun to observe and understand.

Reflection Time

No process is done without some reflecting! And by now, you all know I am big on reflection. So, now that you created a map, let's step back and ask ourselves a few questions:

What do you notice?

  • Looking at the "Symptoms/Manifestations" branch in relation to "Potential Causes," what connections or patterns emerge?

  • When you consider the "Feelings & Emotions" branch, what do you notice about how deeply interconnected emotions are to the challenge and its symptoms?

  • Are there any recurring themes or words in your map that catch your attention or stand out more than others?

What do you appreciate?

  • Reflecting on the "Initial Solutions Tried" limb, what can you appreciate about your past efforts, resilience, and willingness to seek solutions?

  • In relation to the "Inquiry Opportunities" branch, what do you appreciate about the growth potential and learning avenues that have opened up for you?

  • How has this mapping process made you appreciate the depth and complexity of challenges in the classroom?

What do you wonder?

  • Considering the "Potential Causes" and the depth of the challenge, what further questions or curiosities arise for you about the root causes that might not be immediately evident?

  • With the insights from the "Feelings & Emotions" branch, do you wonder how different emotions might be influencing your perspective or actions toward the challenge?

  • After having laid out the challenge in such detail, what do you wonder about possible unexplored solutions or strategies you might not have thought of before?

2. Vision-Centric Mind Map: For The Dreamers & Wonderers

Perfect for educators itching to explore different pedagogies, philosophies, or approaches.


  1. Start with a Spark: In the center, inside the "My Curiosity" or "Felt Difficulty" bubble, scribble the theme or area that tickles your imagination.

  2. Identify Keywords: Help yourself synthesize what words and important ideas encompass your felt difficulty or curiosity.

  3. Dream On: From this bubble, extend branches labeled "Visions of the Possible". Dream big. Sketch out potential scenarios or manifestations of your core curiosity.

  4. Tracing Back: Connect to "Influences & Inspirations". Identify where this burning curiosity originated. Was it a book? A seminar? Or just plain old introspection?

  5. Questions Galore: In the "Questions & Wonders" segment, pen down open-ended musings or queries about this theme.

  6. Risk vs. Reward: Every dream has its hurdles. Using the "Potential Risks & Rewards" branches, assess the possible challenges and the tantalizing benefits.

As you play with this map, let your mind wander. Dream big. Ponder. This is your safe space to reflect on what could be rather than what is.

Reflection Time

Alrighty then! Channeling my inner Dewey – and possibly butchering his words just a smidge – he once said, "We don't just learn from doing, we learn from reflecting on our doing." Fancy, right? Okay, don't quote me on that exact phrasing; I might've added a sprinkle of flair. 😜 But before we go down any rabbit holes, you've got a map in hand, so let's reflect on it. Here are a couple of questions that can help guide you:

What do you notice?

  • In looking at your "Visions of the Possible" and "Potential Risks & Rewards," how do they align with or deviate from your initial expectations about your felt difficulty or curiosity?

  • As you reflect on the "Influences & Inspirations," how have past experiences or resources played a role in shaping your current curiosity?

  • Which areas of the map were easiest for you to fill out, and which ones required more introspection? What does this reveal about your understanding or feelings toward your felt difficulty?

What do you appreciate?

  • Considering the "Questions & Wonders" segment, which questions do you value most, and why? Are there any that surprised you or that you hadn't previously considered?

  • How do you feel about the process of tracing back to your influences and inspirations? Were there any sources of inspiration that you particularly appreciate rediscovering or acknowledging?

  • Reflecting on the overall map, what elements of your curiosity or felt difficulty do you appreciate the most now that you've mapped them out?

What do you wonder?

  • After completing the map, what additional questions or areas of exploration have emerged for you?

  • How might you address or act upon the "Potential Risks & Rewards" you've identified? Are there any you hadn't considered before mapping them out?

  • In thinking about the future, what steps or actions are you curious about taking next to further explore or address your felt difficulty or curiosity?

What To Do With Your Maps

  1. Post-Lit Review Inspiration: Before diving into your literature, spend a few minutes daily revisiting your mind map. It's a compass, reminding you of your purpose and inspiration.

  2. Discussion Starter: Share your mind map with colleagues. It can act as a conversation starter, revealing insights that you hadn’t considered before.

  3. Evolution Over Time: Keep updating your map as you learn and evolve. Add new branches or even start fresh maps. It’s a living document!

Using Mind Maps to Guide a Literature Review

  1. From Map to Research Question: Central to your map is your core challenge or curiosity. This should directly inform your research question. What do you want to answer? What do you want to explore more deeply?

  2. Topic Derivation: Your branches that speak about symptoms, manifestations, or visions of possibility can give you specific themes or topics that you want your literature to focus on.

  3. Areas of Learning: These branches on your map can guide where you need to delve deeper. Whether it's books, workshops, or interviews, these nodes become essential checkpoints in your literature review journey.

  4. Keywords & Phrases: The diverse terms and insights on your map can become potential keywords. These can guide your searches, making sure you’re exploring all the right nooks and crannies of existing literature.

Mapping out our felt difficulties, curiosities, and dreams is more than a task; it’s a journey. It’s a way to dialogue with our deepest educator selves. The one who, amidst all the chaos, still finds joy in a student's "Aha!" moment, still dreams of a classroom humming with curiosity, and still believes that every day is a day to learn.

So, the next time you're stumped, confused, or just plain curious, remember your trusty map. Not all those who wander are lost; sometimes, they're just educators with a pen, paper, and a thirst for insight.

Happy Mapping! 🌳🖍🗺🌟


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