Don’t Solve The Problem

Right now, we are currently in the midst of creating our School Improvement Plan.  I am very pleased with the progress that we are making, and perhaps even more satisfying is that we have made the Improvement Plan into an interactive blog (at our SKSS SIP Blog) and used the plan as an opportunity to teach 21st Century skills and Web 2.0 tools to our staff.  However, what I am most thrilled with is the incredible level of engagement that we have gotten from our school community.   This has been the result of taking the time to give our staff, students, and parents the opportunity to speak to each other, to have their voices heard, and to see what they have said reflected in the plan.

However, the deadline for creating this three-year plan is approaching, and we are in the throes of transforming our ideas in the form of SMART goals.  In conjunction with our Department Coordinators, my outstanding Assistant Principals and I are working through this transformation with our School Improvement Leader.  Our Department Coordinators are working on department-focused academic goals, and the admin team and our SIL are working on our school-wide social responsibility goals of increasing the sense of school and community and social And with the looming deadline, I can feel that each of us is starting to slip into the age-old curse of administration:  we are trying to solve the problem.

I think back to one of my previous posts “Why School Improvment Plans Suck” , when I jumped to ‘solve the problem’ like this in the past (and why I don’t think administrators should ‘solve the problem’):

“I looked at the last School Improvement Plan that I wrote four years ago, it sucks, and it is MY fault.  This is not to disrespect my School Improvement Leader who helped create the plan–he worked incredibly hard.  But it was me who responsible for getting stakeholder involvement, and I didn’t do a good enough job of it.  I put the glossy pictures of happy things and happy kids and happy logos, I wrote the SMART goals and presented them to staff (and to their credit, they mostly went along with them), I engineered the plan!  What a backwards way to do things: it is little wonder why I had limited buy-in to the plan.  It was (and still is) a static, lifeless document with justifiably little commitment from the very people that were meant to implement it.”

Immediately, one might ask the obvious–aren’t administrators supposed to solve problems?  At first blush, this might seem to be a primary function of an administrative role.  However, having attempted to do this on numerous occasions myself, I have come to the conclusion when administrators wade into a situation and ‘solve the problem’, there is a much greater possibility that one or all parties involved will not really buy into the solution.  And having watched the process that we have gone through in developing our School Improvement Plan, I now believe that should a problem arise, administrators should try to facilitate the problem-solving process that involves the salient stakeholders.

Why don’t we do this all of the time?  I think the answer is simple; facilitating a problem-solving process in which the stakeholders are engaged takes time.  More specifically…

  • It takes time to gather the group together (and depending on the issue, this could be a large group).
  • It takes a great deal of effort to create a mechanism in which the individuals are able to participate in meaningful dialogue.
  • Sincerely listening to the stakeholders, coming up with common language and reference points to determine the current state of affairs, the desired state, and benchmarks to determine progress towards the ideal requires an open mind and genuine curiosity.
  • Valuing where people are coming from and harmonizing this with a destination where they may be less comfortable going to takes a special set of skills.
  • Smoothing over the inevitable bumps in the process involves copious amounts of patience and composure.
  • Staying the course and slowing the process down when the stakeholders may wish to charge ahead takes perseverance.
  • Following up to ensure that everyone is satisfied that they have been heard and taking the time to celebrate successes requires a commitment to the entire process.

In short, this process is not easy.  However, consider the alternative.  Jumping to ‘solution mode’ without going through the process will take significantly less time…on the front end.  But confusion arises if stakeholders do not have a chance to have meaningful dialogue and develop common language.  If there points of view are not valued they will be extremely reluctant to value other perspectives.  There will be bumps in the process, without doubt, and without patience in these situations, chaos results.  Charging ahead without considering all of the ramifications can lead to options that are often regrettable and difficult to change.  And without follow up, do we really know that we have worked through the issue?  And overall, by just ‘solving the problem’, a dependency on the external ‘problem solver’ can occur.

Considering all of this, our admin team will continue to slow the process down to create SMART goals for our SIP.  If we wish to continue to authentically engage each of our stakeholders, and this process takes more time than just jumping to a solution, it will be time well spent.

And to be honest, it’s kind of nice not to have to ‘solve the problem’.


  1. Doug Reeves makes similar points in the article in which he encourages principals to be multipliers who use distributive leadership rather than fixers. see

    March 2, 2011
  2. Kathy Mann said:

    I love the idea of doing a school improvement plan through a blog.

    March 13, 2011

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