I've always been drawn to problem-solving. As a child I was part of a group at school called Future Problem Solvers that would compete with neighboring schools following a critical thinking model. In college my major was Policy Studies, which practiced identifying various systematic problems and creating feasible solutions in the form of policy. And as an adult this has manifested itself with a love of murder mysteries, Olivia Pope and solutions-based feedback.
There are times when I find myself focusing on everything wrong. Things I have done wrong, terrible standardized test questions, flaws in the system - I can own that. I know that being in a constant state of complain or surrounded by problem-based discussion makes me feel terrible. I have come up with some strategies that help me in these problem-centric times and allow me to move towards more solutions-based feedback - rather than fixate on everything wrong.
Focus on the student
In frustrating situations I try to refocus back to the students. Yes that writing piece may have been stressful for me, the teacher, but what does the student work show? In making decisions or developing curriculum I always think about how I would feel putting the work in front of a student.
Identify what is in your control
There are things that we cannot control. I have my opinions about PARCC and PERA and the other acronyms haunting the education world right now. I can engage in conversations about those opinions but right now I cannot change the fact that students will have to take PARCC this school year. That is out of my control. So I need to move on to - how can I ease testing anxiety, how can I create a classroom culture that supports inquiry, authentic exploration, growth mindset and other attributes I know are critical to life success? Those things are in my control. Don't waste too much time or energy on things you cannot control.
We all have "those days" where things aren't going according to plan. It can be very easy to place the blame on the students but I find that most of the time I need to take a good look at my own practice. Were the students not listening or was I unclear in my directions? Did I clearly state my expectations or were they rushing their work? It can often be a combination of all of the above but I always learn something following an honest reflection.
In a Pinterest-driven world it can be easy to get caught up in how things appear. I have made it a consistent part of my practice to ask why. What is the purpose? To make it look nice? Not worth it. To support learning? Totally worth it. If there is a new initiative that seems overwhelming ask why. Will it benefit the students? Is it best practice? If it really will benefit students, find one positive and go from there.
Stay out of it
When all else fails, just stay out of it. I will honestly reflect and say that there are times I involve myself in the venting and complaining. Sometimes, I even start the venting and complaining. But afterwards I almost always feel guilty or unhappy or completely miserable. Most of the time problem-focused discussion is unproductive and I would rather forge ahead testing solutions to find something right instead of dwell on what is wrong.
Do you have any strategies for problem solving?