CAPABLE PROBLEM SOLVING FOR TEACHERS
Shady Oak believes in preparing children for adulthood by building on “6 Pillars”: Connection, Communication, Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking, and [Capable] Problem Solving. This is the last week of our series exploring each Pillar in practical detail.
Whether or not you’ve ever faced the challenge of a “problem student,” you can count on having “problem days” where nothing seems to go right. You’ll also have a host of individual problems to deal with over your teaching career, from the trivial (someone drops a box of crayons that roll into every corner) to the seriously challenging (a sudden surge in COVID cases indefinitely postpones all your community’s in-person events, including the seasonal field trip you and the kids have been organizing for months).
Whatever the nature of any problem, take the opportunity to solve it with your students. And whether or not you’re working on a specific problem, make a point of helping every student master the key questions of capable problem solving:
What does everyone involved really want?
Often, the problem everyone is focusing on isn’t the actual problem that needs solving, which means a lot of energy (and hard feelings) going to waste for an unsatisfactory solution or no solution at all. There’s no point in drawing straws for the whole crayon box if one person wants just the bright colors and another just the pastels.
Are we considering all possible solutions?
Making up your mind prematurely often means blinding yourself to the true best option. Kids are great at thinking outside the box, and classrooms are great places to hold brainstorming sessions where all tossed-out solutions, however wacky, are written on the easel for consideration. The best approach usually makes itself clear this way, and it’s a lot more fun than arguing.
Are we allowing time to implement the best solution?
If a problem is complicated, it may take more than one brainstorming session to come up with a solution; and it almost certainly will take more than one day to implement that solution. As growing kids are well aware, it can even take seemingly forever to reach a worthwhile goal. Once you’ve pinpointed your chosen solution, schedule the steps to it carefully and realistically. And expect to still encounter some discouragement and temptations to quit along the way—on which see the next question.
What solution will have the best long-term impact?
If your well-chosen solution will take a while to show results, have everyone write or draw their vision of the ultimate benefits (more things learned, getting along better as classmates, etc.) on a big poster, and hang that up as a reference for anyone who starts to get discouraged. Arrange to celebrate each progress point, as well. And for yourself, remember the long-term benefit your students may not see yet—that future day when they become capable, large-scale-problem-solving adults!