How can schools use evidence of student learning to make improvements? This Step in the KEYS-CSI process takes up this challenge and proposes a series of problem solving actions. It involves recurrent narrowing of options until a decision is made about going forward with one or more new initiatives.
Step 5 includes the following tasks:
Considering alternative strategies for addressing identified problems (problem framing).
Identifying promising programs and practices using data on student learning and other evidence.
Assessing the feasibility of adopting and implementing the most promising initiatives.
Selecting courses of action strategically.
Developing a plan of action.
The process of problem solving in Step 5 involves recurrent narrowing of options until a decision is made about going forward with one or more new initiatives. This is not a neatly linear process. Rather, considerations engaged in earlier stages of process are revisited as more likely explanations for problems are identified from among many and increasingly deep analysis is undertaken of the efficacy and feasibility of promising improvement strategies. Once a tentative decision is reached to pursue a course of action and plans for implementation are developed, issues of feasibility and costs versus benefits are reconsidered and previous decisions may be revised before a plan of action is developed. At each stage of the process, some of the same resources (e.g., data from the KEYS survey and relevant research) may be helpful in problem solving.
Because the similar issues are likely to be addressed at each stage in the problem solving process outlined here, it may be useful to browse through the descriptions and resources for the five sub-steps before launching collaborative work on the first.
Some schools are better prepared to engage in evidence-based problem solving than others. Indicator 6.7 (Research Conducted at the School Influences Programs and Instruction) may provide some indication of your school’s readiness. And, Key 2, Open Communication and Collaborative Problem Solving, discussed in more depth below, deals with several Indicators of a school’s experience with collaborative problem solving. In the learning resources provided in Steps 3 and 4 of the KEYS-CSI process there are some lessons and tools for enhancing a school’s capabilities to engage in evidence-based problem solving.
Two Prerequisites for Problem Solving and Program Implementation
It is always risky to say that something is a prerequisite for something else because actions are often taken with some success without the things that were identified as essential being in place. Nonetheless, two conditions that affect all others seem fundamental to reaching ambitious goals for school improvement (1) a school culture characterized by collaborative evidence-based problem solving and (2) a level of civility and caring among teachers and among students and teachers that is manifest in positive interpersonal relationships and the relative absence of dysfunctional conflict and social disorder.
The Importance of a Culture of Collaboration
Collaborative processes and dispositions have been identified as important to Steps 3 and 4 in the KEYS-CSI process but issues related to collaborative problem solving are revisited in more depth here because collaboration is essential to productive problem solving, professional learning, and the effective implementation of programs and practices. Indeed, the absence of a collaborative culture may be one reason students are not meeting priority goals.
Effective problem solving in schools brings all concerned interests together to look at results, formulate a shared theory or understanding, consider potential responses, identify needs for new resources and capabilities, and move into action in response. The productive school community collaborates in the process of problem solving so that the process is widely regarded as legitimate, different perspectives are welcomed, actions resolved upon are widely accepted, and the move to implementation is embraced wholeheartedly. Throughout, the aim is to develop a shared understanding of the problem(s) and to mobilize the school to respond wisely and vigorously.
Collaborative problem solving is enhanced by several conditions. Finding adequate time is obviously a major issue. Human relations are critical--teachers who trust each other, norms that support constructive criticism, and methods for joining and resolving disputes. Structures need to be in place that create forums for the work of problem sensing and decision making, such as regular team meetings among teachers at the same grade level or department meetings within high schools and middle schools Often useful are school connections to inside and outside sources of expertise and scrutiny coupled to a willingness to learn from such sources. As well, schools work to secure the authority to proceed with actions that might violate existing policies and practices; in so doing they master the micro-politics of their districts and their communities.
In schools where conditions to support collaborative problem solving are not in place, leaders must skillfully manage two agendas simultaneously—establishing the supportive conditions while engaging in the problem solving process, “building the bus while driving it.” The imperative of raising student performance does not allow for “time-outs.” If schools are to meet the challenge of continuous improvement, engagement with both the KEYS-CSI process and the conditions that support it will be necessary.
To learn more about collaboration, CLICK HERE. [link 5a]
Communities of Caring and Civility
Shared values, dispositions and beliefs, chiefly concerning commitments to high goals for all students and ensuring the well-being of all, together with social resources such as interpersonal trust and caring relationships among educators and among educators and students facilitate collaborative improvement processes. But, the importance of these conditions goes beyond problem solving. They promote learning and engagement of staff and students as well as a sense that one is safe physically, socially and emotionally. When schools are places in which one feels cared for, the are likely to be places that are cared about. To learn more, CLICK HERE. [link 5b]
Note: Click on the links in the left column for an interactive experience with this step of the process, or click the link below to download a Word version of this section.