08 Jan 2021
By Mark Richards
Something that is true in most situations, and certainly in schools, is that ‘quick fixes’ rarely solve a problem. When problems arise, surface-level fixes should be avoided at all costs. Sticking a plaster over a problem is unlikely to ever be enough.
Problems and challenges are part of the day-to-day running of all schools. You never know exactly what they will be or when they will occur. The only thing that is a given is that they will raise their ugly head at some point. Often, such as in cases of low-level behaviour problems in the classroom, swift, assertive and consistent action is usually enough to deal with the issue.
However, in other areas one of the difficulties is that the problem that is presenting itself at any given time isn’t always the most pressing concern or the underlying issue that really needs attention.
Delve deep, don’t just scratch the surface
When it comes to pupil relationships and behaviour, red herrings often appear that can sometimes mask more serious problems that really need addressing. For example, a pupil might fall out with their peers or exhibit poor behaviour. This is the presenting problem in hand , but delving deeper below the surface is often necessary to locate where the problem really stems from.
Issues are rarely clear-cut or black and white when it comes to behaviour, motivations and relationships. However, the warning to avoid quick fixes and swift solutions in all aspects of school life really does ring true.
Identify the problems a school has first and foremost
Another key challenge facing schools is the problem of ‘initiative overload’. Every year (and often it feels like it’s every term) there seems to be a new initiative that is expected to be introduced into schools. Of course, the thinking and rationale behind these initiatives are generally well-intentioned. However, they aren’t always especially well thought though. Another problem is that schools often struggle to properly embed new initiatives before the next one comes along! What’s more, sometimes the initiatives offer ‘solutions’ but it is unclear what the actual ‘problem’ is. This is the wrong way around. Schools need to identify the problems they have and then carefully tailor an appropriate solution to them.
Honesty, reflection and transparency
In all areas of school life and leadership it is important not to be deceived by the red herrings that present themselves from time to time. As an example, staff members might be demotivated or unhappy. Naturally, the presenting problem needs to be dealt with, but it is also important that time is taken to identify what the root cause is. Is the problem personal or professional? Why has the problem occurred? Is it something fundamental in the school that is causing the problem? These are the kind of questions that need answering. If the problems stem from issues such as poor student behaviour or excessive teacher workload, these are issues that a quick fix will not solve. There might be a ‘quick win’ that teachers and pupils will see as a statement of intent – but this will not be enough to provide a long-term solution. The issues surrounding such problems can be complex and ‘root and branch’ review is necessary.
A problem needs to be given time and space
Of course, problems need to be fixed quickly. Immediate action is often required, not least because it shows the school’s leadership can be responsive when necessary. However, leaders need to be mindful that they don’t simply fix the first problem that presents itself. Similarly, recognising that the simplest solution is not usually the best is important too. It is the actions that take place after the initial response that will bring about lasting change and long-term solutions. This requires time and space. Careful consideration is needed. You need to get under the skin of the problem in hand, but also give the strategies that have been put in place to address the problem time to bed in. The response needs to be reviewed and evaluated too. This means that the approach can be tweaked if needs be.
The long and short of it this - problems are usually more complex than they first appear, and quick fixes rarely work.
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