Are You Trying To Solve the Wrong Problem?

I’ll never forget listening to a room full of high school teachers after interviewing their students. They were genuinely surprised and saddened as many came to a blatant realization: A significant percentage of their students are disconnected from their own academic experience and the reality of their not so distant futures.  

Many of these teachers had not understood what it would be like to be a student in their school or classroom. From their perspective, they were going above and beyond to help these students and teach them everything they needed to be successful.  Diligently implementing the district and school initiatives, the teachers had been working so hard to learn the new standards and align their curriculum. They were giving formative assessments, analyzing data in their PLCs and reteaching, yet only 50% of their students were “proficient” and less than 35% of them were eligible to go to college.  They were frustrated.

Throughout the 30 minute interviews, teachers found out that students wanted to have relationships with their teachers but the schedules, class sizes contributed to the lack of meaningful interactions and made them feel insignificant in their classes.  Seeing school from their students’ perspectives allowed these educators to understand the problems they were facing and think differently about the challenges.  As I went to each group they all had different ideas but a common theme that surfaced was the lack of connections between the adults and the students at school.  

Based on the students’ responses, the teachers began to understand that relationships were at the heart of their challenges but could also be the solution.  Students wanted to be seen as individuals and valued for their unique strengths.  Developing the relationships first would help pave the way to focus on rigor, engagement, and their college and career path. This new vantage point allowed teachers to consider some different solutions than they had previously been focused on.  They began to brainstorm models for mentoring programs, advisory classes, student portfolios and so many more! They were excited and the opportunity brought so many back to their passions and why they got into teaching in the first place.  

This experience serves as a good reminder that when we attempt to solve problems from our point of view without bringing in diverse voices and empathizing with those we serve, we might not be seeing the big big picture and thus, end up spend a great deal of time and resources solving the wrong problems.


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