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Using the Problem-Solving Cycle to Implement School Change

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Graziano

Susan has taught high school English and has worked as a school administrator. She has a doctorate in Educational Leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn about the problem-solving cycle and how it can be used to make changes in schools. You will also learn how you can apply the steps in the cycle to engage in thoughtful, data-driven problem solving. Updated: 11/29/2021

What Is the Problem-Solving Cycle?

The problem-solving cycle is an approach to problem solving that includes clearly defined steps, which allow organizations, including schools, to implement a consistent approach to problem solving. Today, you will be presented with a scenario that illustrates all the steps in the problem-solving process.

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  • 0:04 What Is the…
  • 0:22 Define the Problem
  • 1:44 Brainstorm & Pick a Solution
  • 3:36 Implementing the Solution
  • 4:50 Review the Results
  • 5:51 Lesson Summary
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Define the Problem

The first step of the problem-solving cycle is to define the problem. What is the problem you're trying to solve? It is important to identify a problem after careful consideration of existing data, or the information that's gathered for analysis. Examples of data within schools include test scores, staff evaluation ratings, teachers' recorded observations of students, information gathered from surveys, demographic information, and attendance records. Through careful analysis of this information, you will be able to identify a problem or a need to which you and/or your team would like to devote your attention.

You may discover there are multiple problems to solve. In this case, it's wise to prioritize the problems, which involves identifying which problems require the most immediate attention. Let's look at a scenario that shows how defining the problem works.

After the open house for the upcoming school year, many staff members expressed concern about a lack of parent attendance. After pulling attendance logs from each of the classroom teachers, you recognize there was a significant decrease in parent participation from last year's open house (66% participation) to this year's open house (33% participation). Recognizing that parental involvement is an important factor in student achievement, you decide to focus on this problem and continue to work through the problem-solving cycle.

Brainstorm & Pick a Solution

Now that you've identified the problem, the second step of the problem-solving cycle is to brainstorm solutions. How can you improve the current situation? Brainstorming should be a collaborative process with the team. Record all possible solutions. This will help you move forward to the next step in the process. Here's an example showing how you can brainstorm solutions.

You and your team engage in a brainstorming session during the school improvement team meeting. Possible solutions include:

  • Changing the date and/or time of the open house
  • Sending out a parent survey to solicit feedback
  • Hosting multiple open house nights
  • Increasing communication with families prior to the open house
  • Collaborating with local organizations to avoid conflicts on the night of the open house

Now that you've engaged in a brainstorming session, the third step of the problem-solving cycle is to pick a solution. Which of the proposed solutions is the most feasible at this time? Which solution would likely yield the most useful data? These are important questions to consider when making this determination.

At this point in the process, you should also develop a goal. A goal is a target you would like to achieve. This should be specific to the solution you have selected. Let's look at a scenario that illustrates how this works.

After further consideration, you and your team decide you should start by getting to the root of the problem. This is best accomplished by going straight to the source: the parents. While you may decide to make other changes for the next open house, you decide to begin by sending out a parent survey. The survey will provide parents an opportunity to explain why they did or did not attend the open house. Since you have decided to implement a parent survey, you and your team develop the following goal: Obtain at least 70% parent participation in the online survey.

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