skip to Main Content

A Window Into Effective Problem-Solving

True story:

A school board decided that middle school students weren’t paying attention in class because they were looking out the windows. Their solution? Build a windowless school. Honest. They did just that. Four wings with white walls. Students couldn’t tell where they were so they added grey, brown, and other neutral-colored panels to identify the wings. Sounds more like a prison than a school, doesn’t it?

Of course, this design failed to rivet student attention to teacher instruction. Why? Students were gazing out windows because they were bored with what and how they were being taught–instruction, not construction, was the root cause of the problem!

Each time we solve problems without identifying the root cause, we risk spending millions, as did this school district, on something that won’t further student learning.

A recent study laments “Early Achievers Falling Behind” (http://tinyurl.com/6xn29kv). In the article, The Fordham Institute wonders whether in the effort to help struggling students, “top” students are losing out. Could be.

However, there are other possibilities. For example the Center for Applications of Psychological Type is just finishing up a longitudinal study of student type preferences, attitudes toward school, and success. They’re finding that students who prefer Extraversion (i.e. get their energy from action and interaction) are often stars in elementary school. Perhaps teachers notice their energy and call on them more; there may be other reasons as well, such more readily asking for help. However, Introverted students catch up and often surpass Extraverted students by the middle school years.

Now, assuming that all students’ inherent ability to succeed remains equal, could it be that middle school is better suited for those Introverted students, who prefer to reflect before speaking or writing and may naturally think deeply about subjects that are interesting to them, rather than enjoying quick changes in topics for a breadth of information, like many Extraverts?

I’m not sure, but think of the implications. Reforms designed to help those “Early Achievers” identified in the Fordham study might be biased in favor of Extraverts, leaving Introverted students further behind. This kind of bias robs children of education as surely as biases grounded in race, socio-economic status, gender, or any other source. Slowly, we’re gathering evidence to illustrate how children with these inborn preferences can be left behind.

Or, there may be another cause for “falling star” students–one not related to type or to No Child Left Behind initiatives. Has some other demographic changed in the makeup of who becomes an early achiever from those so identified a decade ago? And is middle school somehow less attractive to this new cohort of stars? Have we examined enough options?

It’s high time we learn to agree on actual problems before solving them. Or, we’ll keep building windowless schools…

Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back To Top
%d bloggers like this: