Whose Problem is it Anyway?

Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: FutUndBeidl via Compfight cc

In a recent post, I shared how our principal learning team has grown over time and established trust. Our primary purpose in meeting is to help each other explore our problems of practice through a collaborative inquiry process.  Problems of practice are pressing, urgent and defy solutions, despite our best efforts. They are problems that we need to investigate and think deeply about.

Inquiry Framework

  1. Formulate an inquiry question;
  2. Develop a working hypothesis i.e.,  If I do this, then this will happen.
  3. Create success criteria;
  4. implement the plan;
  5. Analyse evidence in relation to the success criteria;
  6. Reflect on the learning using evidence;
  7. Share the learning;
  8. Identify next steps.

As a team, we talk about each step of the process and ask rich, coaching questions to help deepen our understanding. The process is more circular than linear.

My problem of practice comes from the evidence I gathered from staff feedback on a leadership survey. I discussed those results in a previous post (Feedback. Priceless). In addition, I have read several excellent books about trust that have helped me understand the trust-buidling process better. (See the list here.) With our PLT’s help, I came up with the following working hypothesis and action plan:

“If I build a culture of trust and openness, then all staff will be open to talking about practice, sharing craft knowledge, observing one another, and rooting for one another’s success.”

1) Demonstrate openness to new ideas and be accepting of staff suggestions
  • Staff will come to me regularly with ideas and questions;
  • When staff approach me, I will smile and give them my full attention;
  • I will listen actively without judging;
  • I will use questioning instead of telling in conversations.
2) Better communication and transparency about decisions
  • I will email or tell teachers about decisions involving their students and classrooms (e.g., suspensions, parent contact, attendance etc.);
  • I will respond to questions honestly and openly, explaining rationale for processes and decisions.

3) Extend Trust – don’t withhold it because there is risk involved
  • I extend trust to staff to take charge of their professional learning within learning teams;
  • I extend trust to staff to take on leadership roles.

I shared these actions and success criteria with our teachers, educational assistants, early childhood educators, and office administrators.  And now..I’m working on them! Stay tuned for results and reflections.


9 Responses to “Whose Problem is it Anyway?”

  1. Sue, thank you for sharing your “problem of practice” here as well as the steps you’re taking to see growth. I’m really interested in knowing how things work out.

    I appreciate how reflective you’re being here, and I wonder if your staff knows that you’re blogging about this. What are their thoughts? I’ve shared with teachers at my school that I blog about my teaching and learning, and I’m always greeted with mixed reviews. Some people are curious to hear what I say and appreciate that I reflect, and others are concerned about how parents and peers might react. They wonder why I have to be so public.

    As someone that also shares your “learning” and work publicly, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this! Reading your post, I couldn’t help but make this connection. Thanks Sue!


    1. Aviva, you make a good point. It was a risk to blog about my personal process, and I wondered how it might be perceived. But I think that fear is no reason not to do something, so I went ahead! Being transparent is important to me. How else can we start a conversation with parents, students and staff?

      Our staff knows that I blog, but I’m not really sure how many read it. I actually haven’t received much feedback from them, and none on this particular post.

      1. Thanks for the reply, Sue! I absolutely agree with you. I would never choose not to blog, even with the fear of being transparent. I think it’s through this transparency that we bring about change (largely in our own practices), and this benefits students. This is all the more reason to blog!

        I wonder how important it is that our colleagues read our blog posts. I often find it funny that people that I’ve never met read my posts, but those that I see every day, may not. I share my posts weekly with my parents and my principal and vice principal through email, and some have even commented on posts before, but I don’t do so with my colleagues. Is this something that we should be doing? Would these posts bring about good professional dialogue, or is it better to let people stumble upon them if they happen to? I’m torn on this one. What do you think?

        Thanks for always getting me thinking, Sue!

        1. I’ll share if you’ll share…

          1. I’d definitely share, but I don’t know how to best do so. Is it good to just send out an email with the blog link and invite feedback? Is there a better way? While I think that finding the best way to share may be difficult, I’m guessing that if we did share our blog posts more with staff members, it may increase professional dialogue right across the school. I definitely see value in this. What do you think?


  2. As so many of us in Ontario are working hard to make the collaborative inquiry process effective, it’s terrific to read about your process here. These posts also serve to build trust via their transparency. You are a great role model for all principals. Thanks Sue.

    1. Thanks, Julie! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. I find that as I blog, the process becomes more clear to me and helps my thinking. Being a principal is always a work in progress.

  3. James Cottam Avatar
    James Cottam

    Hey there Sue, I have very much liked your approach to laying out your problem of practice. I appreciate the simplicity of your layout, but also that evidence is embedded in the decision-making. I have some questions. How long did it take you to develop the success criteria? Were they all known to you at the beginning or was a fair bit of reflection necessary?

    How have things turned out? Did you find you were able to take this P. of P. to completion or did another P. of P. kind of work its way into your mind and supplant the original one? Thanks so much! James

    1. James, thank for your questions. THe problem of practice I wrote about a couple of years ago as a principal has really changed. We have been working closely with Steven Katz on leadership learning and his and our thinking has really evolved. We the see problem or challenge of practice as a real leadership learning opportunity to work in small, tiny even, steps and use the plan, act, assess, reflect cycle. Leadership challenges arise when despite our best efforts, we really don’t know what to do. These are often thorny problems. They do evolve as we learn how to deal with them. The leadership challenge is all about what we need to learn, not what other people need to do.

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