Problem-Solving with a Class

Problem-Solving with a Class

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Whether it comes in the form of rain on field day or of a fundraising need, every teacher sooner or later finds an entire classroom faced with a mutual problem. Rather than feeling you have to come up with a solution, serve as facilitator and encourager to help the students personally handle the bulk of the problem-solving.

The following procedure is optimally effective in reaching a workable solution while letting the children develop their coping skills:

  1. Listen to the students’ feelings and needs. That means to really listen, with obvious attention and acknowledgment; otherwise, they’ll see it as just a formality before you the authority hand down the real answer. Above all, don’t tell anyone how they “should” feel. It’s natural to be disappointed if a change in plans is inevitable or a lot of unexpected work is involved; so don’t panic if someone sheds a few tears or speaks in a raised voice. “Calm down” is justified only if someone is becoming hysterical or trampling on another’s feelings; and even then, avoid scolding that “it’s no big deal.” It feels like a big deal to them, and what they’ll hear is “you’re too stupid to know what’s important.”
  1. Summarize the collective point of view verbally to the class. If there are varying opinions, give each equal time; but emphasize the common points that concern everyone. This is the stage for defining the problem clearly.
  1. Express your own feelings and needs. You probably have strong feelings and opinions of your own regarding the problem. It’s fine to admit if you’re hurt or upset; let the kids see your human side, and don’t be afraid to put yourself on their level. Remember, you aren’t going to tellthem “what we’ll do now”; you’re going to ask them.
  1. Invite the class to brainstorm with you to find a solution. Set up a whiteboard or giant tablet, and write down the ideas where the class can read them as they come. Allow at least fifteen minutes for this stage.
  1. Write down ALL the ideas. The cardinal rule of brainstorming sessions: never stop collecting ideas to evaluate them, no matter how outrageous they sound. Don’t let anyone judge anyone else’s idea, either. Make sure that everybody, not just the more vocal and outgoing students, has a full chance to participate; and when the stream of ideas seems to have stopped, wait a full minute or two before declaring the brainstorming finished. A moment’s quiet will encourage the timid ones, who often have the best ideas, to speak up. If someone has been quiet the whole time, now is the moment to give them an encouraging nod or even to ask them directly what they can offer.
  1. Together, decide which ideas to use, and how to implement them. You won’t be able to use every idea, but try not to ignore any of them completely. Even ideas that don’t fit into the ultimate solution can provide valuable insights.

Remember, this is a group effort. If you show an attitude of acceptance and appreciation throughout, students whose ideas weren’t used needn’t feel scorned or ignored.

(Based on the work of Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)