Ask the Right Question


“…whatever problem you’re trying to solve, make sure you’re not just attacking the noisy part of the problem that happens to capture your attention. Before spending all your time and resources, it’s incredibly important to properly define the problem or, better yet, redefine the problem.”- Think Like a Freak 

At this time of year in education, we tend to already be thinking about what needs to be put into place to make the next school year even greater than this one. Hiring decisions are being made, curriculum changes being proposed and evaluated, materials purchased and professional development planned out. While some industries see April and May as the mid point of their work, for educators these months are the equivalent of the lights coming on at the end of the night. It is time to go home and do it all again soon. While you work putting your carefully laid plans for next school year into motion take a moment to be sure that you have an accurate view of the problem.

One of my favorite books is Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. In the book, the authors give real life stories that demonstrate how a simple change in perspective can lead to a real professional breakthrough. It is their steps for identifying the problem (or rather my take on their steps) that I am going to share with you. They have been immensely helpful for me and can be for you too!

Step 1: Identify what is bothering you

The issue could be a lack of parent engagement despite ALL of your attempts to reach out. Your issue could be that test scores aren’t increasing despite teacher training and buy in. Your issue could be that for the fourth year in a row your budget is being cut and you aren’t sure how to provide everything your principals, teachers, and students need with the resources that you have.

Step 2: Check your bias

How much do you ACTUALLY know about your problem? Is your only information based on your personal experience or have you researched root causes? Is your upset based on public opinion or have you interacted personally with other parties involved? How objective are you about this problem? When you are sure that you are looking at the problem for what it is not what you perceive it to be move to step 3!

Step 3: Ask yourself Michael Bungay Stanier’s (author of The Coaching Habit: Say Less Ask More and Change the Way You Lead Forever) essential three questions to find a solution to the problem in front of you! Okay so this is NOT in Think Like a Freak but it applies so I added it here!

Remember, to lead is to constantly learn, and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner said it best in Think Like a Freak,

“All of us face barriers physical, financial, temporal every day. Some are unquestionably real. But others are plainly artificial…The next time you encounter such a barrier imposed by people who lack your imagination and drive and creativity think hard about ignoring it. Solving a problem is hard enough; it gets that much harder if you’ve decided beforehand it can’t be done.” (p.71)

Ask the right questions about the problem and you will find your solution. – Dr. Kia