Greg Pilewski | August 2014

STEAM Leadership: How Good Is Your Problem Solving?

A former colleague of mine used to joke in a staff meeting and say “little problem today, big problem tomorrow”. Then, we would all laugh and move on.  As the new school year begins, many educators emerge into new leadership roles supporting STEAM/Arts Integration implementation. Through all of this, one thing is for sure: problem solving is at the core of being a STEAM leader.

Whether you are leading a collaborative planning team, leading an entire school, or leading a district office for the first time, one part of being successful is your ability to solve complex problems.  However, as a new or experienced leader do we truly take the time to understand how we can improve our problem solving skills to improve implementation?

Leaders make thousands of decisions each day to solve problems both large and small.  Once, I was being shadowed by an assistant principal and she said “I can’t believe all the decisions you had to make today and I can’t imagine how many more decisions you still have to make once you open your email”.  Sound familiar?

In the fast pace of the day-to-day in leading any team or organization its easy to get caught in the cycle of not finding real solutions to complex problems.   Why? We struggle with truly taking the time to understand our own problem-solving strengths and weakness so we can “unpack” the problem and work through the process collaboratively and consistently.  As a result, we allocate numerous resources to “fix” the problem as soon as possible only to later find out that…

We didn’t even have the problem properly identified from the beginning.

For example, once I was working with a group of talented central office leaders around identifying system-level problems that we wanted to solve.  As we filled up an entire dry erase board with ideas about a problem, our facilitator began to challenge our thinking.  What they pointed out to us was that we didn’t actually identify the problem; we identified potential causes to a larger systemic problem.

That was a major “aha” moment for all of us.  We just looked at each other and said “we all need to sharpen our problem solving skills”.  Regardless if you are a new or an experienced leader taking the time to improve your problem solving skills, and those with whom you work, will help make lasting STEAM implementation improvements.

Below are a few things to consider as you reflect upon your problem solving skills.

  • Clearly Define the Problem- This sounds easy but take your time and “unpack” the problem to see if it is the real problem or a cause of a larger systemic problem.
  • Generate AlternativesLook for patterns and connect the “unconnected dots”.
  • Evaluate and Priorities the Alternatives-Consider the “big picture” as you analyze the impact of each alternative.
  • Plan for Implementation-Never under estimate the power of taking the time to deeply plan for implementation.  Often, we rush this step because of the day-to-day.
  • Monitor and Provide Feedback-It’s true what they say “what is not measured and monitored does not get done”.  Spend the time clearly identifying what the evidence would look like.  What human behaviors would be different?

How Good Is Your Problem-Solving?

Do you want to find out how good your problem solving skills are?  Check out this problem solving skills self assessment. The sixteen question assessment is a great place to start. Further, it only takes about two minutes to complete.  The results help pin point one or two areas you should work on to improve.  This is one of my favorite websites for practical tools for new or experienced leaders.

Look for the next STEAM Leadership article entitled: “4 Tips on Fostering Innovation At Your Door Step”, coming up next Thursday!

About the Author

Greg is a former Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction and has nearly twenty years of classroom, school-based and district-level leadership experience in five different public school systems. He has a passion for teaching and learning and a commitment to supporting school-level and system-level leaders with integrated and innovative resources. Not only is Greg an accomplished leader and speaker, he’s also an avid tinkerer in his workshop where he enjoys making projects around his historic home for his lovely wife and two Labrador retrievers. You can catch Greg’s insights right here each and every Thursday and contact him directly at: [email protected]