When school leaders adopt a problem-creation stance

Dennis Sparks

See, I think our whole society is much too problem-solving oriented. It is far more interesting to [participate in] ‘problem creation’ … You know, ask yourself an interesting enough question and your attempt to find a tailor-made solution to that question will push you to a place where, pretty soon, you’ll find yourself all by your lonesome — which I think is a more interesting place to be. – Chuck Close

Because most of the problems associated with the sustained improvement of teaching and learning do not lend themselves to one-right-way, prescriptive solutions, schools benefit when principals and teacher leaders adopt a “problem creation” stance like the one described by artist Chuck Close.

The creativity and energy that are activated by a problem-creation approach sustain the focus and momentum of improvement efforts as schools continuously adapt to changing circumstances.

3 Responses to “When school leaders adopt a problem-creation stance”

  1. 1 G. Michael Abbott December 28, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    This is a very insightful essay. There are those who act as though they know all the answers in education and others who question, search for understanding, and act tentatively, continually searching, even if things appear to be going well. They are Problem Creators who ask, “How can I make this class better?” It brings to mind the “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” statement. If we followed that advice there would be no progress. Similarly, “teacher proof” scripted classrooms of the reformers are assumed to have all the answers. There are too many variables, too much nuance and complexity in any classroom to make that assumption.


  2. 2 setdebello December 29, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    I understand what Chuck Close is after and I appreciate the difficulty of sustaining the momentum of improvement efforts. In fact I think it tailors nicely to Alan Deutschman’s concept of “mental frameworks” that Dennis discussed in an earlier blog, “Reframing How We Think About Things.” Close left me with a “how” question. How can we get people to move towards a “problem -creation” mode? Dennis’ explanation of “reframing” provides that initial first step. Awareness of the influence of frames, or “deeply rooted, beneath-the-surface beliefs and ideas” is critical. At that point it becomes a back and forth challenge. It seems likely that we can’t get an interesting question without “reframing” and we can’t “reframe” without awareness of how we are influenced and limited by mental frameworks.

    • 3 Dennis Sparks December 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      Well said, Tom! I don’t think it’s possible to underestimate the power of our conceptual frames to determine what we think is possible and to shape our behavior.

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