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If “what works is good” (MW) then what doesn’t work must be bad. 

I wonder how often, as leaders and teachers, we ask ourselves the simple question #WhatstheProblem – in my school or in my classroom – in a reflective and evidenced way?

This stream of thought was set off last July by the irrepressible Professor David Hargreaves who was talking to a group of aspiring senior leaders on the SSAT Leadership Course.  I’m the course leader hence my attendance at the event.  His presentation was on the Self-Improving School System and at one point he was talking about the difference between Joint Practice Development (JPD) and Sharing Good Practice (SGP).

#WhatstheProblem - Hargreaves Slides

Listening to David I had one of those “light bulb, road to Damascus” moments but also a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.  Have I spent the past thirteen years as a headteacher and before that as a senior/middle leader and classroom teacher essentially solving problems that didn’t exist or using the wrong solution for the rightly identified problem?

Sharing good practice – and let’s be honest, who hasn’t used this phrase over the past few years – isn’t a bad thing per se, however, too often the good practice hasn’t been exposed to the rigorous evaluation need to actual prove it is “good”.  It becomes good practice simply because someone has decided it was “good practice” or examination results went up one year and someone has decided it was because of this particular “good practice”.  We have become a system looking for silver bullet solutions.  I’m as guilty as anyone, pressure and accountability makes us do some strange things.

#WhatstheProblem - Glyn Potts

Glynn Potts recently put this heartfelt comment on one of the blog posts I had written.  I’m sure we are not both alone in looking back and wondering “what if I had done this … or that ..?”  Possibly it’s time to re-think our approach to issues and school improvement.  What would happen if we started from “what is not working” and our collective discontent about an issue as “the first necessity of progress”.  Our question then changes from, “What is working in another context” (SGP) to “#WhatstheProblem?” (JPD).

I’ll blog another time about Professor David Hargreaves presentation but his suggested approach was disciplined, distributed and collaborative, not a simple free for all.  It required high social capital, collective moral purpose and evaluation & challenge.  As leaders we need to accept a responsibility for the progress of children beyond our own schools and build the trust required with other headteachers to work together for the benefit of all students.  As teachers it’s about responsibility beyond our own classroom and the students in our classes.  Our work must have a positive impact on all our students, all our classes and all our schools.

Cue the equally irrepressible Tom Sherrington’s (@headguruteacher) recent tweet:

#WhatstheProblem - @headguruteacher - Development tweet

But what’s the stuff we need to do “that’s going to be massively successful?”

I think a great starting point would be the right question, #WhatstheProblem?  Once we know the problem that we need to address, we can start sharing thoughts, ideas, and strategies before determining a way forward.

Is this how #SLTChat works?  A number of people suggest issues, we vote on the ones that are of greatest importance/urgency for us and then spend half an hour on a Sunday evening sharing ideas and thoughts.

I’m wondering whether to try #WhatstheProblem at a school level to:

  • Revise or refine systems and processes
  • Identify CPD Issues
  • Determine future development plan objectives
  • Sort the small irritating stuff out (usually pretty quickly)

Would it work with students as well as staff?

What would it look like as a collaborative process using twitter, Google docs, blogs etc?

One of our new Assistant Headteachers, Phil Brown (@AsstHead_SMCC), has devised a #5MinPlan to help solve #WhatstheProblem – I think it is really neat.  His challenge is to solve the problems we are having with the further development and implementation of mobile technology.  Please find below his work and a template for you to use:

#WhatstheProblem - Exemplar

The 5 Min #WhatstheProblem – Exemplar

The 5Min #WhatstheProblem Template



6 thoughts on “#WhatstheProblem

  1. I love this approach to CPD and have been thinking about it a lot. I have a range of roles in our school and I am learning fast that focussed dialogue around #WhatstheProblem, where more than one mind comes together to explore ways forward, is truly motivating and is hopefully building better relationships between colleagues.
    Today, with my senco hat on, when discussing intervention for a class of children, I asked a Teaching Assistant who has been working with them to forget about all the programmes and interventions she knew of and try to describe what the biggest barrier was for that group of pupils. What was the problem, what was stopping them from flying? She said straight away that the issue was retaining. So it led to a discussion around developing an intervention to build auditory and visual memory and encourage links to be made through word-association and mind-mapping. Without asking #WhatstheProblem, we may have implemented a range of intervention that was useful, but that did not prioritise the biggest need. Intervention that dealt with parts of a whole. I am excited to try something new, to take a risk with this. We agree it is worth it.

    The focus that colleague dialogue can generate is powerful stuff. It gives energy and draws on strengths. It reaffirms our skills and expertise and makes sharing them purposeful.

    Will share this post with my colleagues on SLT. Thank you.

    Posted by Hannah Pearson | September 16, 2013, 11:37 pm
    • Thanks for the comment Hannah. #Whatstheproblem is an important starting point rather than parachuting in “good practice”. The other thing I need to work on is “abandonment” – as we bring in new ideas what do we need to stop doing. I find that really hard. Good luck sharing with SLT.

      Posted by ExecutiveHT | September 17, 2013, 9:11 am
  2. Thought provoking post – Doesn’t necessarily have to start from a ‘problem’ though – Dylan Wiliams uses evidence based research to promote Teaching and Learning Communities which encourage teachers to identify their strengths and find out how to get even better. The challenge being what you have stop doing in order to improve in another area. TLC’s make teachers commit to a plan with their colleagues.

    Posted by Binks Neate- | September 17, 2013, 8:40 pm
  3. I like your approach because it could make practitioners think twice before taking on ‘best practice’ when it’s not necessary. But – similar to Binks Neate’s comment above – I think an ‘appreciative inquiry’ approach, where teachers look at what’s currently working well and could be made even better, works well in practice (and helps morale).

    Posted by @DrEllenSpencer | September 21, 2013, 11:13 am
  4. A really thought provoking post. It gives a new twist to the old adage “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions!” Actually what we need to do is collectively decide what the problems or blockers are and work on evidence based solutions together. It would be an interesting way to start a meeting with a single agenda item: What’s the problem?

    Posted by simoneccles2013 | November 12, 2013, 6:46 pm

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