How might we discern if we are facing a problem, and if we are, what the problem is? In Grant Lichtman’s book, The Falconer, the chapter entitled “Step 5: Solving Problems” finds Mr. Usher and his class on a camping trip – an outing. As the class hikes Clear Creek, the trail suddenly ends.
“Mr. Usher,” he called cupping his hands around his mouth, “the trail has stopped. There’s nowhere to go. What do we do now?”
Mr. Usher walked up to the end of the trail, and the Children gathered around him. He looked ahead at the rocks and the mountain.
“Well, you’re certainly right,” Mr. Usher said. “The trail has stopped. What do you suggest we do?”
“We don’t know what to do,” Andy answered. “You’re the teacher. Tell us where to go.”
“We’ve never been here before,” added Felisa. “How are we supposed to know which way to go?”
“I’m ready for your suggestions,” said Mr. Usher. “I’m not at all sure that there is any one best way to proceed here. Who has a good idea about what to do?”
Later in the chapter:
Aaron (who you will remember had never been camping before) hugged his knees and looked up at Mr. Usher, worried. “If you knew the trail would end, why did you bring us this way?” he asked.
“I didn’t know the trail would end here. In fact, I’ve never been up the trail this far. If I had been along the trail before, this would be a pretend adventure, not a real adventure, and you’re all old enough for a real adventure on your summer Outing. In real life we don’t always know what’s going to happen next. We’re already doing exactly what one should do when one first faces a new problem. We’re sitting down calmly and thinking things out clearly. We should never rush at a problem or shoot off in the first direction that presents itself. Usually, doing nothing for a little while is a pretty good first step.”
The Children look puzzled and a little doubtful, as if they weren’t sure how doing nothing could help them whatsoever.
“So now that we’re thinking clearly,” continued Mr. Usher, “we need to decide if we really have a problem, and if so, what is it?”
I’ve read and re-read The Falconer several times. If you frequent this blog or know me beyond this virtual thinking space, you know that this book is an important one to me. I return to this section of this chapter often. It “bothers” me – in a good way, I think, but it bothers me.
There is a balance to strike. The class has a day supply of food remaining. They can’t simply think and talk the problem without acting. Yet, they probably should not just charge off in a direction, or worse yet in several different directions without some team discernment.
Isn’t this where many of us education folks are living right now? Where does our known trail of school end? What paths and trails will we forge next? How are we working together as a school to decide what our problems are, what we will decide to do next, and how we might make the journey together – as a team, not just as many individuals independently searching? Is our trail issue in schools one that can be solved over 10 years, or is the issue more pressing and immediate?
What is your school doing to discuss the trail you are taking next? How are you gathering voices and deciding on action…not just talk or directive instruction from a formal leader?
In this week’s #EdJourney video cast episode, Grant and I explore this thinking a bit further…
Follow Grant Lichtman’s #EdJourney on Twitter and on his blog, The Learning Pond.
Link to blog post that contains resources mentioned in this week’s #EdJourney video cast episode: HBR article “Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?” and Eddie Obeng’s TED talk.