A fire-fighting approach to solving problems in schools

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Tackling issues and problems in schools is an endless task, so much so that if leaders are not careful, it can completely drain you of your energy.

A lot of problems in schools are highly complex in nature and take significant amounts of time to figure out and work through. As we begin to get to to the heart of the problem other issues may surface and the problem is a lot bigger than one initially envisaged.

Firefighting analogies have been used frequently when describing the challenges associated with tackling problems in schools. Some of the statements below got me thinking about how we tackle problems (fires) in our schools:

Tackle the real blaze not just the smaller spot fires. We need to make sure, as leaders that we do not just focus on damage limitation of problems, we need to get to the source of the problem and work hard to overcome it. The real problem is often the most difficult one to tackle, smaller blazes are easier to put out. Overcoming small blazes are important but they do not address the major problem, which burns on.

Prevent the fires before they start. Firefighting is reactionary in nature. So, many fires could have easily been prevented by good habits and practices in the first place. As leaders in schools, we have to build capacity in our staff and develop the necessary systems that limit the opportunity for problems to surface the the first place.

When tackling one fire make sure you are not allowing someone to go light fires elsewhere. As leaders we need to be aware of what is going on in our schools. This should not be confused with micromanagement. Being aware of what is going on, is about having oversight and ensuring that  there are regular opportunities for you to check-in with the members of your team, so you can be given updates on what is happening and, in particular progress being made and arising issues. If you see things going wrong then intervention can occur before it is too late.

Look at the fire from the air as well as from the ground to understand its size, complexity and unpredictability. Many blazes in natural bushland are really complex and have many fronts, so it is important to get a good idea of what you are dealing with. Rather then going into and fighting the blaze head-on from the ground, it is important to get an appreciation of the size of the problem by looking at it from the air and developing a plan for how you are going to approach it.

Solving problems in schools is not easy, it takes a lot of courage to overcome some of the obstacles in the way to improve schools. The firefighter in all of us can make a difference with careful consideration of the issues we tackle and how we approach them.

photo credit: carpet barn fire via photopin (license)

2 thoughts on “A fire-fighting approach to solving problems in schools

  1. Pingback: Solving problems in schools and the can of worms | Ed Leader

  2. Pingback: Solving problems in schools and the can of worms – Connected Principals

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