This is the fourth in a series of articles about taking risks with Education Leadership, Learning and Teaching. The articles are based around a workshop that I have been doing with the same name for Scottish Local Authorities and the EIS.
I have never forgotten the story that Cliff Dennett told me a few years ago at the Scottish International Summer School for School Leadership.
“The solution is in the problem"
He illustrated it with this story that I have re-told hundreds of times over the last few years. The story goes like this...
- Two countries are at war but they have not engaged in conflict for many years.
- The two countries are separated by a range of mountains.
- The reason that there has been no conflict for years is because a radar dish is placed on top of one of the mountains. It allows both sides to monitor each other.
- But there is a problem. The mountains are high and in the winter time the snow falls on the radar disk making it heavier. When the snow becomes really heavy the pole snaps.
- When the pole snaps communication goes down, neither country feel safe which leads to anxiety and war has the potential to break out.
So, how do you solve the problem?
There are obviously lots of answers and over time people have suggested a variety of solutions, such as:
1) Heat the satellite dish - the problem is this isn’t very sustainable.
2) Adjust the angle of the dish - the problem is this isn’t very adaptable.
3) Clear the snow - the problem is this is a quick fit not a solution to the problem.
4) Declare peace - a solution but one that will take time (a bit like a curriculum reform!).
The interesting thing of course that many of the most common solutions offered are actually quite complicated. They involve things like a new power supply, logistics, lots of people, diplomacy and international politics.
The key is to remember “the solution is in the problem”:
"The satellite pole snaps because of the weight of the snow. The snow is caused by the change of temperature. The problem is the drop in temperature".
If "the solution is in the problem," how can the decrease in temperature be part of the solution?
The solution - fill the satellite pole with water.
As the temperature drops the water freezes and the pole gets stronger. As the temperature increases the snow melts (removing the problem) and the water un-freezes.
I have no idea is this is a true story but I like the simplicity of the idea and have always belived that we can learn a lot from stories.
Now, although I agree with “The solution is in the problem” statement. I think the biggest challenge that we face in education is that we often don’t actually realize what the real problem is and therefore it is very difficult to find the solution.
Curriculum reform is quite a good example of this. People assume the problem is the actual ‘curriculum reform’ or ‘resourcing’ or ‘professional development’ or ‘the children they teach’.
But actually it is not. Most curriculum reforms fail not because of the policy, the funding, the CPD or the children. They fail because of the inability of adults to get on with one another, work together and because many education leaders try to control rather than empower their school community.
So, if the problem is people then the solution also has to be people - perhaps people need to change or at least realize that things are only going to get more challenging in UK education and society.
I think we really need to start working better together and fast!
In the next post in this serise I'll pick up on some further consideration for risk taking in education.