Problem Solving=Effective Systems Change

Wherever one looks, problems confront us.  We face serious problems as individuals, in our local communities, our nation & worldwide.  While lawyers are often accused of creating problems, the best lawyers know that that real success for their clients means solving their problems.  This is true in my work as an attorney and systems change consultant.  Clients come to me with problems.  My job is to solve their problems.

Of course, saying this is easier said than done, and part of my job is to help clients set realistic expectations as some problems are beyond my ability to solve.  Frequently, clients approach me with so much anger and frustration that they are unable to focus on actual problem solving.  That means that my initial work is to help them keep their eyes on the prize by helping them strip their anger away to see how solving their problem will provide a much better long term solution than simply providing fuel to their anger.

Current events in Ferguson, with ripple effects nationwide, reveal genuine anger.  Anger at police; anger at rioters; anger at institutionalized racism and all that comes with it: poverty, inadequate education and health care, excessive incarceration and the list goes on.  But, where our leaders have failed the people of Ferguson and all the rest of us who struggle to overcome these longstanding problems, is that while they cite statistics justifying anger, or try to calm legitimate anger through calming words, our leaders are failing to engage in systemic problem solving.

Problem solving certainly requires clear identification of the problem.  But that is merely a first step as problem identification alone will never solve the problem.  In fact, identifying a problem without solving it is more likely to fuel anger than solve the problem.

Once the problem is identified, the next steps which must be taken to solve the problem include:

  1. Finding workable solutions, ideally a solution that has demonstrated efficacy, as Kalamazoo has done for our public schools.
  2. Set realistic goals for solving the problem, track progress, and hold those responsible for reaching those goals accountable for the success or failure.
  3. Provide inspiration to those struggling to solve the problem, as it can be a long, hard, frustrating endeavor that without inspiration, will only fuel frustration and despair.
  4. Sustain hope for those seeking solutions, as without it, many will fail to engage in the struggle to solve big problems.

Struggling to overcome problems, large and small, is part of the human condition.  The question is whether we stay mired in complaining about our problems or engage in genuine problem solving.  I have devoted my career and much of my private life to problem solving.  If more of us do the same, we will succeed in solving more problems, sooner rather than later.

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For more information on how Jeff Spitzer-Resnick can help you solve problems through effective, progressive systems change contact him through his his Systems Change Consulting web site.

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Seclusion & Restraint of School Children Remains Problematic

It has now been over 2 years since Wisconsin passed a law prohibiting inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint and regulating its reporting and use.  Just last month, Alaska became the latest state to pass a law regulating seclusion and restraint of students in schools, making it the 33rd state to have some level of regulation of this dangerous practice, although the nature of the regulation amongst the states is highly inconsistent.  This is why many educators, parents and advocates have called for passage of the Keep All Students Safe Act (KASA) by Congress so that our nation has uniform protection of children to be safe from the dangerous inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint.

Even when states, such as Wisconsin, pass laws on seclusion and restraint, enforcement of those laws and reporting of the use of seclusion and restraint is often inconsistent.  Indeed, a recent study concludes that that use of seclusion and restraint on students with disabilities continues to be a problem despite passage of these state laws.

In this study, the authors compared nationwide data from the 2009-10 school year to that same  data from the 2011-12 school year.  While this data does not include possible reductions in seclusion and restraint due to recently passed laws, such as in Wisconsin  and Alaska, the authors findings should still cause concern.  Their conclusions include:

  • Low poverty, low minority school districts are more likely to report use of seclusion and restraint than high poverty, high minority districts; and
  • Use of seclusion and restraint is more common in cities than in rural school districts.
In addition to advocating for Congressional passage of KASA, concerned parents, educators and advocates can also consider advocating for the following key improvements to reduce the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint of children in our schools:
  1. Provide training and funding for implementation of Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) in our schools;
  2. Provide training for parents and funding for advocates for children to make sure their rights to be free from the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint in school is honored;
  3. Pressure state education agencies to enforce the laws which they have on the books which restrict the inappropriate use of seclusion and restraint; and
  4. Provide sufficient funding for adequate staffing in the classroom so that teachers and their aides do not react impulsively by inappropriately using seclusion and restraints due to insufficient support.

Our children deserve better and their staff deserve clear guidance and the support they need to provide appropriate behavioral interventions and support instead of the inappropriate and dangerous use of seclusion and restraint.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change e-mail Jeff Spitzer-Resnick or visit Systems Change Consulting.

Music Improves Academic Performance & Behavior

As politicians and pundits continue to call for school reform, one rarely hears calls for increasing music education.  This is troubling, as there is strong evidence, which I have witnessed first-hand, that music education improves academic performance and behavior.

Just last year, University of Kansas researchers studied music education’s impact on students in the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.  The results are nothing less than remarkable as students from all backgrounds benefit both academically and behaviorally.  In fact, more music education resulted in:

  • Increased school attendance;
  • Decreased discipline reports;
  • Increased grade point average;
  • Dramatically increased graduation rates (60% for students with no music education; 81% for students with as little as 1 year of music education; and 91% for students with more than 1 year of music education); and
  • Higher ACT English and Math scores.

These improvements were found across race and ethnicity.

These dramatic improvements are because music participation increases school engagement which results in increased academic achievement and decreased discipline problems.  Researchers further found that music education provides a positive impact in many ways including:

  • Improved positive identity;
  • Improved habits of mind including: self-discipline, concentration, persistence, and leadership;
  • Skills transfer from music to other academic subjects including mathematics, literature, and foreign language; 
  • Improved motivation leading to positive self-behaviors and to persist toward the learning goals and expectations;
  • Positive impact on mood; and
  • Improved outlook towards students’ own future.

Despite these dramatic results, schools struggle to fund their music education programs, and parent groups are called upon to raise funds for instruments and lessons.  Fortunately, at my son’s school, the East High Band Parents Group, which I currently lead, understands the important impact of music education and it has funded music lessons and scholarships. Recently, the band director informed us that the East High band did not own a key piece of timpani, which was meant to be played in 25% of the music performed by the band.  This led us to authorize the purchase of this beautiful timpani since the school district did not have the over $2,000 purchase price.

Here is our wonderful band director, Mark Saltzman, showing off East High’s new timpani.

20141110_190739We look forward to hearing the East High band playing this beautiful instrument to  complement the rest of the fine young musicians at its upcoming concert on November 19th.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.

The Morning After…the Sun Still Rises

Last night, shortly after the polls closed and the results of both state and federal elections became clear, a friend sent me a message stating that she felt “cheated.”  This morning, many other friends describe their electoral losses in emotional terms of sadness and dismay.

Many years ago, after being particularly surprised by an election loss, I learned not to get too emotionally involved in electoral politics, and this is the advice that I gave my friend last night and continue to give to friends today.  The truth is that after every election, the sun still rises the next morning.

P1030631This doesn’t mean that elections shouldn’t be taken seriously.  After all, in last week’s post, I urged everyone to follow the wise words of Justin Dart and,

Vote as if your Life Depended on it…Because it Does.

However, too many of us give up more power to politicians than they deserve.  After all, despite a wave of conservative Republican victories at the polls yesterday, we are living in an era of unprecedented progressive political and cultural change.  Consider the following dramatic progress that could not have been imagined even one generation ago:

  • The election and re-election of an African-American president;
  • 32 states have legal same sex marriage;
  • 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized either medical marijuana or marijuana generally.

These are not mere electoral or political  shifts.  They signify monumental progressive cultural change which will not be undone by a particular party winning a particular election.

It is also important to remember that in our democracy, no political victory is permanent.  While those who bask in the glow of electoral victory are quick to claim a mandate, they do so at great risk, as they may be in the minority after the next election cycle.  Similarly, those who lose elections need to take time to reassess the reasons why they lost and take responsibility for factors they can change.  Good leaders who continue to fail to accomplish goals understand that it is time for someone else to take leadership.  It will be interesting to see whether Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid recognize this in Congress, or whether leaders of the Democratic Party in states such as Wisconsin recognize that it is time for new people with fresh ideas to take control after repeated electoral defeats.

For me, I got up this morning, meditated, ate breakfast,  walked my dog, and continued to do my job.  After all systems change does not happen in a moment or a day, but involves a complex series of steps, occasionally sideways or backwards, but always knowing that forward momentum is the nature of the world.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.