I’m sure you have heard variations of the old adage declaring problems are opportunities in disguise. I don’t know about you, but when I am in the midst of a problem, it rarely feels like an opportunity! When facing escalating conflict, finger-pointing, panic and blame-fixing, “opportunity” is not what leaps to mind. Sometimes, though, seemingly isolated problems point the way to possible improvements in procedures and systems.
We have been working with one large district that was experiencing a lot of complaints (aka “problems”) when Exceptional Children transitioned from pre-K to Kindergarten. It would have been easy to attribute the difficulties to the challenges of individual cases or situations. Instead, the Exceptional Children (EC) Department took at a look at the whole transition situation and got input from parents, teachers, staff, etc. What they discovered was that systemic inconsistencies and disconnects actually contributed to many of the problems. Teacher vacancies and misalignment of school calendars impeded accurate transfers of information. There was widespread confusion about roles and lack of awareness about services and resources. Furthermore, changes to laws and services were inconsistently and ineffectively communicated.
After speaking with stakeholders and charting their concerns, the team discovered that in actuality there was a lot of commonality in the issues brought to light. Had the department not taken the time to apply Situation Appraisal, the team might not have recognized how underlying systemic issues contributed to the increasing number of complaints.
In response to identified issues, the EC department revisited the transition timeline to allow more timely decisions and better transfer of information. They created a communications plan designed to better gather and disseminate required information, and a training plan which included skills and information for different stakeholders. After implementing these changes, the team has been gratified to see many fewer complaints and a much smoother transition process for their incoming EC Kindergartners and families.
I still say it’s hard to see the opportunities in problems when we are in “fire-fighting” mode. But once the smoke clears, we may indeed be faced with opportunity!