Quick fixes have been a primary approach to problem-solving at schools. Quick fixes take care of an issue for a time, but after a while the same problem emerges, only to attack the system more fiercely. Quick fixes stem from individuals who are reactive. A reaction, as compared to a response, involves little reason and more emotion. Hence, teachers and school leaders who are driven by reactive behaviors toward problems face greater chances of destroying whatever working relationship there is among the individuals in the system. When reason is suspended and emotion reigns supreme, the outcome of decisions is invariably regrettable.
Nature of quick fixes
Quick fixes are symptomatic in nature. They operate by the medical model. When one gets sick, he goes to the doctor to be treated. In the hospital, the doctor asks the patient for felt symptoms. The doctor also checks if there are physical manifestation of the same. He then puts the symptoms together, decides on the ailment, and prescribes a cure. This is the same approach used by traditional psychology, a field called behaviorism. Under the influence of behaviorism, human behavior was viewed to be symptoms of internal conditions of mind.
Have you wondered why doctors always tell you to re-visit them for a follow-up? Since they decide on the condition of your body based on the symptoms that you manifested, they can only establish the correctness of their intelligent guess about a particular diagnosis if the treatment prescribed worked. No one knows the actual cause and/or cure for any one medical condition, unless a more comprehensive test-diagnosis is conducted. In other words, treatment does not guarantee alleviation of an ailment. The root cause(s) of the problem go(es) unexplored; hence creative solutions are not tapped into as they should be.
Systems approach encourages individuals to respond (not react) to problems that arise at school. When one responds to a problem, he/she takes a few steps back, looks at the whole situation objectively, considers all the possible factors that may be responsible for the issue, prioritizes and selectively tackles interrelated issues to amend the situation. Responding to a problem requires a broad view of the various events, people, experiences, and operations in the school and putting them in the right contexts.
Let’s say a child is found to be chronically skipping school. Once his case is identified and classified as problematic, the formal disciplinary process begins. The process requires that the child is held accountable for violating school regulations. The disciplinary committee of the school would eventually administer some sort of punishment to discourage the problem behavior. But does this solve the actual problem?
The opposite is true of the systems approach. The same child would be treated differently and the problem behavior becomes an opportunity for the school to explore and identify ways to help the child become a better person. This is possible because the individuals handling the case do not prematurely jump into fixing the problem. Rather, they are genuinely interested in understanding the child and altering his experiences in a positive way.
Systems approach in action
1. First and foremost, ask the following questions: “What are some of the factors that may be responsible for a particular behavioral pattern in a child? What is the actual cause of the problem? who, why, when, how, etc.”
2. Exhaust all possible answers to these questions by including as many individuals as possible (collaboration) – people who identify with and understand the nature of the problem and who are passionate about uprooting the actual cause(s) of the problem.
3. Often, the best solutions to problems come from the individuals who are experiencing them. So, in the case of skipping school, the child may be the right person to recommend a solution.
4. Take time; in other words, do not attempt to quick fix. Quick fixes yield short-lived results. When a solution is well-thought of and come from extended reflection, it tends to truly repair the existing problem.
5. Put the problem in the context of the personal, physical, social, and economic realities of the one experiencing and affected by the problem.
6. Resolution of a problem involves the commitment and collaborative action of the whole system. For example, when a child faces a problem in reading, it is not just the responsibility of the English language teacher to help and support the child. Teachers of other subjects need to be involved in the process too. Otherwise, others will undo what one has done. This will spiral into series of frustrating experiences and eventually discourage the child until he goes back to square one.