Solving a Student Problem

When a student or parent has a problem with your school, the actual problem is far less important than how the problem is solved.

The problem-solving goals are:

Resolution – Whatever caused the problem must be addressed to the student’s or parent’s satisfaction.  While a quick resolution is ideal, it is more important to resolve the issue on the first try.  When the process stops with resolution, it lowers the sustainability of your school.  If the following goals are also met, sustainability will increase.

Student Experience – Students and parents care more about how your school handles a problem than the problem.  When the experience is positive from reporting to resolution, it provides the student or parent with something to share on social media.  A positive post about your problem solving is a very strong endorsement of your school.  Positive social comments strengthen your relationship with all of your families, donors, and other supporters.

Improved Engagement – Every student or parent complaint comes from an engaged person.  Typically the most engaged students have the most durable outcomes.  Turning a problem into another student success creates an inspiring anecdote and great statistic, which builds the reputation of your school, demonstrates the relevance of your mission, and increases donor engagement.  Therefore, it is important to use the problem resolution process to increase the student’s engagement.

Frequency – Ideally every problem only happens once and only to one student or parent.

Staff Morale – Turning a complaint or problem into a notable success by meeting the preceding goals changes the staff’s attitude.  Problems will be seen as opportunities to shine rather than something to be embarrassed or threatened by.

Next Step:

Use student engagement, parent engagement, and the social media comments as success measures for your problem handling

Use problems that only occur once as a success measure for your problem handling

Use your school’s strengths and weaknesses to predict and prevent problems

Engage current and past students and parents to help identify and prevent problems

Some problems can only be spotted after services have been delivered.  Asking a student or parent to talk about their service experience several months later will help to uncover latent problems.

When a problem arises, it is hard to remember that it is an opportunity to build strength and increase sustainability.  Understandably, there is an urge to quickly resolve the issue and move forward.  However, the best approach is to pause for a moment and look for the best way forward.  The best way forward is the one that resolves the problem to the student’s and parent’s satisfaction, increases your school’s reputation and sustainability, increases the perception of the relevance of your mission, and engages your donors and community.

There is a natural tension between taking the time to provide a great solution and provide an immediate solution.  Based upon operating efficiency, an immediate solution is the priority.  Taking the time to engage a student or parent, provide a family-centric solution, and permanently solve the problem is time consuming and often expensive.  However, it is also the solution which offers a durable return on investment.  The problem’s solution is an investment in the future with increased sustainability, reputation, and mission relevance as the dividends.

Use every problem to strengthen your school and increase your school’s sustainability.

Take It Further:

Place an increased emphasis on problem prevention

Use the same process to increase donor engagement when donors experience problems

Ask your board to focus on the permanent resolution of problems rather than the existence of problems to determine the quality of your school’s services

Use a problem reported by one student to increase the engagement of other students


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