Reverse Brainstorming: How can the problem get worse?

Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

A few months ago Margaret Keefer, a Professional Development Specialist in our district lead us through a Reverse Brainstorming Activity for our Professional Learning Communities. She asked us to list all the things we could do to allow ineffective PLCs in our district.

At first I was puzzled by the request. I was thinking to myself, “You want us to say how we can continue to allow ineffective PLCs?” So I began to write as many ideas as I could think of and when we shared out I could see how this information would eventually work to help the process! The ideas we listed ended up informing our solutions!

What can we do to allow ______ to continually be ineffective at our school/district? ~ Reverse Brainstorming prompt

A few weeks later we were planning for our School Improvement Process for next year and we needed an idea to get staff thinking about improving our hallways. Beth Benfer, Professional Development Specialist and I immediately thought of the Reverse Brainstorming activity. We then developed this prompt, “What can we do to continue to allow ineffective hallway behaviors at our school?”

We did this activity with about 100 staff members from from teachers to paraprofessionals, secretaries to guidance and administration. The feedback from the process was very insightful. Staff members were able to be honest (and vulnerable) by listing all the things we could do to basically make the hallways worse. The activity was a good starting point for us.

So if you are looking for something that would create good discussion and get you started on solving a problem in your classroom, school or district try a Reverse Brainstorming Activity. Here are some suggested ways to implement the activity:

  • Identify your problem or issue
  • Develop a prompt that would allow the problem to get worse
  • Have everyone write down individually as many ideas as possible
  • After 3 minutes have each person share one idea at a time. If someone else has that idea they can either piggy back off the idea or share another one
  • Take the ideas and reverse them into solutions or actions to eventually solve the problem

Spike Cook, Ed.D., Principal, Lakeside Middle School, Millville, NJ. In addition to being a Principal, Dr. Cook published two books through Corwin Press (Connected Leadership:It’s Just a Click AwayBreaking Out of Isolation: Becoming a Connected School Leader). He is the co-host of the popular PrincipaPLN podcast and his blog, Insights Into Learning, was recognized as a finalist for Best Administrator Blog by the EduBlog Awards. Spike earned his Doctorate from Rowan University and is featured in their Alumni Spotlight. Connect with @drspikecook via Twitter.

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