Implementing the Solutionary Framework: Ideas and Inspiration

Introduction

Welcome! If you are reading this, you are one of thousands of educators across the globe who recognizes the importance of teaching young people how to solve the problems they are seeing in the world. Thank you for your vision and dedication. By implementing solutionary learning into your school or classroom you will be preparing the next generation of solutionaries. You’ll also become a solutionary yourself helping to build a more just, healthy, and sustainable world. The journey will be an exciting one for you and your students, so let’s get started! 

Essential Understandings

  1. What is Humane Education? Humane Education is a field of study and an approach to teaching that draws connections between human rights, animal protection, and environmental sustainability. The goal of humane education is to prepare people to be compassionate, dedicated solutionaries, able to identify unjust, inhumane, and unsustainable systems and to create solutions that enable people, animals, and nature to thrive. We invite you to watch this video to learn more about humane education: What is Humane Education?
  1. What is a solutionary? A solutionary is someone who is able to identify inhumane and unsustainable systems and then develop solutions that are healthy and just for the diversity of people impacted by those systems, for animals, and for the environment. Solutionaries use critical thinking, systems thinking, strategic thinking, and creative thinking to look at problems in new ways, and they act collaboratively with others to devise and implement solutions. We invite you to watch this video to better understand solutionary thinking and action: Become a Solutionary.
  1. Solutionaries bring a solutionary lens to the world. By this we mean that they maintain a mindset that problems can be solved; they focus on finding solutions rather than side-taking, debate, and argument; and they seek out a variety of stakeholders to learn from and work with to achieve their goals of creating a world where all can thrive.
  1. Solutionaries uncover the interconnections among systems that cause harm and suffering and consider the importance of human rights, environmental sustainability, and animal protection as fundamental components of a just, healthy, and humane world. While not every problem or solution you and your students explore will have an impact on all three areas, many will. 
  1. Solutionaries welcome differing perspectives and search for common values. When teaching the solutionary process it is important to recognize we all come from different backgrounds and have different experiences and values based on what we’ve been taught and the systems that influence us. The solutionary process will invite your students to expand their thinking beyond what they already know and believe. You may find yourself expanding your own thinking as well! You and your students may struggle, and that is okay. In fact, this very process of examining how to put our values into practice meaningfully within interconnected systems in a complex, globalized world gives rise to deep thinking and learning, the primary goal of education! It’s important to stress that while there are differences between people’s values, at our core we almost all believe that the following are qualities worth cultivating: compassion, integrity, responsibility, honesty and trustworthiness, curiosity, kindness, generosity, courage, perseverance, and wisdom. Learning to put these qualities into practice within the Solutionary Framework is universally positive regardless of differences in beliefs. In fact, the Solutionary Framework can function as  a prime corrective to polarized thinking and communication.
  1. The Solutionary Framework is a multi-step process that guides students through the following four phases:

Phase One – Cultivating Compassion and Identifying a Problem We Care About

  • cultivate our compassion for others;
  • learn about issues in our community and in the world;
  • identify a problem of personal concern;

Phase Two – Researching Causes and Their Consequences

  • connect with stakeholders and those working to solve the problem;
  • identify the causes of the problem from psychological factors, worldviews, and mindset to systemic structures; 
  • determine who and what is harmed by the problem, and who and what benefits;
  • research what has been done to solve the problem thus far;

Phase Three – Devising Solutions and Planning for Implementation

  • devise solutions to the problem that address root and/or systemic causes, avoid unintended negative consequences, and do the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the environment; 
  • determine which solutions are most solutionary and most feasible for implementation;
  • create a plan to implement our solution;

Phase Four – Implementing, Assessing, Celebrating

  • implement an actionable element of our solution;
  • present our solution;
  • assess our solution;
  • celebrate our solutionary work
  1. The Solutionary Framework is a process not a prescription. It does not have to be followed lock-step or, in every instance, be implemented from beginning to end. Students, whether they be in first grade or high school, might benefit from time spent simply building compassion for other people, for animals, and for the environment. Problem identification and solution development might come later. Sometimes students devise wonderful solutions but, because of their age, are not in a position to implement them. That is okay. The Solutionary Framework can work with students at all developmental levels. It can be applied across subjects. And it can be combined with other instructional frameworks, such as Design Thinking, Trauma Informed Practices, or Habits of the Mind. Use the framework to build instruction for YOUR students and YOUR curriculum.  Have a question? Click here to contact one of IHE’s solutionary coaches to provide answers either in writing, through a phone call or a 20-minute support Zoom session.

Curricular Approaches

All teachers have their own way of teaching based on grade level, subject, school or district expectations, as well as personal preferences. Consequently, there are many different ways of implementing the 14-step Solutionary Framework. We offer several possibilities below.

  1. Overlay the Solutionary Framework onto an existing unit in any subject. For example, a 1st grade class may already be learning about butterflies in science. Based on the Solutionary Framework, students might spend time cultivating a sense of compassion for and curiosity about the caterpillars becoming butterflies. They could then explore the problems butterflies are facing from factors such as climate change, pesticide use, land development, etc. Ultimately, they could be guided to consider potential solutions. The same approach could be used for a required unit on Nutrition in grade 6, Human Activity and Climate in 9th grade Biology, or Holocaust Education in 10th grade. The approach can also be used in the visual and performing arts as students examine and bring expression to issues related to social justice, climate change, or animal welfare, for example. 
  2. Use the Solutionary Framework in combination with teaching research,writing, and presentation skills in Language Arts or Social Studies. One could start off with a read-aloud by a student solutionary, such as Greta Thunburg or Malala Yousafzai. Students could then select their own problem or challenge about which they are passionate, or they might focus on a more defined set of problems, such as those outlined through the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Moving through the steps of the Solutionary Framework, they would engage in reading, research, speaking to stakeholders, thinking critically and systematically about the issues, and, ultimately, presenting their solutions. 
  3. Add key elements of the Solutionary Framework to the problem-, project-, or phenomenon- based learning already taking place in your curriculum. Most PBL implemented in schools incorporates the elements of personal choice, interdisciplinary instruction, authentic assessment, collaboration, and critical thinking. The Solutionary Framework builds on this by teaching  systems thinking, strategic thinking, creative thinking, as well as ethical analysis as students consider the impact of their solutions on all people, animals, and the environment. 
  4. Teach the Solutionary Framework as a stand-alone unit. Such an approach can be done in a single classroom, as a grade level, as an elective course in middle school or high school, or even as a whole school project. The time frame can range from a full week to a full year in the case of an elective course. Students may select any problem or challenge in which they are personally interested or choose from a predefined set of problems such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Students then work individually or in cooperative groups through the steps of the Solutionary Framework. If done as a grade level or as a whole-school, multiple teachers can collaborate to guide students through the process.
  5. Use the Solutionary Framework to structure an after-school club or to deepen the impact of a community service requirement. This approach is similar to the one above but the solutionary learning and action would take place outside of regular school hours. 

Sample Units

Educators learn best from one another, and the most successful units are often planned in collaboration. We are excited to share with you some exemplar units developed by educators who have been using the solutionary approach with their students for a number of years. Take what is useful to you. Revise in ways that make sense to you and your students. And feel free to share with us your own best ideas as we all work together to create a generation of solutionaries! Simply email us at solutionarylearning@humaneeducation.org.

Subject-Specific Unit Sample

  • The exemplar units below have been developed by our partners in the San Mateo County Office of Education, and San Joaquin Teachers College Environmental Literacy Master’s Degree Program. These exemplars are aligned to California state standards and include many take-and-teach activities for both virtual and on-site learning. Each unit includes the following grade-level bands: K-2, 3-5, and 6-12. If you are considering implementing one of the units (or even if you’re not!) we strongly recommend you watch this outstanding explanation by Andra Yeghoian, the Coordinator of Environmental Literacy for San Mateo County, of how the Solutionary Framework overlays the process of both planning and teaching.

Solutionary PBL Webinar for Unit of Study Exemplars

Stand-Alone Solutionary Unit Samples 

These units are not tied to a particular topic but rather guide students to apply the Solutionary Framework to a problem in which they are interested.

Resources

Solutionary Micro-credential Program

Why is this program so important? 

In order to teach like a solutionary you need to be thinking like a solutionary yourself. The Solutionary Micro-credential Program (SMP) includes three modules: Concept, Process, and Application. Each module takes approximately 10 hours to complete. You’ll move through the course at your own pace. Once completed you’ll receive a Solutionary badge and Certificate of Completion. The Solutionary Micro-credential Program (SMP) will provide you with the knowledge and support you need to deeply engage your students in work that is meaningful to them; improves their research, thinking, and modern literacy skills; fosters their compassion; and contributes to a healthier and more humane society. We are committed to ensuring that all teachers and districts that wish to participate in the Solutionary Micro-credential Program are able to do so. If you have questions about the Solutionary Micro-credential Program please contact the instructor at betsy@humaneeducation.org.