Richard Feynman was a famous scientist of the 20th century ranked as one of the top 10 physicists of all time. Feynman worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II; was a significant theorist for quantum physics, won the 1965 Nobel prize; and was named a member of the committee to investigate the Challenger explosion.

Beyond being a great scientist and grand theoretician, Feynman also had a profound and robust understanding of how his gifted mind worked. Many rumors exist that rather than focus on one problem at a time, Feynman believed in developing a yearly list called the 12 major problems for him to research and think about during the year.

By creating a list of the 12 major problems to think about, people surmise that it helped focus his mind on the most critical issues that needed solving; provided a way to engage other scientists in discussions and learning, and provided a way to integrate and synthesize ideas between the 12 problems.

At the end of a year, Feynman would sit down, review all of his work from the previous year, read his notes, review major journals and come up with the 12 problems. Some of the problems were extended over multiple years as new findings emerged, but each year he listed 12 distinct problems for him to think about the next year.

Feynman believed that “No problem is too small or too trivial if we can really do something about it.”

A Similar Process
As a professional services firm, the Leading Learners Institute was created to translate research into effective coaching services and products for the busy educational leader. As I read about Feynman’s yearly process, I thought this would be an interesting process to help us figure out where to spend our time and energies for the year.

To do this, I looked over all of our past blogs, documents and read many articles and reports from other organizations. As I read all of this information, I put myself back in the shoes of a busy principal or coach of principal and asked, “what are the most significant problems a principal is facing today or in what areas does a principal need more support?”

Our Favorite Problems
While I ended up with a lot more than 12 problems, I narrowed the original list down to the following 12 problems of educational leaders for 2019 written as questions.

How can I be more productive as an educational leader?
How can I improve my instructional leadership?
How can I adapt my leadership to the growing complexity in the world?
How can I change the mindsets of teachers, students, and parents?
How can I create better psychological safety in my teams?
How can I build a culture of innovation at my school?
How can I build better learners with better memory?
How can I genuinely personalize for all students?
How do I bridge the gap between our typical system and more personalized models?
How might we prevent the downward trend of student engagement?
What are the best structural designs to get newer outcomes?
What is the future bringing us?

As you can see from this set of 12 Favorite Problems for 2019, some problems exist only for principals as individuals, some for principals to develop with other people, and some to solve as an entire organization. The role of a principal is to work on themselves, others and the organizational system and integrate solutions to these problems. This is how improvement works. As I improve personally, I can share and help others and my organization improve also.

Each of these problems will help us at LLI develop more effective coaching services and written products that you can use to enhance your leadership. Let us know what you think of these problems, or if there are others that need to make the list. Alternatively, how might you use a similar process at your school?

Thanks for reading!