Problem Solving 101

One thing is certain in our future: we will always face problems. While not always easy, we do have options when we face a problem: give in or find a solution. At Almond Acres, we obviously believe that finding a solution is the best way to approach a problem. We know that successfully overcoming struggles and obstacles is what sets highly effective people apart from the crowd.

Three students in red and blue Almond Acres polo uniform shirts work together to solve a STEM challenge involving marshmallows, popsicle sticks and plastic spoons. They are sitting at a group of desks.

At Almond Acres, we teach students how to flexibly approach problems from an early age, whether it be a tiff between friends on the playground or a challenge of litter on our campus. Problem solving requires critical thinking, planning, reflection and taking action, all essential 21st century skills that, when cultivated from an early age, can have far-reaching positive effects in all aspects of our lives. 

Mr. Bourgault, our Founding Executive Director (Retired), created a simple 5 step model for solving problems with both peace and patience that we use with students from Kindergarten to 8th grade. The model asks us to scale out our perspective by looking at the big picture and is highly integrative with our study of the Habits of Mind. It encourages us to think win-win, seek first to understand and synergize

Here’s Mr. B’s 5 Step System that we affectionately call PGOSE It! 

Step 1. Problem

What is the problem? Describe clearly and specifically what the problem is. 

Step 2. Goal

What do you wish would be or happen? Begin with the End in Mind!

Step 3. Obstacles

What is getting in the way of achieving the goal? Be specific about the feelings, actions, and ideas that are interfering with reaching the goal. Make a list!

Step 4. Strategies

What might you do to get around the obstacles that would result in achieving your goal? Identify 2-3 specific things you can do to eliminate or maneuver around the obstacles. 

Step 5. Evaluate

When should we check back in to see if our strategies worked? Do this soon after the strategies are practiced. 

When we take the time to go through these steps, we are using our minds and hearts in a nimble and creative way–just as they were intended to be used! It takes a bit of stretching, and a bit of practice, but the model truly makes seeking a win-win solution possible.

Three Almond Acres charter students sit on the floor together and work on a STEM challenge involving marshmallows and popsicle sticks. They are wearing Almond Acres uniforms.

Practicing this model also gives us a chance to reframe struggle into a positive opportunity for growth. It’s another chance for our students to model just how TeRRiFiC (Trustworthy, Respectful, Responsible, Fair and Caring) they are! 

We can’t anticipate the struggles and obstacles of the future, nor can we pave a smooth path to success for our kids, but we can teach the skills that will prepare children to address the problems of tomorrow head on. It’s just another way we Grow Great Kids.

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Habit 1: Be Proactive

Don’t wait for your ship to come, swim out to it.

Cathy Hopkins

Habit 1 of Almond Acres Charter Academy’s study of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Be Proactive. The premise of this habit is that we have the power to tell our brains what to do! It is such a simple concept and frankly, simple to do. Feeding our thoughts with positive and productive ideas nourishes our lives with happiness and success. Thinking about doing something is the first step. Taking the next step and telling our brains to do it, is the action. Actions lead to habits, habits lead to character, and character leads to destiny.

Students who practice proactive behavior are able to ignore distractions, prioritize tasks, complete class assignments, and plan ahead. Academic, athletic, artistic, or any other intelligence will grow by focusing on the circle of influence and minimizing time and effort on areas of concern or distraction.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student wearing a green uniform polo puts the final cup on a pyramid he made out of paper cups. He is very focused on the task.

Trying v. Doing

There are so many occasions in life when the word “try” is incomplete and only reactive. I think that “try” is a half-baked idea. Most of the time trying is short sighted–doing is what gets it done! 
The next time you congratulate your child for an accomplishment and he tells you, “Thank you, I tried my best,” remind him that he didn’t just try – HE DID IT! If he says, “I’ll try,” instead encourage “I will”. Trying insinuates that we may have given our best effort, when in fact, when we accomplish things, we did give our best effort. Proactively telling ourselves to do it is power and causes great actions.

Reactive language v. Proactive language

  • I’ll try    vs.     I’ll do it!
  • That’s just the way I am.   vs.    I can do Better than that!
  • There’s nothing I can do.    vs.   There is something I can do!
  • I have to.    vs.    I get to!
  • I can’t.     vs.    There’s got to be a way!
  • You ruined my day.    vs.    I’m not going to let your bad mood rub off on me.
Almond Acres students work together to put playground equipment into a mesh bag.

Being proactive also helps us to take responsibility for our actions and to accept responsibility for our choices. Proactive citizens don’t blame others, they challenge them and step up and as change agents in families, schools, and community. Encourage this habit this week with the following efforts:

  • 🔵 Heart – reach out to a family member or friend who may need some encouragement
  • 🟡 Mind – search for an answer to an unanswered question
  • 🔴 Body – shop for foods that will support a healthy brain
  • 🟢 Soul – take 5 minutes to enter the classroom of silence

Being proactive is stepping up to life instead of letting it step on you. Like every habit, it takes 3-20 times to turn it into a habit. At Almond Acres, we teach our students to be patient, persistent, and positively proactive. We think it pays dividends.

“Have a can-do-titude.”

Mr. B

Learning Links

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Time management is a misnomer. We manage what we do, we don’t manage our time. Time is what it is; seconds, minutes, hours… there is no stopping it. Our success and happiness are dependent on what we do with our time. Making choices about what we do with each hour is what we really have control over. 

Putting first things first is a conscious choice to have a proactive approach to our day. There are a multitude of things we can do each minute of the day. Without thinking too much, we might find ourselves entrenched in something that may not align with our personal or professional well-being. Successful people recognize how they are spending their time and they mind their business. In other words, they put their energy into what is important and push away the distractions that may not be important or urgent.


The Leader In Me system of thinking that we use at Almond Acres illustrates this idea nicely with Quadrant Thinking. The matrix below identifies and organizes how we spend our time based on how productive we can be.

Looking closely at this matrix, you can see that Quadrant 1 is made up of tasks of the utmost necessity. We attend to these daily, and as needed, throughout our lives. Quadrants 3 & 4 can swallow up much of our time, allowing us to neglect not just what is important and urgent, but also what is important, but not urgent. It is in these two quadrants that most of us spend our time—it’s the path of least resistance. 

It’s interesting that we use the words “spend our time”. When we look at our day as an opportunity to invest ourselves in life, it becomes clear that we would rather spend wisely. 

Spending our time wisely is Q2 Thinking. Like fire prevention, we put our attention to the things that will benefit us now and in the future. As a parent, putting my time and energy into growing great kids should suppress many problems in the future. It’s about being proactive.

When we spend most of our time on things that are important but not urgent, we are putting first things first. Parents realize that the urgent and important are also critical and must be attended to, but minding our Quadrant 2 business is powerful. It forces the mindless tasks to the bottom of our list and makes the best use of our limited time.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student in red polo shirt uniform uses her time wisely by helping load cereal into the back of a car to take to a local homeless shelter.

One of my favorite lessons in the Middle School Pathways program is the rocks and sand exercise that is illustrated in this video, The Pickle Jar. It is a clear metaphor for getting our priorities straight and finding ways to be more intentional about our life and likely, being able to achieve more than we may have thought possible. 

Happy and successful people are great at spending their time and talent on what is most important to them; heart, mind, body, and soul. You can help your children examine their priorities by asking them about each of the AACA colors:

  • 🔵 Heart  – Who are the most important people in your life?
  • 🟡 Mind  – What topics do you enjoy learning about most?
  • 🔴 Body – How do you like to spend time physically? (favorite sports, hobbies… )
  • 🟢 Soul – Why are you so special?

The other important message tied to this week’s habit is knowing what is important and urgent, and what is important but not urgent. Sorting the tasks and activities in our lives between these two ideas helps to keep our plates from feeling too heavy. I have attached a simple guide that may support our families in organizing our week/month and helping us to be intentional about our time and talents. I encourage you to print it, talk about it, and decide as a family how you can best use the precious asset of your time.

Further Reading on Putting First Things First

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

Speaking with Clarity and Precision

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.

Mark Twain

Yup, ya, nope, uh huh, like, um, er, ya know, uh, … Sound familiar? When we feel confused or are searching for the right word, we may use place holders such as these. But this type of language may leave a listener confused, searching for meaning and more information. 

At Almond Acres, we believe communication skills are just as essential as phonics and multiplication tables. Our tuition-free public school explicitly teaches students how to be powerful and effective communicators. It’s just one of the ways we grow great kids

An Almond Acres student holds up a book to show an image. There is another student in the background also holding a book.  Both students are wearing green Almond Acres uniforms.

One of the first steps to effective communication is a wide vocabulary. Diverse vocabulary gives our brains the ability to describe what we really want to say. With the right word, we can be precise and clear. We can help expand childrens’ vocabularies by exposing them to a variety of literature, ideas and languages. 

When your child uses unclear universal phrases such as always, never, all, or everybody, you can ask a question that will probe for specifics. This can help develop self-awareness in their own speech patterns and help them clarify vague statements. We can also help children speak with precision by modeling clear language and asking our children to say “yes” instead of “ya.”

Language and thinking are closely intertwined; when we use precise words we also minimize cloudy and fuzzy thinking. Clear, precise language builds effective thinking skills and helps children to be stronger decision makers, problem solvers, and investigators. 

Here are a few practices we can develop to help our thinking be more clear: 

  • Practice before game time. When we front load our brains with what we ought to do before we run into an issue, we are much more likely to do the next right thing. 
  • Chill. Developing a physically calming behavior such as deep breathing, counting, snapping fingers, praying, meditating, or remembering the sensations from a special moment will slow down our emotions and allow us to think more clearly. 
  • Seek first to understand, then be understood. Listen intently to the real message/issue and then use clear language to voice your concern.
  • Discipline – Speak with Good Purpose! We have the power to choose our thoughts. Redirecting our children’s language from negative to positive can be accomplished with this simple phrase, “speak with good purpose”. 
Two Almond Acres students work together on a project at a table in a classroom.  One student is wearing a green uniform and the other is wearing a yellow uniform.

The next time you want to know how your child’s day went and you want a response other than, “fine,” ask questions related to productive intellectual and personal habits. You can question their heart, mind, body, and soul:

  • 🔵 Heart – Who did you eat lunch with? Who did you act kind to? What was an example of you thinking win-win today?
  • 🟡 Mind – What book did you read today? What is the habit of the week? How did you practice math?
  • 🔴 Body – Where did you play at recess? In what way were you proactive? What was the most delicious part of your lunch?
  • 🟢 Soul – Why are you happy today? What was the best moment of the day?

Communicating directly, honestly, clearly, and with positive purpose will transmit truth, kindness, and love. When words build someone up instead of putting them down, our relationships become stronger and we are happier and healthier. Just because we might have negative thoughts, it doesn’t mean we have to speak them. If what we want to say isn’t going to produce a positive or productive result, it’s probably not worth saying. Restraining our impulsivity and using our wisdom to turn on the “pause-itivity” button will often turn a bad situation into a good one. Speaking with good purpose is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. It fosters a positive emotional environment where people are happier, more productive, and more likely to succeed.

Interested in learning a little more about positive communication in your life and parenting? We’ve attached a few links below to take your learning further. We also have lots of examples of our K-8 teaching practices on our blog. Check us out! 

Learning Links

How to Think and Communicate with Clarity and Precision

20 Embarrassing Phrases Even Smart People Misuse

How to Speak so that People Want to Listen

Seven Tips for Practicing Positive Discipline

5 Steps to Putting the Brakes on Back-Talk

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Located in Paso Robles in a newly built, state-of-the-art facility, AACA is open to all students from all communities. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw

“We must never become too busy sawing to take time to sharpen the saw.”

Dr. Stephen R. Covey

We all use tools to help us throughout our day. The condition and quality of those tools is essential to how we perform: a sushi chef requires sharp knives for the perfect slice, a painter washes and dries his brushes so they may be used again, a potter keeps unused clay moist so it is easy to work with. Caring for our tools makes us better at what we do. In our everyday lives, we also rely on tools to perform at our best: our hearts, minds, and bodies.

Built into our philosophy at Almond Acres’ is the mission to grow children’s heart, mind, body and soul. Along with that growth, we teach our students that it’s important to balance work with rest and renewal. Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw is all about finding balance. 

Almond Acres students wearing red t-shirts with a running number and a teacher wave at the camera

Sharpen the Saw

You probably know what it feels like to “have a dull saw.” It may show up as exhaustion or disinterest. It may feel like a 3rd cup of coffee to get going for the day. For kids, it may be that feeling right before bedtime, when they’ve hit the wall and even going to bed sounds impossible. It feels like being “hangry” (angry because you are hungry) just before dinner because you missed lunch. In short, it’s no fun. 

If we continually seek improvement without caring for ourselves, we will experience burnout—our saws will dull. And without a sharp saw, we can’t continue to grow and be at our best. 

How Do We Do It?

Rest and relaxation isn’t all about sitting on the sofa to watch tv (although, if that is rejuvenating to you, do it!). We have to pay attention to our whole selves. Here are some examples of activities that renew us as we seek balance:

Heart: “Carefree timelessness” in meaningful social connections with family, friends, and community members are revitalizing. Laughing with a friend and having fun is a great way to strengthen your heart. 

Mind: Reading great books, journaling, and engaging in puzzling activities stimulates your brain and sharpens your focus. Learning is one way to take care of your brain!

Body: A healthy dose of sleep, diet, and exercise. Are you moving your body everyday? Have you filled up on nourishing food? Are you getting adequate sleep? No one can keep moving on an empty tank.

Soul: Enter the “classroom of silence”. Expand your spiritual self through prayer, meditation, art, music, or spending time in nature. Any activity that fills your cup is rejuvenating to your soul. 

As we renew each part of ourselves, we leave room for growth and change. We increase our capacity, our resilience in the face of challenge, and our ability to give. Self-care is not selfish!

An Almond Acres student journals while looking out toward the rocks and sea

Sharpening the saw for children might look different from an adult. It might mean learning to rest after a busy day at school by relaxing with a good book or painting. Or maybe your child balances a passion for video games with breaks outside to move his body and breathe fresh air. Finding balance is deeply personal and how we do that will change as we grow.

In a world that teaches us that we must constantly be moving and doing, Almond Acres aims to help students seek balance. We model rest and recharging so that we can be at our best, everyday. How do you sharpen your saw? How do you help your children sharpen their saws?  

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is currently in a temporary Paso Robles location until our new purpose built building opens for the 2021-2022 school year. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids! 

Habit 4: Think Win-Win

Almond Acres Charter Academy students are growing their hearts and minds this week by focusing on win-win thinking and creating positive outcomes for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at Habit #4: Think Win-Win and how this type of thinking can help us grow into Highly Effective People.

An Almond Acres Charter Academy student views an image through a viewfinder while another student waits patiently behind her for her turn
What might we find when we use a different lens? Like these AACA kids in a pre-Covid world, our thinking shifts when we try on a new perspective. 

Contrary to what might pop into our heads at first glance, win-win thinking isn’t about giving in, giving up, or giving a trophy to both teams. It’s about cooperation, collaboration, community, and creative thinking!

Win-Win thinking is cooperating to seek a solution that leaves both sides happy with the outcome. Our success does not have to be framed by another’s failure. That concept of win/lose is expected in a board game or a tennis match, but life and relationships are not competitions. Instead of competing, we ask: How can we re-frame a problem so everyone can win? 

Creative Thinking

Win-win requires flexible and creative thinking—it pushes your brain to try something new. And using your brain is fun! Win-win thinking recognizes that there is more than one solution to the decisions and challenges of the world. We aim to help children see that their way plus your way may be the best way

Creative thinking and problem-solving are woven into all of our studies and projects at AACA. The tracks children set down in their brains when they solve a complex math problem or build a tall tower out of wooden blocks also support the ability to look at a social problem and come up with multiple solutions. All of our learning is connected!  

Six Almond Acres Charter Academy students of varying ages sit together on the floor in a circle to work on a project.
When we work together towards a common goal, we can think bigger and honor everyone’s ideas.  The sky is the limit!

Abundant Heart

Thinking win-win cultivates empathy and healthy relationships. If we seek first to listen to and understand the feelings and ideas of our family, friends, and colleagues, we are taking the first step to a win-win situation. 

We can approach relationships with an abundant heart and the belief that there is more than enough to go around. Win-Win thinking means that sharing is not losing. Young children can easily understand that if you cut a pizza the right way, everyone can have a piece. 

We practice perspective-taking when we think about what other people may want or need. We can put our immediate desires on hold so that both parties can be happy. Win-win thinking means we are maturing and building empathy and patience!

Thinking win-win can be a challenge at first, but with time and practice, we see that it is the best way forward. We encourage our students to reflect on what makes this tough, walk a minute in their neighbor’s shoes, and look at situations with a creative lens to come up with new solutions. 

When have you created a win-win situation? 

About AACA

Almond Acres Charter Academy is a public, tuition-free K-8 school that employs credentialed teachers and administers state-mandated testing to provide families in northern SLO County an additional choice in public education. Open to all students from all communities, AACA is currently in a temporary Paso Robles location until our new purpose built building opens for the 2021-2022 school year. AACA’s mission is to help students succeed academically and socially by educating the whole child: heart, mind, body and soul. We grow great kids!