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Multicultural Problem Solving: Case Studies

This activity requires 30-60 minutes.


The purpose of this activity is to engage participants in a process of collaborative problem-solving around equity related issues through the use of case studies. Participants will develop an understanding of the necessity to include a variety of voices and perspectives in order to successfully address issues that arise around race, gender, class, sexual orientation, or any other identity dimension. They will begin to better understand the collaborative process and how they tend to participate in it. This activity can be a useful springboard into conversations about specific issues drawn from the cases or case studies.


The first step in preparing for this activity is finding one or more cases or case studies about specific instances of conflict in schools. These cases may come from news reports, film clips, or any other media that details the specifics of a particular incident or series of incidents in a school setting. Another excellent source for cases is a collection of the personal experiences of the participants. Consider having each participant bring a short description of an equity-related conflict they experienced or witnessed, especially if it was not resolved successfully. Whatever source you choose, make sure every participant has read, watched, or otherwise become familiar with the case. Click here for an example of a case in the form of a series of journal entries.

Circulate the hand-out entitled "A Collaborative Model for Addressing Conflict in Schools."

Before beginning the process of working through the model, review, in detail, the steps of the model with participants.


  1. Go through the model slowly, step by step, using the questions accompanying each step to prod participants along. The goal is to be as inclusive as possible and to make sure responses for each step come from a diversity of participants. When disagreement develops, allow some dialogue, but send the message that the central point is that different voices inform everyone's understanding. The early steps are not about agreeing, but about getting all possibilities and ideas out on the table for consideration. Record all responses on a chalkboard, dry erase board, or any other resource that will allow all participants to observe the development of the model. It is essential to illustrate how this process is cumulative. Each step in the model builds off all steps of the process leading to it.

  2. For the Conflict Identification prompt, allow people to identify varied central issues. This likely will result in a good opportunity to point out how our own experiences, biases, and assumptions inform how we see every situation.

  3. For the Perspectives prompt, encourage participants to think beyond the people specifically named or shown in a particular case. Who else is involved? Encourage them to think about the surrounding community and observers and others who may not be obvious initially. This is an important step to show how equity-related conflicts are sometimes symptoms of bigger issues that involve the entire community even if this conflict has presented itself as an incident between two people.

  4. You might consider splitting the Challenges and Opportunities prompt into two sub-prompts by discussing one at a time. Be sure to challenge participants to think beyond the challenges and opportunities for the individuals directly involved in the conflict. Many conflicts, especially those that involve controversial topics, pose challenges and lead to opportunities at an institutional level. With this in mind, Challenges and Opportunitites should be discussed in the context of all perspectives identified in the previous step.

  5. The Strategies prompt should be a quick brainstorming process. This is not the place for people to critique each other's strategies, but an opportunity for everyone to have their ideas heard and added to the list. Strategies should be informed by Perspectives as well as Challenges and Opportunities in that they should spring from a desire to maximize educational opportunities and the extent to which they make sense in the context of the challenges posed by the institutional nature of the relevant issues for everyone involved.

  6. The Solutions step involves collaboratively and systematically working through the Strategies with the goal of verbalizing two or three specific ways to address the conflict. These strategies should be specific and practical. Encourage students to think outside of the box so that they are not constrained by existing ways of addressing issues. Consideration of the Perspectives step and the Challenges and Opportunities step should intensify during Solutions.

  7. Expected Outcomes represent what the group expects or hopes will result from the Solutions.

  8. After stepping through the model, it will be important to process the experience. There may be some frustration or anger on the part of students whose ideas were not ultimately chosen for the Solutions step by the group. Several important questions can be raised:
    • How was the process of addressing this case through a collaborative process different from your previous experiences addressing equity-related conflict in schools or elsewhere?
    • What was the most difficult part of participating in this process?
    • Were any of your assumptions exposed as a result of the process? If so, which ones?
    • How are equity-related conflicts normally resolved in schools or other organizations, and to whose benefit?
    • What are the benefits of assembling a diverse team to address these issues?
    • Were any ideas or perspectives shared that you would not otherwise have considered?

Facilitator Notes:

As stated above, this can also be a useful activity for easing into dialogue about specific issues such as race, gender, class, or sexual orientation. You also might consider combining it with a story-telling activity so that the stories of participants become the cases.

The processing of this activity can include an additional dimension of depth if you break participants into small groups, asking each group to go through the entire process. After doing so, each group should share their work, so that a conversation about the different results can emerge. This might lead to a discussion about how people participated in the small groups. Did somebody try to take the lead? Was anyone's voice silenced? What did people in the group do to ensure that everyone's voice was heard?

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