School Nursing

The Relentless School Nurse: Solving Wicked Problems (Revisited)

I first published this blog post in March 2018, which certainly seems like another era, or as my daughters’ taught me, “before times.” But it was almost five years ago, pre-pandemic, sadly the wicked problems have only multiplied, so I thought it might be important to revisit this post.

Illustration retrieved from

If you study this illustration carefully, and mindfully, you will find messages hidden in plain sight.  After a brief time, the words become so prominent, the illustration almost fades to the background and you are left with the “wicked problems.” I first heard the term “wicked problem” when I read a description of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) grant opportunity. The request for proposal called to solve a “wicked problem” in your community.  My wheels started spinning about all of the “wicked problems” that we see as school nurses.

Wicked problems are problems worth solving but are so interrelated and complicated that they are often deemed impossible to address. These problems are written off as being too overwhelming. But these are the exact problems that impact our students and school communities:  poverty, violence, toxic stress, mental health, health equity, food insecurity, housing insecurity, and immigration status…all wicked indeed.

One wicked problem, school violence, has become so commonplace that unless the death toll reaches a certain number, it is barely a blip on the news radar. This is the wicked problem that occupies much of my waking and sleeping time. I have shared my family’s first-hand experiences surviving mass shootings, which drives my “relentless” pursuit of addressing this public health crisis. This wicked problem is deep-rooted, interconnected, and screaming to be addressed. The old adage, “you can’t boil the ocean” must be restated as “I can boil my part of the ocean” in order to face the cause of school violence.

What if we are actually overcomplicating the cause of the cause? Could it be as simple as the need for connectedness? Upstream thinking calls for a different vantage point that speaks to prevention rather than reaction. Researcher/storyteller, Dr. Brene Brown wisely states, “Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.”  The ability to feel connected is hard-wired in our neurobiology. When the ability to connect is disrupted it has a cascading effect that reverberates in all aspects of a child’s life.

The recent explosion of trauma-informed practices and an understanding of the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences has opened the door for new strategies to address challenging and complex students. A trauma-informed approach should now be considered a “Universal Precaution” for all students and staff. Promoting connections through intentional relationship-building, and ensuring a school environment that is physically, emotionally, and psychologically safe changes the culture and climate of a school community.

Michael McKnight and Lori Desautels, co-authors of “Unwritten, The Story of a Living System: A Pathway to Enlivening and Transforming Education”, share this perspective: “Schools are not machines. Schools are a network of human beings who feel, think, behave, and function within a human system that is alive and never static. Schools are living systems! This system is wired to thrive, even through difficult times. We can begin to create wholeness and connection within our schools mindfully and by design. We can create places where all children thrive.”

Resources to share:

CDC: Preventing Youth Violence: Opportunities for Action

Please take the time to watch this popular TedTalk from Brene Brown it has over 33 million views:

 Unwritten, The Story of a Living System: A Pathway to Enlivening and Transforming Education




2 thoughts on “The Relentless School Nurse: Solving Wicked Problems (Revisited)”

  1. My golly Robin. Amazing post. printing that picture out ! to remind me to solve a wicked problem.

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