How I focused on a solution focused approach

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Solutions, not problems

For a couple of years now, my school has used a Restorative Justice approach when dealing with the more serious behavioural issues we encounter in our classrooms. When the system was first introduced, the entire staff body received a whole day of inset on the topic including presentations, case studies and everyone’s favourite – role play!  It was fair to say that at the time, on the whole we weren’t exactly won over by the process as it seemed that the system as presented offered an easy way out for our ‘offenders’ – simply admitting what they did was wrong and promising not to do it again appeared to get them off the hook. 

However, since the initial roll out of the approach, small cohorts of staff have been selected to attend further inset on the subject and luckily for me, my name was drawn from the hat for the most recent two-day session run at school by Henry Keirnan.

My eyes are now fully open as to the value of restorative approaches when dealing with issues at school, and I’m now really keen to put what I’ve learned into practice (much to my colleague’s surprise) whenever the opportunity presents itself. The inset sessions included an awful lot of anecdotes to gives the techniques some context (not something I’m really very attuned to) which gave me plenty of time to think about how I could start to use a Solution Focused approach to benefit the teaching and learning in my classroom. 

The name says it all really

I’m not intending this post to be an introduction or explanation of solution focused approaches (check out this article for a bit of an overview if you’re interested), but very briefly, the approach works by helping learners to recognise successes and identify what they’d need to do to improve rather than by highlighting the areas that aren’t going so well and focusing on the problems. The inset sessions gave us plenty of ideas for using the approach on a 1:1 basis- but in reality the time needed to have a meaningful individual dialogue with a whole class just doesn’t exist in in my day.

There was also some handy advice on getting whole-class feedback on their perceived progress on a particular topic, but this mainly involved using scales with kids holding up their fingers to indicate where they felt they were in terms of effort, quality of work etc. And this is where I had a problem. What good was it to me knowing that a pupil considered themselves a “4” in terms of their current effort if I didn’t know a) why they thought this and b) how I could move them to a 5 or 6 or 7. There’s got to be a better way I thought, reaching for my faithful iPad…

Form filling

On a slight tangent, I’ve fallen in love in a big way with Google Forms again recently, mainly due to the Superquiz add-on, but that’s another story altogether. However, It did get me thinking, was there a way I could technologify the process of getting my kids to focus on solutions to their problems, and more importantly a way that I could gather up their thoughts and then act on them?

Getting home after the first of the two days of inset, I was pretty fired up by the new reflective era I was entering! A quick google form later, and I was ready to go. I was even sufficiently enthused to share what I’d done on the second day of the training, and it seemed to be pretty well received by colleagues from my school, teachers from the other attending schools and by Henry the trainer. We all finished up the day full of praise for restorative and solution focused approaches and I was keen to bust out the form to my kids. Next day, back in class and tackling day to day issues, I promptly forgot about it!

This is the least important part of the form, but it helped give the kids a chance to think about the topic they were reflecting on. 


This section asked kids to rate the amount of effort they put in during class time, justifying their reasons and then suggesting a solution to the issues they faced. 

 

The final section asked the kids to reflect on the quality of the work they had produced and then think of solutions for the issues they may have identified.

“So how did we find the last topic kids?”

A couple of weeks later, I was competing an electronic assessment with a year 9 group in an IT suite and suddenly realised it might be a good time to focus on possible solutions to problems we might have faced in our latest work. I attached a link to the Google form to the end of the assessment (also a Google form so no additional explanation was needed) and told the kids to fill it out when they’d finished the assessment. That evening, I had a glance at the responses, fully expecting the usual simple “i need to work harder” type comments I’d often received when asking for an’EBI’ in the past. 

I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Out of the mouths of babes

The Google form response sheet yielded some really thought-provoking comments. The kids had been honest in filling out the form in ways I’d never expected and in some ways that I could really act on (more homework!!!). Commenting on their effort over the last topic…

 I was equally surprised by some of the reflections on the quality of their work… Obviously everyone fancied a new seating plan. 

 

Acting on the suggestions

At the start of my next lesson with the class, I spent a bit of time discussing the responses and making sure I’d praised them for their honesty! They fed back that it had been a challenge for them but it was definitely something they’d appreciated doing. I felt that a lot of them also had reflections they just weren’t able to articulate on the form, so the following discussion was equally useful for them. We had a bit of a chat about using the scale too, and a lot of them decided that they’d probably been a bit generous in their ratings. The overwhelming feeling was also that the kids felt far more comfortable when confessing to the online form rather than writing on paper. 

After the comments regarding their distractions, I told them we were having a new seating plan which they were going to come up with. I gave them a couple of minutes to think about where the best place in the room for them to make progress would be and then to move there. I was pleased to see there was a lot of chat about where they should be sitting, and although they didn’t all actually get up and move, I was pleased they actually had a discussion. I then let them know about some changes I’d be making to the way I led the next topic and they really seemed to appreciate the thought I’d given their responses. In fact, that lesson was the most positive lesson I’d had this year with what can usually be quite a challenging group (it was also the dreaded Friday afternoon last lesson slot which made me even more impressed!)

A shift in my focus

This is obviously only a first step, but I’m really enthused by this experiment and I’m finding the more I use a solution focused approach, both to behavioural issues and to help my learners make progress, the happier everyone involved is! Sure, getting my learners to reflect on their progress is nothing new, but I’m hoping this approach may also rub off onto other aspects of their life, both in and out of school.  

  • Kids were honest when asked to think about they way they worked rather than how much they’d learned
  • They really appreciated the fact that I was going to consider their comments in my planning
  • Solution focused approach can (hopefully!) have a wider impact outside of my classroom
  • Yet another win for Google Forms!

Thanks for your time- please let me know your thoughts!