Preface: Invite you to
Solution-focused strategies for turning a
• Temporarily suspend any inclination to decide if
these ideas would work with your most difficult
students (or teachers) for the moment!
• Experiment with some new ideas.
Leslie Cooley, Ph.D.
• Note: Wherever “student” is used, teacher or
parent can be substituted
Preface 2: Difference between
consulting and discipline
Important not to confuse.
Very different approach.
Many educators are not clear on the distinction.
Muddies your chance to be successful with a
How do we intervene in a way that creates
• Looking for change in both cases but:
• Consulting>>> exploration
• Discipline >>> consequences
Change is sometimes overlooked
• We get busy, overwhelmed, develop a routine
whether it works or not
• Becomes easy to skip over the ultimate goal
>>>> creating meaningful change.
First, consider how you think change
• If you want to….
Lose 10 pounds
Change a relationship with a sibling
Quit a bad habit
Feel less angry
What doesn’t work…
• Most of us have logged some failed attempts…we
may know how change doesn’t occur
Choices in approach to students
The problem-based model usually looks something
These approaches don’t
work any better with
• What puts us in the best position to create change?
Insight or Problem-based approach
• In a problem-focused (traditional) approach, the
assumption is that if the person understood why
they were stuck, that person would be able to change
their behavior or thinking
• Story of the couple, man is heavy smoker
• Story of the man who refused to wear his shirt to the
• Insight doesn’t guarantee that change will occur
but doing something different may increase the
Several models to choose from
• Important to have a model as a base.
• Solution-Focused >>school-friendly and put us
in a good position to create change.
• Other consultation models
• Your approach will be one that
matches your style, beliefs,
training…. Mindful of creating
Research on change:
Assay & Lambert, 1999
Student assets (Client factors)
Hope or Expectancy
Approach to consultation (Model or
What’s different about a
Conversations about solutions, not problems
Focus on what works instead of what doesn’t
Strength-based, not deficit-based
I skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s
been (Wayne Gretzky)
Assumptions of SF approach
How do these assumptions effect what
• Expression of emotion does not necessarily
bring about change
• Students have tried to solve their problems…
attempts have not worked
• Students are resourceful & competent even if
• Presume change will and is happening
• Conversations for possibilities
• Looking for descriptions of exceptions, typically
not seen as significant by the student
From a problem based approach…
Or quit some other habit you wanted to discard?
In a SF approach, the question are
• Curious… a position of “not knowing”
• Look for exceptions to the problem… most
problems don’t occur all the time
• Respectful… must be genuine
• Complimenting… directly or indirectly
• Future focused… connect to goals
When did you first start smoking?
How long did you smoke?
How many times have you tried to quit?
What health problems has this caused for you?
How has this impacted your relationships?
Quitting from a SF approach
• How did you do it?
• Compared to all the times in the past that you
thought of quitting and wanted to but didn’t,
how did you make it happen this time?
• What helped you stick with it?
• What made the difference this time?
• What’s your theory about how you got this
change to occur?
Choices in our approach
• The boy who is always late
▫ Are you late again? vs. How will your day be
different when you start it on time?
• The girl who rarely comes to school
▫ What did you say your name is? You must love
detention. vs. How did you get it together to get
• The teenager with a fierce temper
▫ I can’t believe you did it again. vs. ….
To try out a SF approach, small steps
• Avoid “Why” questions, unless you are blaming
the client for success
▫ Why haven’t you given up?
• Use phrases like
I wonder if….
Tell me about ….
What do you suppose…
• Ask questions that take the conversation into the
We have choices about our focus
What you focus on
• Consider refocusing the lens through which we
see students that have frequent flyer miles in the
• Video clip
Helping students change their own
• Focus on strengths
▫ Focus on what’s strong, and not on what’s wrong
• Increasing compliments
• Work with the idea that problems are not
• Acknowledge student expertise
• Ask questions that reflect curiosity and promote
• Decreasing criticism
Activity: Break into pairs. One person in consulting role;
partner will be the complainer. When done, switch roles
• Complainer will talk uninterrupted for 4
• Consultant will listen attentively and watch nonverbal gestures
• At the end, the consultant will share a set of
compliments for the client based on what they
Describe the effect of this exercise?
• Subtle difference between validating or
empathizing and complementing
• Reflects a difference in models and what we
believe about how change occurs
▫ “Wow, you really are a persistent person”
▫ “What dedication to your son”
• Get mightily curious about the solution
▫ Avoid getting overly interested in the problem
Imagine your 6th grade teacher asks
you to see a group girls who are
picking on others in the class.
• Orient the discussion toward the present and
▫ Less focus on the history of the problem
• Provide opportunities to highlight student
▫ Avoid conversations about how things go to be so bad
▫ Success or failure exercise
From a SF position, what’s wrong with
• 1. Asking the girls how they would like it if others
• 2. Asking girls why they pick on others
• 3. Asking girls to plan an imaginary class party and
develop games that would include everyone
What might you do instead with these
Looking for strengths
Avoid over-focusing on the history
Ask questions from a position of real curiosity
Orient towards the desired future
• 4. Having the girls separate into pairs and make a list of
all the disadvantages of having cliques
• 5. Initiating a discussion on how to break up cliques at
A more effective conversation with
a group of sixth grade girls…..
Turn to the person next to you and
brainstorm some ideas based on a
To learn more abt Solution-Focused
• Solution-Focused Counseling In Schools, 2nd
Edition by John J. Murphy (Feb 28, 2008)
“Change” is the whole point
Ponder how you think that happens
Emphasizing strengths >> powerful force
Working on solutions is preferable to an
archeological dig into the problem history
• Complement generously, and sincerely
• Leslie Cooley
• Brief Counseling That Works: A SolutionFocused Approach for School Counselors and
Administrators, 2nd Edition... by Gerald B.
Sklare (Nov 10, 2004)