The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Putting Solution Focus to Work

For a while we have been interested in how people make use of the Solution Focused approach in their own work settings. Some of you may know that we have been emailing people recently asking this question. Here Sarah Kupke a senior member of the International School of Stuttgart Leadership team talks about how coming across Solution Focus, and developing her knowledge of the approach, has informed and influenced her work. Thank-you Sarah.

As Head of Campus for the International School of Stuttgart, Sindelfingen Campus, where we teach 180 students from 4 to 16 year olds, I am also on the ISS Leadership Team. The Principals, Director, Admissions Director and School Psychologists at ISS have been trained in BRIEF SFT and several of our Faculty too. So the school is moving towards using a common language and a common mindset regarding Solution Focused approaches towards teaching and learning.

I attended courses with Evan George, Chris Iveson and Harvey Ratner during 2016 to 2018 and was delighted to complete the certificate in 2018. Previously focused much more on what could be causing the “problem”, I have gradually shifted my perspectives to looking at what our preferred futures might look like. This transition has been transforming in my work.

In teaching, counselling and school administration, the work we do in schools is focused on promoting success; nurturing positive change. Directly or indirectly, we strive to find ways to improve student learning opportunities. When we focus on the “problem”, the chances are we get bogged down in the “problem”. When we shift the emphasis to describing our best hopes and our preferred futures, we are empowered to construct a Solution Focused path, using skills and capabilities we already have in our personal toolbox. We may be creating team goals, student learning goals, or behavioural goals; the model follows the same structure, through the questions we ask. For example, the question, “What do you recognize about yourself when you are at your best?” invites us to consider how we can transform our obstacles into our drivers by recognizing and implementing the skills and abilities we have already tried and tested. It takes us from where we are now and opens up possibilities for change, starting from our current strengths.

I believe we can use Solution Focused approaches to better understand ourselves as educators, our students, their parents and our colleagues. Through BRIEF SF we are not using “positive thinking” strategies. Instead, we explore our competencies, skills and resources to recognize what is already working for us, and to apply these to construct and inform our next steps. We look for signs of change and use these to guide our journey forward. An “Aha moment” for me was during the May 2018 training when I recognized that BRIEF SF is not about solving the problem for or with the client (child, colleague, parent) it is about the client managing their situation better or even successfully. We (the student, the teacher, the team) are the agents of our own change and the questions we ask of ourselves, determine how best we can be the expert in our own learning and change. The more we recognize what we do well, the better the foundation we have to build upon. Hence the investment in exploring what we are like when we are at our best is a vital part of the process. Establishing our Best Hopes and recognizing the preferred future we wish to construct, become essential elements of recognizing potential change and for building on our successes, regardless of how small they may initially seem.

I have become deeply interested in how we can use Solution Focused approaches to better understand ourselves as educators, our students, their parents and our colleagues. In our school, the impact of utilising Solution Focused language has been considerable as it has given us a common language, framework and understanding across the school, for formulating the change we want to make happen. This is a language which is continually shaping our school culture as well as being consistent with our educational beliefs and Mission Statement.

I have used Solution Focused ideas in a variety of ways in school, for example in use with pastoral care with individual children or small groups, class conflict resolution, in staff self-appraisals and professional goal setting, for behavioural management and for our campus annual goal setting.

My favourite BRIEF SF question is: What are your best hopes from this meeting? Often, if students are “sent” to me due to a misdemeanour, the question becomes reframed to, If this meeting turned out to be useful to you, what would that look like? Imagine the surprise on the faces of 15 year olds who have made some poor choices and are expecting the “I am very disappointed in you” or “You have let yourselves and the school down badly” routine, when they are asked instead, If this meeting turned out to be useful to you, what would that look like? The eyebrows go up, quizzical looks flash across the table and then one young man says, “Well, I think if it were useful to me, I would think more about the consequences for others another time.” Other responses include,
“I would empathise with the person who is responsible for us.”
“I would try to establish trust with the other person before I tease them so I know whether they’ll get the joke or not.”
“I would feel more confident in speaking up in front of others; kind of have more moral courage.”

In our Leadership Team we frequently use the language of BRIEF Solution Focused approaches. Increasingly, it has become part of staff professional goal setting approaches and it is influencing our thinking in our review of appraisal processes. Teachers and Learning Assistants have found the BRIEF questions a useful way of reflecting on their annual professional goal setting as well as recognizing the capabilities they have for shaping the change they are seeking:

• What are your best hopes for this school year?
• When are you at your best when you are at work?
• What might others notice when you are at your best?
• On a scale of one to ten, where 1 is no support and 10 is maximum support possible, where do you think you are in best supporting student learning?
• What will you/we notice if you raise this a notch higher?
• What signs might you notice that tell you have moved up?
• What difference would it make to you if you move up a notch on the scale?
• What might other people notice? (A student? A colleague? A friend?)

In all our work with children, parents and colleagues at ISS, the BRIEF Solution Focused model is helping us to re-evaluate the “we are the experts” model by empowering the individual to be the expert on themselves, given the questions to recognize their own skills and competencies. We move away from “getting” them to reflect and prefer to “invite” them to reflect. The articulation of our ideas of how to move forward, paints a picture of our preferred future, our best hopes, our expectations for change. We notice the change in emphasis from “What steps do we need to take?” to “What will we notice?” … from steps to signs. BRIEF Solution Focused approaches are guiding our approaches towards constructing positive change in our school and in ourselves.

1) Questions drawn from BRIEF workshop exercises:
Evan George December 2016
Chris Iveson December 2017
Harvey Ratner May 2018
2) Evan George (June 2016) Something has Happened to the Way that we End Solution Focused Conversations. This can be found in the BRIEF blog
3) Brief Coaching with Children and Young People (2015) Ratner, Harvey and Yusuf, Denise. Routledge: London.
4) What is BRIEF Coaching? This can be found on the BRIEF website
5) George, Evan Iveson, Chris and Ratner, Harvey (2012). BRIEFER A Solution Focused Practice Manual. BRIEF: London
6) “The Great Instead” Ratner, H., George, E., Iveson, C. (2012). Solution Focused Brief Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques. Routledge: London. (chapter 28)
7) Ratner, H., George, E., Iveson, C.. (2012) Solution Focused BRIEF Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques. Routledge: London.

Sarah Kupke
23rd February 2020