The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Solution Focus in the Classroom?

Solution Focus has been adopted with enthusiasm in schools and education more broadly. Our friend Yasmin Ajmal gives us a host of examples to show how SF can be used by teachers in the classroom. Yasmin and Harvey Ratner have recently published Solution Focused Practice in Schools: 80 Ideas and Strategies and Harvey will be delivering a two-day programme Solution Focus in Education on 16th & 17th March in London.  Book your place on this course.

There is a Kiswahili proverb ‘It is only the wearer of the shoe who knows where the shoe pinches’. In SF we would be more interested in ‘where the shoe fits’ and thus the best examples of how SFP can support the everyday activities in a busy school day have emerged through the creativity of staff and students. A constant feature of staff feedback is the energy-giving effect of an approach to change which emphasises what is wanted in the future, amplifies successes and highlights the capacities and skills available to support progress.

Whether 5 or 50 minutes are available, SFP focuses on those questions which hold the most potential for change or difference.

As an alternative to writing a detailed account of what had gone wrong, students in an internal exclusion room were asked to note down 20 things they had done well so far that week. Feedback from the students indicated that focusing on the good things made them feel better about themselves. Staff reported that the list gave them a much more fruitful basis on which to build a conversation with the student about useful behaviours and actions already in evidence to help get them back into class.

A Year 7 teacher settling his class to their lesson was interrupted by a student sent out from another class. Rather than disrupt the flow of the lesson, the teacher instructed the student to build a tower using lego and to place a note on top in response to the following: suppose tomorrow goes better for you, 4 things you will notice, 3 things your teacher will notice and 5 things you have already done today that would be helpful. Once the class was settled the teacher spent a few minutes talking with the student about his ideas. Bypassing the need for long or defensive explanations, the questions had communicated a belief in the student’s capacities and his answers had provided a foundation for a constructive conversation about change.

How classes describe themselves can bring motivation and optimism into what they do.

A supply teacher would spend 5 minutes at the beginning of a session with a new class establishing the rules and expectations by asking ‘suppose we had a good day today – what will you and I be noticing?’. Other variations could include: this class at its best – the class we want to be - and for older students the classroom environment that will best support us in our learning. Ideas, including his own, were written down and additional details occasionally sought ‘what would being focused on your work look like? What else will be a sign of this?’

The question then becomes ‘what do you do with this list?’ There is a subtle difference between a checklist of must do behaviours and providing a pattern of thinking from which a good day is more likely to emerge. So ending a conversation with ‘I look forward to a day full of surprises’ honours the context of things going well whilst leaving the day with a suppleness from which any number of behaviours or actions could emerge. At the end of the day the teacher asked what the class had been pleased to notice thus building a ‘list’ of all the things they had discovered.

Even when the starting point is a set of criteria such as ‘golden rules’ or behavioural expectations outlined in behaviour systems, the more visible the students themselves are in the descriptions of what is wanted and the more ideas are embedded in the reality of their day-to-day lives, the greater their ownership is likely to be.
• what will that (insert golden rule) look like in this classroom? What else?
• what will I be noticing when this (insert behaviour system descriptor) is happening?

The scale has no limits!
A secondary HT used a scale with an entire cohort of Year 8 students as a panel of experts about behaviour in the school where 10 was the best and 0 the opposite. The students were collectively asked to consider where they would place things on the scale from their point of view and some of the successes that would support that view. He was then curious about what would be happening differently at one point up. In true SF fashion he ended the conversation with an affirmation of his confidence in the students sorting this out. What we find in SF is that the more we step back, the more space there is for students to step in.

SF is about elevating the small yet useful things.

Change is encouraged when we help a person draw on their resources. Arguably change is the wrong word as it implies the person changes, while in SF we see it as the person simply doing more of what they can do already. In relation to learning, providing frameworks for ongoing reflections can help young people build an understanding of their own style of learning and their confidence and independence in the classroom. Involving students in asking questions of each other can both stretch the thinking and practice of peers and also support their own reflections.

Short 2 minute reflections can be inserted at any time:
• Something in my learning this week that surprised me in a good way.
• One thing I have been doing differently in my learning this week is
• Something I now feel confident in my learning is…what I have done to help this is
• When I found something difficult this week – this is what I did.
• My best lesson: 5 things that made it so good. 4 things I did. 3 things the teacher did. (primary version)

If there is more time then more detailed questions can be added:
Strategies: What was happening? What did you do?
Process: How did you decide what to do?
Benefits: What difference did doing things in this way make?
Resilience: What was your way of overcoming any difficulties
Identity: What did you learn about yourself and your way of learning that might be useful in your future learning?

In this way learning can also be an exciting process of discovery!

Solution Focused Practice in Schools: 80 Ideas and Strategies by Yasmin Ajmal and Harvey Ratner. Routledge 2020.

Yasmin Ajmal
19 January 2020



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