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The Challenging Class: A Solution-Focussed Approach to Success

Dan Guiney

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The Challenging Class: A Solution-Focused Approach to Success

Solution-focused approaches have been developed in the past thirty years as a way of collaboratively problem-solving in a range of professional contexts including social work, psychology, psychiatry and increasingly education (Berg & Steiner, 2003). As the name suggests solution-focused approaches start with solutions, developing successful strategies to reach these. Such an approach assumes that problem-owners have within them the will and resources to develop successful solutions to their difficulties when given a framework to consider what they are doing right at the moment and an opportunity to build on this. This is most certainly true of students in mainstream 11-18 comprehensives such as my own. Solution-focussed approaches work on the framework that it is easier to modify challenging behaviours by first addressing our own actions as education professionals. In this article I explore how a solution-focused approach helped teachers at an 11-18 comprehensive to build on successful strategies at managing a challenging class.

A low-attaining key stage three set known to be exhibiting several whole-class misbehaviours were presenting themselves as a challenging class for several teachers. These included frequent low-level disruption as well as frequent off-task behaviour and this was leading to a negative perception of the group which in turn had an impact upon staff delivery of lessons. A number of other interventions had been used with varying degrees of success at both classroom teacher and more strategically at Year Leader level. Low staff expectations led to low student self-esteem and thus the cycle was continuing. However, I observed in lessons and on paper that some classroom teachers were using highly successful strategies but that there was no formal method of sharing this practice and that the focus tended to be on pupil misbehaviour rather than successful teacher intervention. Discussions with staff to outline the difficulties and ways forward had tended to focus on ‘problems’ of individual children, particularly in the context of a busy school day. Therefore, it was hoped that the introduction of a solution-focused approach, along with existing interventions, would empower teachers and encourage them to work collaboratively to deal with this challenging class in finding ways forward as a group of expert professionals.

The Year Leader developed a questionnaire in partnership with the Norfolk Educational Psychology Service using a range of solution-focused questions. It began with goal-setting, asking teachers what they hoped the class would do differently if this approach was successful. This was later used to prioritise target setting and monitoring of behaviours by senior managers. The questionnaire went on to explore strategies that teachers were currently employing with success and asked them to reflect upon how they as professionals impacted upon the behaviour of the class. For example, teachers wrote of the use of practical activities, focusing praise on positive behaviour, use of ‘short-burst’ tasks, and setting behaviour targets at the beginning of lessons amongst many others. It was refreshing to see the enormous range of strategies being used and clear that many staff had a very high level of expertise to build on in succeeding with this class. Finally, the questionnaire asked teachers about the support they would appreciate from senior managers in working to succeed with this class. It was hoped that this would convey a spirit of professional collaboration. This was used as the basis for sharing successful strategies in managing the behaviour of a challenging class.

All responses were compiled into a one-sided information sheet which was distributed to staff working with the class and staff were encouraged to feedback which straetgies they had employed as part ongoing CPD tied in with rewards. This began with a list of behaviour targets for the class based on what behaviours teachers wished to change. The writers of the information sheet acknowledged and celebrated the successful strategies which were presently being employed by all members of staff. It went on to list strategies which were being used by staff members and suggested that other teachers may like to give some of these a try. Finally, it stated the action that would be taken on a strategic level in supporting staff based on the interventions they asked for in the questionnaire.

Since distributing the information sheet teachers have reported using a number of strategies employed by colleagues and have commented on their successes. The number of incidents of reported pupil misbehaviour has measurably decreased: a 39% drop in referrals (one measure of the school’s assertive discipline policy) in the 30 days after the solution-focussed initiative was implemented was a pleasing outcome. Moreover, teachers and parents/guardians have commented on improved levels of compliance and on-task behaviour and this is evidence of improved staff perceptions leading to raised student self-esteem. This ties in neatly with the attainment agenda and it is hoped the long –term benefits will included greater student academic progression. In short, this solution-focussed turned a spiral of negativity into a virtuous circle with enormous rewards for student learning and staff morale.

It is hoped that this solution-focused approach will be further developed to use with other challenging classes as a way of showing best practice to enhance the implementation of the school’s behaviour policy.

Edited by Dan Guiney
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