bY Sylvia True
Head of High School Science and Technology Department
Holliston High School, Holliston, MA

We asked Dr. Anne Lutz to give our science department at Holliston High School a presentation on solution focused skills in schools. The goal was for the teachers to gain a basic understanding of solution focused techniques, and to learn some practical methods that could be used in the classroom, in parent meetings, and with colleagues. We have had a lot of professional development around social emotional issues and are constantly told what students are struggling with—whether it is stress, drugs, bullying or peer pressure. Unfortunately, we are not often given practical solutions, which is what we came to Dr. Lutz looking for. The teachers in our group felt empowered after the seminar. We were given insight into looking at language in a more positive way, and we also learned some concrete, straightforward methods to use with students, as well as tools to help with difficult conversations in any context.

One teacher used the compliment strategy with a student who has difficulty coming to class, due in part to anxiety, and in part to a challenging home life. Instead of focusing on the problems, this teacher complimented the student, telling him it was great that he made it to class, and asking him how he managed that. He immediately perked up with the compliment, and the teacher felt great that she could engage him. Although the interchange was short, it was the beginning of a much stronger and more productive relationship. The positive emotional feedback in these situations energizes both the student and the teacher.

Another teacher who attended the workshop has been much more cognizant of his use of language in the classroom. He finds that using the “for you” statements have helped the students understand that he is really listening to them. In teaching, we focus on student engagement, because we know if the student isn’t engaged, he or she, probably won’t learn. Anything that helps with engagement will ultimately enhance learning.

Another thing we often see in our school is students getting very stressed around tests. I used the scaling technique in my classroom. I asked students to rate themselves from one to ten on how prepared they felt before a test. Many of them said they were around a four. We proceeded to talk about why they weren’t a three or a two. As they shared some of the things they felt confident with, we moved the discussion to how they might be able to become confident with more of the material. How did they learn what they already knew? Could they apply their successful study techniques to learn even more material? Helping students to recognize their strengths and build on those is something they will carry with them for a lifetime.

A few of us have also use best hopes in classrooms and in meetings with parents. A chemistry teacher had a student who was struggling to stay focused in class. The parents complained that the teacher wasn’t holding the student accountable. A meeting was set up. This teacher began the meeting by complimenting the student, and listing a few particular things the student did well. Then the teacher asked the student what her best hopes were for the class. The teacher was able to identify some areas that the student could work on, such as asking more specific questions, coming after school for help with particular goals in mind, collaborating with a friend in the same class, and being honest about topics that she was struggling with. The parents and student left the meeting with concrete ways to move forward.

Aside from having our workshop with Dr. Lutz, the teachers who attended also shared their knowledge with the rest of the department. It was one of the most positive professional development sessions we have had. Teachers felt inspired when they were given concrete tools to use in the classroom, tools that will engage their students, and aide in learning. But a deeper excitement comes from understanding that students are gaining skills and strategies, not just for their present classes, but for their future.

My best hope is that we can keep practicing this methodology and that our administration will support more training in this area. Once you gain an understanding of the techniques, you begin to see how they can benefit almost any interaction. Dr. Lutz explained the concepts clearly, she gave interesting examples, and models, and she was open to answering all of our difficult questions. As more educators get this sort of training, and teachers realize the enormous benefits, I imagine the solution focused model will be integrated into curriculums from kindergarten through high school.