Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ross Greene & Collaborative Problem Solving

We were lucky to have Ross Greene at school today and I was impressed to see all our teachers in attendance!

I also left the talk feeling so lucky that FSP is as it is and that the essence of collaborative problem solving is intrinsic in the school community and educational system.  To that end, the essence as  I understood it is to see kids as whole people who seek to do well in their worlds and relationships, especially ones that are important to them (parents and teachers - he said less about peers).  Greene's central point is that when kids don't have the skills to do well in a particular situation, challenging behaviors are exhibited.  It is not, in this view, that kids are bad or have bad behaviors that need controlling or modifying but that "challenging behaviors" are symptoms of underlying "unsolved problems."  (To better understand where kids developmental skills might lag, use his Assessment)  In many places, Greene's talk echoed Alfie Kohn's spring 2011 Parenting for Peace lecture against rewards and punishments.

In his collaborative problem solving method, Greene introduces techniques for adults and children to solve problems together -- this part reminded me of Adelle Faber's How To Talk So Kids Will Listen.  

1. Greene suggests we bring kids to the problem solving table through a neutral observation of the problem -- the more specific the better.  (i.e.  Kim, I notice you are stressed out, what's up with that is ok but pretty general; Kim, I notice you have dark circles, your shoes aren't matching and you forgot lunches again would be more specific, what's up with that would be more specific.)  The trick in the invitation is remaining judgement-free and kind and truly curious while also offering some  insight through the naming of the problem.

2. Once we start the conversation, we try to really hear the child's point of view -- Greene says this can require "drilling" for info and insight and has techniques for deep questioning/listening on the web site.
Once we really understand the problem and child's point of view we can also share our own - how the problem is effecting others.  Ultimately empathy, perspective-taking, etc. requires that we can reflect both on our own feelings and the imagined feelings of those we're in relationship with and this process builds that skill by making the information direct and clear.

3) Finally, all are invited to suggest and explore solutions to the underlying problem - again Faber style the idea is that kids know a lot about what they need and our job is to learn from them, but Greene also suggests that kids might not have enough info to generate full or realistic solutions (he also says adults often live in fantasy land about potential solutions and realism is a skill to develop!) Greene encourages some patience with the process, and trying new solutions if initial ones don't quite cut it.

The talk was a bit short on really practical bits (for me)  and I always wish for more interaction and to learn from the wisom of the FSP community, but it was pointed out to me that people attend full conferences to truly develop implementation skills - Greene also generously shares resources on his web site.  I find all this can resonate with me in theory but that my own lack of skill coupled with those lacks in my particular family members can block us from being able to pull this kind of relational problem solving off all the time...

I also am reminded that the Quaker practice of finding the light in everyone and believing that everyone has "that of God" within themselves uniquely frames relationships in terms of equality and mutual respect - building blocks for collaboration that isn't secretly coercion because of underlying established power relations.   An NPR story on corporal punishment in schools sickened me but what I heard from Greene's efforts to convince us of what many in this audience came in believing (children are inherently good, children are people worthy of respect, children have important voices, etc. etc. ) reminds me that out in the world some of these ideas are hard sells.

I still struggle with my own skill building in relationship to parenting and my own intuition about what exactly constitutes a problem.  I try to both work toward accepting my children just as they are - honoring their unique selves and temperaments rather than trying to have them always have to fit, or "look good" as Greene puts it and sometimes trying to change the culture and structures which might be some of the source of their stress AND seeing the development of emotional and social skills as important as academic ones for their happiness and well being in the world.  I like the idea that these skills can be used as regular business for the mundane problem solving of our lives rather than scrutinizing kids for potential problems.

I'd LOVE to hear what others are thinking, applying, extrapolating, connecting, criticizing, etc!


Leisa Collins said...

I'm so glad that Ross Greene visited Friends School and shared a philosophy of human relations (because it goes beyond parenting or teacher/student relations) that we have been practicing (always practicing, never perfecting!) in our house!

We have also found the work of Becky Bailey (, Laura Markham (, and Maine's own Pam Leo (Connection Parenting) echo Ross Greene's message. You may especially find the e-newsletters from Dr. Markham helpful in how she provides scripts and tips on implementing strategies. For me what works is putting a running list of scripts/tips in the Notes section of my smartphone that I want to remember. I scroll through them about weekly to be reminded or to see what things I've successfully implemented - otherwise a good idea/intention gets lost in the busy shuffle of life!

How do others implement good ideas?

Anonymous said...

Kim-I could have stayed at home and just waited to read your superb distillation of Ross' talk. You Rock! And you were able to write so eloquently at 9 last night while the rest of us could hardly keep our eyes open? Goes to show that no matter how tired you are, if it comes from the heart, it's wonderful stuff.

Audra said...

We really need to start having a coffee hour after these things.

Thanks, Kim. The summarizing key points is always great to read after we have had speakers. It helps my thoughts organize themselves!

jen mcnally said...

Excellent summary, Kim! I am already working on implementing this approach - well, at least parts of it. Baby steps!

Terry said...

"Kids do well when they can." Ross Greene encapsulated what we can feel, instinctively about our kids. I found his talk to be a revelation. As he put it several times, it made me "change the lenses" through which I view both my boys and all children. It applies equally to adults.