Solution-focused intervention to help students with behavioural problems

This instruction manual describes a solution-focused and community-based intervention for responding to students’ behavioural problems. The intervention has been designed by an international team of professionals interested in developing constructive ways for schools to deal with students’ emotional and behavioural challenges.

 

Version 1.0, Helsinki, January 2019 

SUMMARY

1.  Prepare for the conversations

List the student’s main behaviour problems

Choose one to target

Identify the behaviour skill that will solve the targeted behaviour problem

2.  Talk to the student

Start by talking about the student’s strengths

Tell the student which behaviour skill you want them to learn and why

Show interest in the student’s own ideas and suggestions

Tell the student that you will also talk to their guardian

Ask the student to choose 2-4 classmates as their supporters

3. Talk to the guardian

Start by talking about the student’s strengths

Tell the guardian which behaviour skill the student will learn and why

Show interest in the guardian’s ideas and suggestions

Get the guardian’s approval for using classmates as supporters

4.  Talk to the supporters

Ask the chosen classmates to agree to become supporters

Help the supporters to agree with the student about how to support him or her

5.  Reinforce progress

Keep your eyes on the student’s efforts and progress

Praise the student for their efforts and progress

Report progress to the guardian and thank them for support

Thank the supporters for their help

6. Secure the maintenance of the change or continue the project

Secure the maintenance change

If the student has not yet learned the skill or other behaviour problems persist

Instructions for teachers

Practically all teachers have one or more students in their class with behavioural problems. Conventional means of responding to students’ behaviour problems, such as reprimanding the student, using rewards and consequences, informing the student’s guardian or referring the student to the school’s behaviour support team, do not necessarily work and may sometimes even aggravate the problem.

The method described in this manual consists of the following five main steps:

  1. Preparing oneself for the conversations
  2. Having a conversation with the student
    1. Having a conversation with the guardian
    2. Having a conversation with the supporters
    3. Reinforcing progress
    4. Securing the maintenance change or continuing the project

1. Prepare for the conversations

In this intervention when talking with the student, their guardian and their supporters the teacher does not address the student’s behaviour problem (or undesired behaviour) but the behaviour skill (or desired behaviour) that the student should learn in order to overcome their behaviour problem. Shifting focus in this way from undesired behaviour to desirable behaviour, or behavioural skill, facilitates collaboration with the student and their guardian.

Observe: You can skip this step if you already have a clear idea of which behavioural skill the student needs to learn to overcome his or her undesirable behaviour.

1.1. List the student’s main behavioural problems

Usually students who have behaviour problems have more than one behaviour problem. Make a list for yourself of the student’s main behaviour problems. The list will help you decide which of the student’s behaviour problems you will target when you talk with the student.

Note: The left-hand column of the table in Appendix 1 offers you examples of common students’ behavioural problems.

1.2. Choose which one of the student’s problems you will address

Review your list and choose one of the student’s problems as the problem you will address when you talk to the student and their guardian. Even if the student has several behavioural problems, it is advisable to focus on just one. It is far easier for the student as well as the guardian to talk to you when you don’t address all the student’s behaviour problems at once but focus on just one at a time[FC2] .

Note: Addressing just one problem does not entail ignoring the student’s other behavioural problems. Overcoming one behavioural problem successfully tends to have a favourable effect on the student’s other behavioural problems as well. Success in solving one behavioural problem also generates hope that the other behavioural problems can be solved in a similar manner.

Hint: If in doubt about which behavioural problem to address, it is usually best to choose the one that is likely to have the most positive effect on the student’s other behavioural problems.

1.3. Identify the behavioural skill that will solve the targeted behaviour problem

Before talking with the student, think about which behavioural skill (desired way of acting or responding) the student would need to learn in order for the behavioural problem to recede.

Hint: View the table in Appendix 1 to see examples of behavioural problems and corresponding behavioural skills.

2. Talk to the student

Talk to the student one-on-one about the behavioural skill you want them to learn.

Observe. If the student refuses to talk with you, start the process by talking to the guardian first.

2.1. Start by talking about the student’s strengths

Start the conversation positively by reserving some time to talk with them about their strengths that you have observed that they have, progress they have made and things that work well. The student may guess that you are about to address their problem behaviour, but nevertheless, it is advisable to start the conversation in this manner. Starting in this way helps the student understand that your intention is not to reprimand them but to help them learn to behave in a way that is beneficial to them.

2.2. Tell the student what behavioural skill you want them to learn and why

Tell the student which behavioural skill you want them to learn. Help them understand how this skill will benefit them in various ways.

2.3. Show interest in the student’s own ideas and suggestions

Ask the student what thoughts they have about how they could learn the behavioural skill and show interest in their thoughts. Praise the student for any efforts that they have already made to try to improve their behaviour and acknowledge them if they agree that they need to improve the behavioural skill you are talking about.

2.4. Tell the student that you will talk with their guardian

Tell the student that you intend to talk to their guardian. Explain that the guardian needs to be aware of the behavioural skill that they are learning in order to be able to help and support them in learning the skill.

2.5. Ask the student to choose 2-4 classmates as supporters

Help the student think about 2-4 classmates who will be asked to be the student’s supporters.

Observe. If possible, appoint the student a peer supporter or mentor who is an older student attending the same school and willing to volunteer to support the student in learning the skill.

3. Talk to the guardian

Contact the guardian and make an appointment to talk to them either face-to-face or by phone.

3.1. Start by talking about the student’s strengths

Start the conversation with the guardian by reserving some time to talk with them about the student’s strengths, progress they have made lately and things that work well. It is important to start the conversation in this way to help the guardian understand that your intention is not to complain about their child’s behaviour but to help their child adjust better to school.

3.2. Tell the guardian what behavioural skill the student will learn and why

Inform the guardian that you have spoken with the student and tell them which behavioural skill the student will start learning. Explain to the guardian also why you think mastering this behavioural skill is important; how it will help the student enjoy school and become successful in life.

3.3. Show interest in the guardian’s ideas and suggestions

Ask the guardian for their thoughts or ideas about how they can help and support the student at home in learning the skill. Show interest in the guardian’s ideas and thank them for their collaboration.

3.4. Get the guardian’s approval for using peer supporters

Tell the guardian that you have agreed with the student to ask a few of the student’s classmates to support the student in learning the behavioural skill. Ask for the guardian’s approval for this arrangement.

4. Talk to the supporters

Reserve some time to talk together with the student and the chosen classmates about how they will help and support the student.

4.1. Ask the chosen classmates to become supporters

Explain to the classmates which behavioural skill the student will learn and why learning that skill is important. Ask them if they agree to become supporters to their classmate. They will most likely agree.

4.2. Help the supporters agree with the student on how to support him or her

Help the student and the supporters to discuss about how the supporters will help and support the student in learning the behavioural skill. Make sure that they agree at least on how the supporters will praise the student for progress and how they will remind the student of the behavioural skill when he or she needs reminding.

5. Reinforce progress


5.1. Keep an eye on the student’s progress

Observe the student’s behaviour, focusing on signs of their effort and progress.

5.2. Praise the student for progress

Agree with the student about a sign (e.g. a hand gesture or a nod) to use to signal to them that you have noticed them practicing their behavioural skill.

5.3. Report progress to guardian

Keep the guardian informed about the student’s efforts and progress and thank them for their support.

5.4. Acknowledge the supporters

Talk to the supporters briefly at times to ask them how they have helped and supported the student and praise them for the good work that they have done.

6. Secure the outcome or continue the project

6.1. Secure the positive change

If you and the student agree that the student has learned the behavioural skill and the behavioural problem has been sufficiently absolved, you can reinforce the positive change by

  • congratulating the student and acknowledging the guardian and the supporters for all what they have done to help and support the student,
  • exploring together with the student the various positive ripple effects of them having learned their behavioural skill,
  • asking the student what they can do themselves to secure the change and what they suggest that you, the other teachers, or their classmates can do to help them make the change permanent, and
  • offering the student an opportunity to be a supporter for other students who have the need to learn the same behaviour skill that they have learned.

6.2. If the student has not yet learned the skill or other behavioural problems persist

If the student has not yet learned their skill, talk to the student and their supporters. Encourage them to keep going and, if needed, help come up with some new means of supporting and helping the student.

If the targeted behavioural problem is solved, but other behavioural problems persist, congratulate the student and acknowledge the guardian and the supporters for their help and support. Continue by asking the student what behavioural skill they would want to learn next. If they fail to suggest anything, choose another problem from the list of their behavioural problems, and suggest to them to start learning the corresponding al skill. Supposing that the student agrees, launch a similar project to help them learn that skill.

Appendix 1. Examples of common behavioural problems and behavioural skills needed to overcome them.

Behavioural problem

Behavioural skill

The student refuses to follow the teacher’s instructions To learn to listen and to follow teacher’s instructions
The student roams around the classroom, disturbing other students To learn to stay at one’s own place and ask for permission to go elsewhere
The student clowns around and shouts out funny comments during lessons To learn to save their jokes and puns till after the class
The student speaks incessantly and does not stop even if asked to be silent To learn to think in silence
The student disturbs other students by approaching them to talk to them To learn to ask permission to talk to others during lessons
The student cusses and uses inappropriate language To learn to express themselves using acceptable words and appropriate language
The student has aggressive outbursts of anger To learn to calm themselves down when they become angry
The student disturbs teaching by making noises To learn to work quietly so as not to disturb others
The student leaves the classroom without permission To learn ask for permission to leave the classroom during lessons and to accept the teacher’s answer
The student becomes fixated on what he or she is doing and resists the transition to the next task To learn to transition from one activity to the next
The student teases other students by calling them names To learn to address other people only using names other people accept
The student tries to ridicule the teacher To learn behave respectfully and kindly towards the teacher
The student becomes angry when told not to do something To learn to accept when he or she wants something and the teacher says “no”.
Etc. (this list can be expanded to include many more examples of common disruptive behaviours) Etc.

 

Appendix 2. Suggestions for classmate supporters

You can help and support your classmate in many ways. Here are some suggestions for you:

  • Tell your classmate that you agree that it is a good thing for him or her to learn the skill and explain to them why you think so.
  • Pay attention to your classmate’s progress and give them positive feedback in a mutually agreed-upon way when they behave in the right way.
  • Make an agreement with your classmate about a gesture, sign or code word which you can use to remind them of their behavioural skill when they need to be reminded.
  • Invent a way to praise or reward your classmate at the end of the school day when they have successfully managed to practice their behavioural skill that day.
  • Report your classmate’s progress to your teacher and tell also your other classmates about it.
  • Make an agreement with your classmate about something fun that you will do together with them when they have learned their skill.
  • If any one of you has room for improvement in the same behavioural skill your classmate is learning, support them by partnering up with them to learn the same skill with them.
  • Remind your classmate in the morning in some kind way about their skill to help them keep it in mind throughout the day.
  • If your classmate sometimes forgets their skill and makes a mistake, don’t criticize them. Support them instead by saying something along the lines of “no worries”, “you will learn” or “nobody’s perfect”.

Appendix 3. Suggestions for guardians

You can support your child in many ways. Here are some suggestions for you:

  • Say to your child that learning the behavioural skill is a good thing and explain to them why you also believe that it will be beneficial for them.
  • Show interest in your child’s progress by asking them on a daily basis about their progress.
  • If you receive good news from the teacher, tell the other family members of these messages while you child can hear you and don’t hesitate to add that you are proud of him or her.
  • Invent, together with your child, some fun way to reward them when they have learned their behavioural skill. Avoid material rewards and reward your child instead by finding a way to spend time together with them.
  • Tell the other family members about the behavioural skill that you child is learning at school and ask them to also support him or her.
  • Show your child that you are happy about their progress in some way that you know they like.
  • Invent together with your child some kind of game or role-play that you can use at home to practice the same skill that they are learning at school.
  • If you or any other member of your family happens to have room for improvement in the same behavioural skill your child is learning, make it a collective project. It is easier for children to learn skills that other people are learning at the same time.
  • If you receive a message from the school reporting a setback, avoid reprimanding your child. Support them instead by saying something along the lines of, “It could have happened to anyone”, “Rome was not built in a day” or “You’re getting there little by little”.

Appendix 4. Background information

The recommendation brings together ideas from three established innovative approaches that have been used successfully in schools around the world to help children overcome problems. These include:

1)   Kids’ Skills. A solution-focused approach developed in Finland to help children overcome emotional and behavioural problems through learning skills. For more information visit the official Kids’ Skills website at
http://www.kidsskills.org

2)   Non-Violent Resistance or NVR. An approach to helping children with emotional and behavioural problems developed in Israel by professor Haim Omer and his team that emphasizes the importance of mobilizing the social support network to help parents and teachers influence the behaviour of children. For a brief interview with prof. Haim Omer about NVR see
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_39pn1Rf7E or visit the NVR-School website at http://www.nvrschool.com/int/default.aspx

3)   The Support Group Approach. A peer-support intervention to swiftly put an end to bullying in schools developed by Sue Young in England. For an overview of the method, see a video interview with Sue Young at
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLAVpnwnZWVJLOzTSSYvKlgPbwfmuZb3Kt

The intervention described in this manual has been drafted by a task force consisting of the following individuals:

Ben Furman, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, Helsinki Brief Therapy Institute (coordinator)

Tapani Ahola, social psychologist, psychotherapist, Helsinki Brief Therapy Institute

Maiju Ahola, teacher and psychotherapist, Helsinki Brief Therapy Institute

Leea Halmetoja, school psychologist and psychotherapist, Helsinki City

Martti Hellström, Doctor of education, principal, Finland

Hannu Savolainen, professor of special education, Jyväskylä university, Finland

Martin Fellacher, social worker, NVR-trainer, Austria

Haim Omer, professor of psychology, founder of the NVR-method, Israel

Sami Timimi, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Lincoln, Great Britain

Stefan Görson, Manager of the training company Verti, Sweden*

Sue Young, teacher and inventor of the support group approach, Hull, Great Britain

John Murphy, Professor of Psychology and Counselling, University of Central Arkansas, USA

Thomas Hegemann, child psychiatrist, trainer of Kids’Skills, Münich, Germany

Filip Caby, child psychiatrist, head doctor, Papenburg, Germany.

Leoš Zatloukal, psychotherapist and researcher, Palacky’s University, Olomouc, Czech republic

 

Takaisin
Back