Posted by: darcymullin | January 17, 2013

Problem Solving, not Punishing

Last year our school engaged in a book study on Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene.  Many others in our district also read his book and were very intrigued by the Collaborative Approach he uses.  This year our school was given an opportunity  to go deeper.  Six of us are working with one of Dr. Greene’s trainers (Kim Bortle) every Monday after school for 16 weeks to get a better understanding and to figure out how (and if?) we can take this approach school wide.

We are in week 11 and there has been a lot of learning….a lot.  There are many steps in the process and I can see a series of posts chronicling our journey and our learning.  However, above all else the process is rooted in the fundamental belief that KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN.

All kids (and adults for that matter) want to be successful, but not all have the requisite skills to be successful.  If we truly believe KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN, then we need to create the conditions for success and look at misbehaviour for what it is – a student who is coping with a situation the only way they can.  Misbehaviour should begin a series of questions, not a series of consequences.  We need to dig deep and find out what it getting in this students way?  What skills are this student lacking.

A great analogy that Kim has used with us on more than one occasion is that of a struggling reader.  If a student is unablekids do well if they can to read grade level text, we support them.  We implement a series of strategies to support them in the classroom, pinpoint the areas of weakness and target them.  Often this type of intervention will “catch them up”. Why would we look at behaviour any different?

While I am no expert, I am trying to be true to the process and learning as I go.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it…it is hard.  It is hard to change the mindset we have all grown up in and that we are comfortable with.

This year we had a new student come to us and she came with some very challenging behaviours.  Her teacher has been very frustrated and at times I have been very frustrated with her non-compliance.    Initially, I used all the age-old interventions (Plan A) – ultimatums, taking things away…pretty much everything in my punitive tool box.

Guess what?

They didn’t work.

The behaviours were not extinguished.  I was in the midst of this training, yet I was unable to connect what I was learning to what I was doing.  Finally, the teacher (who is also involved in the training) and I looked at each other and said, “what are we doing?”  It was an “aha” moment for us and completely changed the lens we use to view this student.

We have gone from a reactive model, to one where we look at his behaviour for what it is.  Her maladaptive behaviour now is not a reaction, but a treasure hunt – we want to find out what is getting in her way and the skills she is lacking.

Have we got there yet?


Will we?

We’ll get further…that’s for sure.

One of the things about the Collaborative Model is that it takes time and you have to invest.  That said, when we invest in kids, we build trusting relationships that are fundamental not only in school success, but also modelling adaptive behaviour to the students that need it most.  When we believe KIDS DO WELL IF THEY CAN, the we also believe that ALL KIDS CAN.  Some just need more help.



  1. Well written Darcy! I enjoyed the read. You put the CPS model into words that everyone can understand.

    • Thanks Nicki, over the course of the last week I have been thinking and connecting the dots. Trying to articulate it into a post helps clarify it in my mind. I appreciate the feedback.

    • Agreed! Well said, Darcy. Eye opening and realistic.

  2. Hi Darcy, my first comment got eaten!
    I loved this post for the honest reflection on what I find sometimes the hardest part of change in education and that is our mindsets. I know what you are saying is accurate (kids do well if they can), but sometimes in the rush to get things done, meet deadlines etc. I forget and revert back to some very ingrained ways of doing things.
    Your post reminded me I have to keep checking back to my mindset to try and avoid slipping back.

    Great post!
    ps my first comment was much more insightful 🙂

    • Hi Carolyn, this one is pretty good :-). I don’t think you are alone, the hardest part of this collaborative model is going against a system that I have grown up and been trained in, but I guess you can relate to that! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

  3. I have struggled with the same issue here at Pen High, but the proof that KIDS WILL DO WELL IF THEY CAN seems confirmed when a tough kid, grade 11, breaks down crying about his academic abilities. These tears don’t flow in front of peers, but rather in the safety of my office, when the stark realization hits that he is behind his peer group and it makes him uncomfortable. Over and over I see negative behaviours linked to feelings of inadequacy.

    great post.

    • That’s a great example Myron. The sad part is that this kid has struggled for 11 years and we haven’t figured out what is getting in his way, or the interventions haven’t worked.

      • …so true.

  4. […] mentioned in my last post, we have a group on our staff who are learning about Ross Greene’s collaborative approach to […]

  5. […] have written before about our involvement in Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem Solving Model.  Recently […]

  6. […] we engage students in Collaborative Problem Solving we help them develop the self-awareness to understand degrees of emotions.  Once students begin […]

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