Adults talking at Ross Green conference

Photo caption: High Desert Education Service District was excited to host Ross Greene on May 17 in Bend. Greene, a clinical child psychologist who developed the Collaborative & Proactive Solutions model, offered a training for parents, educators, and medical professionals.

Collaborating Your Way to Better Problem Solving

When it comes to addressing challenging behaviors with kids, a lot of adults still believe in the phrase, “what I say goes.”

But that approach often doesn’t work for students with challenging behaviors. “Do what I say” compliance doesn’t teach skills, change behavior, or build and restore relationships.  It also doesn’t teach children anything about dealing with conflict, problem solving, communicating their needs or understanding they need to consider the needs of others.

That’s why over 10 years ago, High Desert Education Service District turned to Collaborative Problem Solving in Central Oregon schools. The approach encompasses the idea that “kids do well if they can.”

Sara Ausman, special programs administrator with High Desert Education Service District, has been trained in Collaborative Problem Solving and uses the approach everyday – in an out of the classroom. She explained Collaborative Problem Solving is an approach that works well in many different life situations. And it starts with changing how you look at a problem.

“It’s not necessarily that kids are intentionally being defiant, it’s that they’re lacking  skill,” Ausman said. “So we ask, ‘what is it that they’re lacking and how are we going to teach it to them?’”

While Collaborative Problem Solving was started at Massachusetts General Hospital, it gained popularity in Oregon as Oregon Health & Science University embraced the approach, including by offering trainings. At one Collaborative Problem Solving training in Oregon, Ausman heard a metaphor that has stuck with her: just because a person is offered a million dollars doesn’t mean they can make a half-court shot.

“If you don’t have the skill, the reward system isn’t going to work,” Ausman said. “It’s looking at behavior in a skill-building way.”

How to Use Collaborative Problem Solving in School Settings

If a child has a difficulty that is predictable and reoccurring, this might be a great place to start with collaborative problem solving. First, educators have to identify the social emotional skills children need to learn. Then, when problems arise, educators use the approach to try to problem solve collaboratively, and – at the same time – work on the skills where a student is lagging.

When a problem arises, the adult asks the child for ways to solve the problem, and then reminds them whatever solution they come up with needs to work for the adult, too.

All of us have neuro pathways in the brain that we automatically turn down when it comes to our emotions and behavior, Ausman explained.

“If we’re going to start carving these new paths of ways of thinking or ways of behaving then we have to give kids opportunities to practice,” Ausman said. “We have to teach them, and then give them chances to practice.”

That’s why in Collaborative Problem Solving, immediate resolutions aren’t always the goal. In discussing the problem, the adult helps the child build the social emotional skills they need, one conversation at a time.

“If you think of that forest path, we’re just clearing maybe a foot of it the first time,” Ausman said.

Lauri Powers, an autism specialist with HDESD, and her colleague Wendy Beall, an autism and traumatic brain injury consultant, are passionate about Collaborative Problem Solving and have been incorporating it into their everyday work for nearly 10 years. It’s often the lens they use to approach most challenges with all kids.

Powers and Beall offer many trainings on learning the basics of collaborative conversations. They also encourage educators to seek out official Collaborative Problem Solving Tier 1 And Tier 2 trainings if they have the opportunity. Powers and Beall would love to see more people using this approach throughout the region and beyond.