Friday, November 23, 2012

Lost at School

At the beginning of October I attended Ross Greene's conference in Rochester. If you get the chance, I would recommend seeing him speak. Listening to him speak positively about our most struggling and challenging students was wonderful. I read his earlier book, Explosive Child, and wrote about it at: Explosive Child is geared toward interventionists and families. His 2008 book, Lost at School, is focused on applying his Collaborative Problem Solving Approach (CPS) to schools.

What I found most useful from the text was the inclusion of his Assessment of Lagging Skills and Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) document, which may be accessed at as well as the appendix of the book.  The ALSUP is not designed to be a checklist, but a discussion guide. A group of concerned people get together, identify skills the child lacks or struggles with and unsolved problems- the antecedents of behaviors that are a concern. Then they prioritize them. Pick your battles. Then they begin the CPS processes of sitting with the child, getting a handle on his/her concerns, issues, and feelings; sharing your identified concern and collectively identifying a solution that addresses all parties concerns.

For my son, some skills that he appears to be delayed in include:
  • difficulty reflecting on multiple thoughts or ideas simultaneously
  • difficulty considering a range of solutions to a problem
  • difficulty considering the consequences or likely outcomes of ones actions.
In a classroom this may look like him looking at an assignment, deciding it is incapable of being completed, standing up and shouting that the teacher is a moron, he will not do the assignment, no one can make him and shredding the page. We have improved and this charming approach to problem solving is seen less often.. Years ago there were no solutions other than the one that got him into trouble. Now he can, most often after the fact or before the moment when the problem arises, identify other solutions and outcomes. The challenge remains in the heat of the moment, when dealing with his difficulty handling frustration, to be able to calm himself and select an appropriate solution to a problem. It is the skills to successfully navigate through the moment-to-moment existence that are lacking, not disrespect for the teacher, a lack of knowing the rules, or not having a desire to be successful. We need to constantly teach and reinforce skill development so that he can cope with the demands of the world around him. For him it is hard. I know that this is hard for all of our challenging children. That is why we call them challenging. They challenge themselves at least as much as they challenge us.

 If we continue to do business as usual with our challenging students, the results will continue to be the same- drop outs, prisons, and welfare. Schools are not just institutions of academic learning. We are supposed to address the whole child- social, academic and physical needs.We need to try a different a different approach. Dr. Greene's CPS model provides guidance to an approach that has been successful across the nation in situations with children with the most severe problems- juvenile detention centers, self contained schools and psychiatric centers. It shows promise for our children. We must continue to believe that children do well if they can. If they cannot, it is up to us to help them not punish them.