For My “Joey’s”

I’m very excited to attend the HWDSB CPS Summer Institute on August 20th and 21st. After making the commitment to go, I decided that I was going to read Dr. Ross Greene‘s book, Lost At School, to really understand the thinking behind the C.P.S. (Collaborative Problem Solving) philosophy. I’m so glad that I did!

At the beginning of June, Greene’s belief that, “kids do well if they can,” made me rethink rewards in the classroom and my approach with more challenging students.

While I hadn’t read Lost At School at this point, I really thought that I understood Greene’s thinking. Maybe on a superficial level I did. Now I realize though that there’s so much more. Greene’s book made me think about how I’ve addressed challenging behaviour in the past. I thought that I did a good job.

  • I tried to remain calm.
  • I tried to offer choices.
  • I tried to be proactive.
  • I tried to involve all stakeholders if/when necessary (i.e., students, parents, support staff, administrators, educational assistants, etc.).
  • I documented what we tried, I reflected on how our solutions worked, and I tried to make changes as needed. 

When reading Greene’s book though, I realized something: I always used a Plan A approach to problem solving. I wasn’t as good as I thought.

  • I determined the options and/or solutions.
  • I presented the options and/or solutions to the students, and while I tried to include choice, the ultimate choice was always my choice
  • While I love to question why we do what we do in the classroom, I don’t think that I ever questioned enough why these problems happened in the first place and how we could work together to solve them.

Year after year, I’ve seen students of all ages get sent home and suspended. I know that the problems that are resulting in suspensions are major ones. I know the importance of keeping all students safe at school. I know that we have to consider positive learning environments for all students. But what happens when it’s the same students getting sent home again and again? We can question the home life. We can wonder about the need for a diagnosis. We can question if there’s a need for medication. Maybe though, there’s something more, or something different, that we can do. 

The truth is, it breaks my heart when a student is suspended. In Lost At School, there is a story woven through the book. I keep on replaying the initial problem with Joey and his teacher. When Joey reacted as he did at the beginning of the book, I cried. I’ve had that Joey (or at least a student similar to him). I reacted as his teacher did. I saw a small problem escalate to a bigger one. And I’ve gone home thinking, “how could I have changed (or prevented) this?” 

I think Plan B is the answer. I want to find out more about what my students are thinking, and I question if their involvement in a solution — one that works for both of us — would ultimately change the classroom and school dynamic for the better. As someone that’s teaching Senior Kindergarten this year, I wonder about what Plan B will look like in reality.

  • What images can we use to support the students that are lacking the language skills to share their problems?
  • If language needs are impacting on how much the children can express, then is Collaborative Problem Solving, really collaborative?
  • I see the value of using this approach with the full class, but I question long carpet times and too many full class discussions (with maybe only input from some students). How might this approach be used with small groups instead? 
  • How have people used Collaborative Problem Solving in young primary classes? Does it work for all students? Is there anything special/important that should be considered?

Reading Greene’s book, I can’t help but get swept up in the potential of this approach (Collaborative Problem Solving). I think that it would definitely help me become a better listener, and ultimately, allow me to make even stronger connections with kids and parents. Collaborative Problem Solving is definitely a big shift in how we handle problems, but it has the potential to make a big difference for children and their success at home and at school. Maybe we can reach that child that hasn’t been reached before. Maybe we can have even more “Joey” success stories. I think C.P.S. is worth trying for this alone. What do you think?



8 thoughts on “For My “Joey’s”

  1. Aviva,

    Several years back I was involved with the CPS yearlong training/oulot project in the TVDSB. It was a great process to delv weeper into the CPS process. At the time I was teaching 1/2 split class. I had several students that I used the CPS process with – parents were involved in the process too. It worked well and as the year progressed the kids got better at determining solutions and strategies that they thought might help. The one thing that I found was it took loads of time, but it was worth every second!

    As for your concern about larger group discussions at first it seems to take a while, but as the children see you model the process and articulate strategies and potential solutions it gets faster. You will find that the children have some awesome strategies to help resolve the problems. Workig through the process as a larger group also helps the younger students to learn language for problem solving on their own as well. It is good stuff, but does not work effectively if you have not build a solid foundation of trust with the students and their families. Taking the time up front to really get to know the kids and their needs is a must!

    The only short coming I found was when the process was not followed by teachers in subsequent grades. The children learn that their ideas are of value and thay they can problem solve and build skills and then are later treated as if they have no business being involved in the process. It was tough for many of my students and then my methods of managing behaviours was often questioned by colleagues who did not understand the process. I would say that if you hope to make a lasting change for the students ALL staff need to be on board.


    • Thank you so much, Sarah, for sharing your experiences with the CPS approach. It’s interesting that you mentioned the time involved. I know that often our neediest students take up the most amount of our time, and sometimes, depending on their needs, make it more challenging for other students to learn. I feel like this approach will meet their needs, and as it works more, slowly reduce the time that we spend on problem solving. As you said, it would be time well spent. I’m curious to know when you had your Plan B discussions. Did you do it outside of the regular class time, or did you pull students aside to talk while others worked? Did you ever find the time spent on these discussions impacting on time that you would have spent on other things? If so, how did you address this problem and/or did you see it as a problem?

      I can definitely see what you’re saying about the full class problem solving. I guess that my biggest concern is that my students will be 4 and 5 years old. Can they really sit through these types of discussions and approach them well? Will this longer sitting time impact on those students that already struggle with sitting and listening? Maybe this should be a goal of mine for later in the year. I still need to think this one through, and would certainly welcome any feedback!

      I also get what you’re saying about everybody being on board. I think that the long-term value of the approach rests on having more than just a few individual teachers using it. I know that our Board is really supporting it, but I can see it slowly making its way into schools. I wonder how we could get more teachers on board. I can see what some teachers might question the approach (I certainly learned a lot more about it by reading the book), and how do we address these questions well to move forward as a team?

      Maybe the workshop tomorrow and on Friday will help address some of these questions! I really hope so.

  2. Aviva,

    I haf 2 students who I worked with as my “targets”. One I often met with before or after school as she attended before and after school program. Her parents often joined the discussion and tried to work on similar goals at home. The other student I met with at recess breaks or during my prep time (he would miss a bit of music or gym). Given our pilot project required that we audio record and submit our conversations for fedback from Dr. Greene and his team, I needed quiet in order to accomplish that, so rarely did conversations happen in class with the other students.

    I agree that younger childen may find sitting to discuss issues and collaborate on solutions difficult. We didn’t embark on this until later in the year with my grd1/2s and in subsequent years of teaching grade 1s I found that some students were better able to participate than others. Those that struggled initially generally got better as we repeated the process. You may be surprised by your wee ones – so I say just give it a try! Worst case scenario you give it a try and it doesn’t go well. You can always reflect on the process and adapt as needed.

    Good luck with the sessions this week. I look forward to hearing about how your thinking shifts after the sessions.


    • Thanks for sharing more, Sarah! I’m curious to hear what Dr. Greene says about when people have these Plan B conversations. While I don’t mind having them outside of instructional time, I worry about a system that requires this. Will all teachers feel comfortable with having these discussions then? How do they balance other things that they might be doing during this time (e.g., class prep)? Also, how do the children feel about maybe missing other subjects? Maybe with two of us in the classroom, it will be easier to have these discussions during class time. I have to think more about the logistics of this (and the quiet space where they can happen).

      Thanks for sharing about the full class conversations. I think that full class lessons, activities, etc. are challenging for children of this young age. Often they’re not the best way to meet all student needs. As I read in the ETFO book this summer about the value in restricting carpet time for K students, I then question why I would bring everyone together for this discussion. How could we keep it short enough to be valuable for all? I still need to think about this, and yes, will likely try it, reflect, and try again. I bet my fabulous partner will have some ideas to share as well.

      Thanks for giving me so much to think about!

  3. The collaborative approach described by Ross Green is quite effective. It does take practice to work through, however, it provides young people the opportunity to take a meaningful role in the issues and the solutions. This process helps to defuse some of the emotion attached to behaviour incidents. For adults, the process reminds us that students/children need to take responsibility for their actions and consider solutions and we should listen to them.

    • Thanks for the comment, Byron! It’s great to hear from someone else that’s used this approach. I can definitely see it being time-consuming, but if it works, then it’s worth it. I love how it gives students more ownership over solutions. What advice might you offer to someone that is new to using this approach? I’d welcome any ideas!


  4. I’ve been using CPS for several years now, as a teacher, vp and principal. The difference it can make with actually SOLVING and not just managing challenging behaviour is remarkable. I would recommend working with one or two students individually when you are learning the model. With a large group the required (and often awkward!) wait time needed to allow children to consider their point of view on the concern would likely be rushed in a group that becomes restless, leading to a rushing of the empathy/digging for information step. There’s a Facebook group for educators called Lost and Found that has a community where people can share questions, successes and challenges.

    • Thanks for your comment, Carol, and for sharing the Facebook Group information. I wasn’t aware of this. It’s my first year trying out CPS, and yes, I like the individual student approach too. My Kindergarteners are definitely not ready yet for the full class approach. I’m interested in seeing the long-term impact on this kind of approach. I’m glad it’s a method our Board is adopting.


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