I Said. They Replied. Now What?

Since Valerie Bennett introduced me to Dr. Ross Greene’s ideas in June, I’ve been inspired to make changes to my practices. I’ve been even further inspired after reading Greene’s bookLost At School, and listening to him speak last week. I see such tremendous value in really listening to students, and working collaboratively with them to solve problems. I’ve connected so much with Greene’s ideas that I guess I expected others to make the same shift in thinking when they heard them, but I realized that things don’t always go as we expect. Interactions recently with some friends really have me thinking, and I share this dialogue below because I’d curious to hear your views.


Aviva: Tells the others about Dr. Greene’s approach by sharing one of the examples in the book.

Person A: I sometimes try to find out what the student’s thinking.

Aviva: That’s great!

Person A: Then I tell them what they need to do. Or, I guess, sometimes I give them a choice of what to do.

Aviva: Do you ever work with the student to develop a solution? One that both of you agree on?

Person B: Now the student gets to decide what we do?

Aviva: It’s not about the student deciding. What about coming to a solution together? One that could work for everybody?

Person B: What about the real world? It’s like inquiry. Now the students make all of the choices?

Aviva: What do you mean by “the real world?”

Person B: I hear from my friend that students aren’t as responsible anymore. They don’t take their responsibilities seriously. They cancel appointments. They don’t show up on time. They do what works for them.

Aviva: Wouldn’t Greene’s approach, just like inquiry, teach more responsibility? Wouldn’t it help students take a little more ownership over problem solving and their own learning?

Person B: I’m not sure. What about when they grow up and get a job? Don’t they need to learn to listen to others?

Aviva: What about learning to be critical thinkers? What about learning to collaborate (work together)? Even with Greene’s approach, students need to listen to the adults, but also work with them. Aren’t these skills we need?


Our conversation continued from here, as we spoke more about Greene’s approach and about inquiry. It was a very good discussion that showed the two different sides of a couple of timely issues in education. This discussion left me with the following thoughts:

  • We all want what’s best for kids. We have varying views on what this “best” may be. Could these “best approaches” vary depending on our students and their needs? Do they need a combination of our different approaches? How do we decide?
  • As educators, we’re used to hearing, “You’re already doing something similar.” This is then followed by the small changes that we need to make. Greene’s approach isn’t about small changes. It’s a whole different way of how we solve problems. I think in many ways, inquiry is also about big changes in practice. When change is hard, how do we become comfortable with some big, uncomfortable changes? How do we know that they’re the best ones to make?
  • It’s hard not to look ahead to the future. We may be teaching the students now — in my case when they’re very young — but we still hear about what they need when they’re older. Will these needs change? What’s the “real world” that we need to be concerned about, and are we preparing students for it? 
  • I totally agree that “listening skills” are important. In fact, my new “one word” goal for this school year is listeningIf we want students to listen to us though, do we also need to listen more to them? 

What do you think? I would love to hear your responses to this shared dialogue as I continue to think about problem solving, teaching, and learning!


14 thoughts on “I Said. They Replied. Now What?

  1. Aviva,

    There are so many parts of Dr. Greene’s approach that really work to teach students problem solving and collaboration skills. I have used the strategies for several years and they do work; sometimes better than others and with some students more than others. The trick is when you use them – it is not in the heat of the moment when the students are upset or hightened. That is when they need us to be in charge and in control of the situation. Their brains are not capable of reasoning at that point in time (this is a neuroscientific fact) and younger students especially need to have an adult that is in control and can help to manage the situation. After they are calm and have had some space away from the situation is a better time to work on a Plan B discussion; or better yet complete the process in advance of a situation that you know might be hard for the child. For example sharing toys at free choice time – talking through ways to share and play, and the having the adult co-play/support/model the process would be a better approach.

    It is totally about listening to and working with the child to have them develop skills for independence! We do need their input as their buy in is necessary for their development. They will not learn without putting in the effort and I have found students put in more effort when they have invested in the process by being a part of the decision making.

    There are a few other resources that I have found helpful in understanding the neurodevelopmental process for children and how it impacts learning, behaviour and school participation. You may find them interesting too. The Whole-Brain Child by: Dr. Daniel J. Siegel and Hold on to Your Kids by: Dr. Gordon Neufeld. He also has a website full of great resources http://neufeldinstitute.com. His lecture series on attachement and classroom behaviour are worth watching!

    Ultimately you have to decide what works best for you and the students in your classroom. Getting to know them and their needs comes first. Once you have a good understanding you can determine the best “method” for approaching their needs. I don’t believe it has to be an all or none process.

    There is my two cents.

    • Sarah, thanks for sharing your experiences, resources, and thoughts. I will definitely be checking out these books and the website link. I’m so glad that you mentioned “timing” when it comes to Greene’s approach. This part, especially the importance of being proactive, is key, and something I did not include in my post.

      While I can see how this may not be an all or none process, it’s clear that you’ve explored many options and looked at how the theories match up to the needs of the students in front of you. What about those that are reluctant to explore other approaches (for various reasons)? (I may not always share their thinking, but I can appreciate their questions/concerns.) How might you respond?

      Thanks for giving me more to think about!

  2. After my fitst year in a long time teaching intermediate again I can give you several examples of the power of conversation in terms of problem solving… I feel that this IS something teachers are already doing…the best question that was answered for me last year was “how can I help you learn?” I say keep at it, they will respond! Great post Aviva 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Olivia! It’s interesting to hear that this collaborative approach is something that you’re already doing. For many, myself included, I think that it’s new. While I may have listened to the problems before, solutions were also my own, or a student selection of one of my own choices. I wonder if our comfort level with change and the extremeness of the change (i.e., was this something we were already doing or close to what we were already doing?), impact on our feelings about this approach. How might others, myself included, respond to concerns/uncertainty about this approach?


  3. To start, I have to admit that I have very limited knowledge of this resource. I read very briefly at a LRT inservice months ago. I can only base my response on what I am reading on this page really.

    I think as teachers, we try to arrive a solution that we see as obvious. And to save time, we want students to arrive at the same solution as quickly as possible due to the demands of our daily work lives. That is understandable. However, the solutions we see as “obvious” are not so obvious or “real world.” And even if students carry out our desired solution, they don’t really understand why they arrived at that decision.

    When they don’t understand we bang into the following problems:
    – Students don’t understand their actions
    – Students do not feel the need to re-establish a rapport with their classmate or the teacher
    – Students become angry because no one understood them
    – They will “play along” for some misguided closure
    – They are likely to re-offend

    I agree with Sarah’s comments. We need to develop a proactive approach. We need to start by getting to know these students. We need to gain their trust before we approach a conflict or needy situation. To gain trust, listening is crucial. When we approach these situations, we tend to get the first and last word. We need to back off and let them talk more. It is a mind shift. It is more time consuming. I also think it is okay to say “This is really important to me, let’s pick a time to discuss your feelings.” At the same time, we need more help in these areas. However, listening is definitely a great first step.

    As I wrote this reply, I thought of the following:
    – What is (ideal) closure?
    – To be proactive, what do we do as a whole class?

    Lots to think about . . .

    • Thanks for the comment, Enzo! I think that you make a great point here about students better understanding the problem. The other component of the CPS approach, is that educators better understand the problem from the student’s perspective. Sometimes we think we know the issue, but there’s actually more to it than that. Sometimes the solution needs to be different than we think then, for it to work. The other hard part about this approach is that we go into Plan B discussions, not having a solution. This is a lot of unknowns for teachers. We really need to be willing to work with the kid(s) to solve the problem(s), and that can be a real shift in thinking.

      This problem solving is also supposed to happen, most often, proactively. This means that we’ve really observed our students, know the unknown problem(s), and can work with them to solve them. By being proactive, time is still an issue, but we can set the time to meet with the student, so at least hopefully we can choose a better time. Plus, if we really figure out the unsolved problem and decide on a solution that we can both do, then the problem should be fixed in the end (ultimately giving us more time). I would highly recommend reading, LOST AT SCHOOL (I can lend you a copy if you want), as I think Greene explains this way better than me.

      This proactive component isn’t necessarily connected to the whole class, but it does mean we need to observe students carefully to figure out the unsolved problems. Observation aligns well with assessment, so maybe attempting CPS will also help us become better listeners and observers. Does this help? I’m still learning.


      • Definitely worth a read, and I think the resource will find its way into our schools. I think understanding the background of kids is very important. Maybe there is too much emphasis on a solution? I often think the solution may not come at first. Especially if we did not get the opportunity to fully understand their background or way of thinking (i.e. September)

        I was thinking about that scene in Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams and Matt Damon spend the whole session staring at each other. Robin Williams wanted Matt Damon’s character to speak first.

        I agree completely that we need to work with students to arrive at solutions. I can also think about students with mental health issues. When it is more difficult to understand their rationality or help them understand their triggers.

        Finally, I think some of these skills can transfer to whole class. Don’t ask me how right now. We have to remember that students usually require problem solving with each other when we’re not around. Maybe the first step is developing empathy and understanding among the class. I do understand that I am raising something that may be beyond the scope of the book. But my mind wonders like yours . . . 🙂

        • Enzo, you make wonderful points here … both of which are in the book. There are full class CPS options. I see maybe using this approach with a couple of students that also have problems with each other. I would need to help facilitate the conversation in the beginning, but hopefully, students could become more independent as time goes on. I even have a visual to use for the Kindergarteners. I see a whole class option as being more challenging for my young students — at least as the year begins — as this could be a lot of sitting for them, but I may try it, later on in the year.

          Greene also mentions that we don’t have to arrive at solutions right away. With a proactive approach, we can come back, and continue working together to come to this solution. Timing is a little less critical than it is when we’re solving problems in the heat of the moment (which I think is closer to how we’ve done things before).

          The book is definitely worth a read. Let me know if you want to borrow my copy, and I’m happy to pass it along. Curious to hear your thoughts once you read it.


  4. Aviva,

    Your question about people who are “reluctant to explore other approaches” – I am assuming you mean other staff and not students. In my experience there were more people who didn’t want to do it than there were that participated. It didn’t change the fact that it worked for my students and that is really what mattered.

    The staff often were not willing to follow thw CPS process or take a different approach than their “usual” methods. I did notice some change in thinking in the staff who taught the grades after I had the students. Many did not see the value in putting in the time up front to build the relationships (ie trust) with the students and their families. When the wheels fell off in October and the honeymoon was over, some came around and adjusted their approaches. Others chose not to and the students suffered greatly.

    This past year I had a colleague tell my admin that I was “magical in some way” and that “there is no way I can do it like Sarah”. We all talked about this afterwards and I made it clear that it has nothing to do with “magic” – it is time and focus on student needs.

    In the end we can’t force people to change or be open to bew things, but we can lead by example and hope that they will see the benefits of the process.


    • Thanks for sharing more here, Sarah. Yes, I guess that I was speaking about other educators, although I must say that I haven’t spoken to others at my school about this yet, so I can’t comment. My thoughts were more educators in general. I think you make a great point here about time, and you’ve certainly spoken to the benefits of the time invested. I wonder how your positive experiences might inspire others … even if it’s slowly over time. You’re certainly inspiring me to keep at this approach and give it a good try this year, and for that, I’m very grateful!


  5. When I first started using CPS, I wanted to do it all the time, for everything. Now I know that most times, most kids can take that teacher-directed feedback about their behaviour and make a change. It might take some reminders, but there it is. Those kids with many lagging skills or fewer personal resources – the ones who can’t yet internalize adult direction – are the ones I need to spend the time on, who need more input into the solution.

    • Thanks for the input, Kelley! I can see that, but even if they can take this feedback, is it the best option for them? What’s the value in giving them input into the solution? Maybe my desire to do this won’t align with the feasibility of doing so, but I would like to see what happens.


  6. A few years ago I read Greene’s book as my principal offered it to me. I believe in Greene’s ideas and philosophy and am trying to implement them in my room.

    What I am running into however is that my grade five students are so used to having solutions imposed on them that they really struggle to come up with their own ideas. It takes a lot of guidance and persistence on my part to encourage my students to reflect on their behaviour and think about making meaningful changes for themselves.
    While this whole conversation strand has focused on teachers using Green’s ideas, the students perspective has been missing. It was a new experience for my students to be engaged in a CPS process with regards to their behaviour. The learning curve is for both teachers and students but well worth it!

    • Carla, I’m so glad that you mentioned this. I’m not surprised to hear this at all. I would say that the same was true when I first tried the inquiry approach with my Grade 5’s. They weren’t accustomed to have more control over their learning, and it took a long time for them to adjust. I wonder if in this case, the key comes in the students realizing that we really want to hear their thinking and ideas. Then maybe over time, they’ll have more to share. This certainly seems like a case where “persistence” matters. Thoughts?

      Thanks for extending this conversation!

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