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Collaborative Problem Solving in Schools, Foxborough MA

In this interview elementary school principal Michael Stanton of the Vincent M. Igo Elementary School in Foxborough, MA shares the broad impact Collaborative Problem Solving (CPS) had on staff, students, and parents.

Using the CPS Approach in the Vincent M. Igo Elementary School

Why did you want to bring Collaborative Problem Solving to your school?

We've had to grow our skills, our toolbox as educators, what we can do to support children. Also, I think, similar to schools, not only in Foxborough but across the state and the country, there's a lot of social-emotional needs as well. We're seeing children come to us with a variety of needs; sometimes they're being met, other times they haven't been, and we struggled with that. And in search of that, we came across Think:Kids and the Collaborative Problem Solving approach, which really has helped our school.

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How was your experience with Collaborative Problem Solving?

The experience has been wonderful. It's been transformative for our school. The Collaborative Problem Solving approach, really at the core of it, was a philosophical shift for many of us as educators. It required us to look at students and their behaviors differently. The philosophy is "Kids Do Well if They Can." And understanding that, and as educators so many times, we strive to solve problems. It's well-intentioned, but what we found is that we were trying to solve a problem, and we were aiming over here, but the child and the core of it was here.

Also, it really starts with the adults. It starts with building our skills and being able to understand what is that approach to really listen to a child, to ask the right questions, to be curious, to take a piece of information, but not look to act on it, instinctively we do that sometimes too much. It's well-intentioned, but to really take our time and be curious about that and to drill down to see where it might take us somewhere the child needs us to be.

How is Collaborative Problem Solving different from other approaches you've tried?

It's different because it works and it's lasting. In the past, if you looked at a challenging behavior, you try to impose your will, and you know if I was a principal and I'd give my "principal look" or my "principal voice," it could have an immediate effect, but, it wasn't lasting. And what this has done, this approach from Think:Kids and Collaborative Problem Solving, we're looking at the skill deficits and building those. And our own efficacy as educators is strengthened. We can make a difference. We've had that power, and we've seen the results, which as a team coming together professionally has helped, and I think the students can see that we care. They knew it before, but I think once again it looks a little different because we're having the conversations. We have more one-on-one time with students who might be experiencing some challenging behaviors.

What impact has Collaborative Problem Solving had on your staff, students, and school?

I can give an example. We had a student about three years ago, when we were just starting the program, and he was in second grade; tremendously challenging behaviors, extremely disruptive. In the past, I probably would have been looking at in-district resources such as a therapeutic program or what else could have been done. I would have looked outside of the school. But because of Think:Kids, we were able to meet that child's needs like we've never done before. The child blossomed and what we realized is he had been in 14 different homes, even before 2nd grade. There was a reason for the behaviors and looking at the demands that we were placing on him, plus those lagging skills. It helped us to create a support network, and it's really started with just that empathy and understanding that once again, the behaviors weren't directed to us personally; they were happening for a reason, and I'm proud to say that it changed his life. The parents have been so appreciative of the support, I think the staff as well, and once again, even on an administrative level, it's allowed us to keep children in-district and have that part of it. So, we're saving some money that potentially could have been out. It really impacts everybody. So, it sounds powerful, but it has been it really has been an approach that's changed our school. It's changed our practices which has translated to making our children happy and safe, and they're learning.

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