Collaborative Problem-Solving in Educational Settings
'Collaborative Problem-Solving in the Classroom' is intended as a process document, and manual primer, for educators reading and applying Dr. Ross W. Greene's Collaborative Problem Solving approach in educational settings.
Collaborative Problem-Solving is a cognitive and educational approach that views explosive behaviour as the result of lagging skills. Much like any other developmental delay, the deficits that lead to explosive behaviour are open to remediation. Greene's method of remediation is the use of the Collaborative Problem Solving approach.
In keeping with the spirit of collaboration this is a collaborative document that seeks to find working solutions for the successful application of Greene's methodology in schools, classrooms, and counseling offices. Although it will be necessary to outline the methods detailed in the original text (with citation) this document is intended to reflect the questions and opinions of educators working to comprehend, extend, or expand the use of Greene's methods in their own practice.
Collaborative Problem-Solving sets itself apart from more widespread behaviourist interventions for children, in that it is something that is done 'with' rather than 'to' the individual. However, like any other method, CPS is a program to be used judiciously, in some circumstances. A common pit fall in the application of any new method is overuse, or use to the exclusion of other methods. An overarching goal of this document is the integration of CPS with other methods and programs.
Guidelines for Editing or Contributing to this Document
1. These guidelines are open for editing and development. Please add new ideas that will help define the parameters for productive and collaborative contributions.
2. Use the 'Discussion' page (see tab at the top of this web page) as a forum for discussion specific chapters in "Treating Explosive Kids" and as a forum for resolving conflicting perspectives.
3. Use Dr. Greene's 'Plan B' methodology to resolve differences of opinion before making changes to other people’s contributions.
4. Clearly differentiate between sections that are to explain the model as it is presented Vs sections intended to expand the model or explore its use.
5. Select the "Watch" tab at the top of this web page to track the progress of this document and check it regularly for changes.
Extensions & Developments
A "Hierarchy" of Plans
|Plan B||Plan D|
Each of the plans is a distinct way of responding to unmet expectations. Greene has been clear in identifying that there is no hierarchy of the plans, although 'Proactive B' is promoted as the preferred option. However, a common concern for educators regarding the use of CPS is its occasional adherence to the child's agenda as a means for maintaining behavioural stability, through the use of 'Plan C'. In Greene's model, an adult agenda is viewed as a common source of triggers. In contrast, in schools the adult agenda is often viewed as the corner stone of group stability. The very notion of turning the authority structure of the teacher/student relationship on its head (or even balancing it out) creates some understandable anxiety for those vested with the responsibility of maintaining a safe and productive educational environment.
Placing the Plans in a hierarchy, where 'Plan A' is considered "superior" to the other Plans is an attempt to frame the use of 'Plan C' within a 'Plan A' context. This hierarchy is based on the assumption that healthy schools and classrooms, have leaders with legitimate and rational authority over their members, and that those powers do not exceed their responsibilities. Equally important is that a critical exercise of that authority, is the thoughtful investment of power back to students to engage in democratic process, collaboration, and bounded individual agenda. In this view, rational authority figures can and should make the decision to allow for a child's agenda as the most stabilizing option for the time being, in some circumstances. This hierarchy also implies that an individual child's agenda should not be allowed to control other individuals, groups, or authorities.
Individual freedom creates chaos only under conditions where an individual's exercise of rights, violates the rights of another. That being said, viewing 'Plan C' as "inferior" does not make its use in the classroom a bad idea. It simply means that it needs to be utilized by authority figures (in this case educators)in ways that maintain higher forms of social organization. Expanding the use of 'Plan C' in educational settings (or 'B' and 'D' for that matter), is not a threat to stability when it is done carefully, and pro actively. Allowing a child to avoid his work, for the time being, can be stabilizing. Allowing a child to destroy another child's work to avoid an escalation in conflict, is a violation. Again, stability is the goal but the stability of the individual cannot be allowed threaten the stability of those around him.
A Continuum of Plans
This placement of plans along a continuum represents a departure from Dr. Greene's text in an attempt to refine the plan A, B, and C options outlined in "Treating Explosive Kids". Similarly the addition of 'Plan D' is meant to augment the three basic plans with a democratic CPS process that can be applied in larger group settings such as schools.
Assumptions Guiding the Development of these Refinements
1. Any of the Ross Greene plans can be stabilizing or destabilizing for any individual or group.
2. No individual plan is superior in all scenarios.
3. Some plans create stability for some individuals, and some groups, in some circumstances. Some plans create instability for some individuals, and some groups, in some circumstances.
4. It is valuable assessment information to find out which plans are most stabilizing for which individuals, and which groups, in specific circumstances.
Plan A Continuum
1. A+A+A - 'Abusive A' is a destructive, reactive, violent, hurtful, or degrading use of power.
2. A+A - 'Authoritarian A' is a chronically repressive, domineering and punishment oriented approach.
3. A - 'Authoritative A' is a moderate, planned, boundary setting, developmentally appropriate approach, which demonstrates a legitimate and rational use of authority.
4. a - 'Amiable a' is a friendly and gentle leading of the child into cooperation with an adult agenda.
Plan B Continuum
1. B+A - The adult suggests an option, or set of options, and the child finds one or more of the options agreeable.
2. B - The child and adult create a new solution, and it is agreeable to both.
3. B+C - The child suggests a solution and the adult finds it agreeable.
Plan C Continuum
1. C+B - The child follows his own agenda, and it creates a benefit for others.
2. C - The child follows his own agenda and it does not create a problem for others.
3. C+C - The child follows his own agenda, and it violates the rights of others.
Plan D Continuum
1. D+A - There are a bounded set of choices generated by the adult and selected by a group by voting.
2. D+B - There is a brain storm of ideas presented by both adults and children and everyone votes on all the suggestions. Additional plan B is used to involve children who feel the least committed to the option selected, or to trouble shoot concerns held by any child or adult. If a group is split in its preferences, plan B can be used to mediate the difference between the two sub groups as if they were two individuals. Plan B can be used as a supplement to any of the plan D variations to ensure stability.
3. D+C - The children generate ideas or solutions and the children vote on the options.
Cross-Model Integrations & Comparisons
Integrating CPS with Nonviolent Crisis Intervention
To be developed... in what ways can CPS and CPI be used together, if at all?
Integrating CPS with Behavioural Interventions
To be developed... can CPS be used in conjunction with behavioural strategies?
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When using 'Plan C' in a classroom how do you deal with issues of fairness?
Q. How old does a child need to be before they can be involved in collaborative problem-solving?
Q. Some children seem to respond to the use of Plan C & B by loosing previously stable habits. What's happening?
Q. What about learned behaviour from the home environment?
A. While teachers may not be able to influence life at home they do have the opportunity to teach new skills. Collaborative problem-solving is an adaptive skill to teach. Remediation of any skill deficit is not necessarily changed by the source of the difficulty, and home environment is not always an explanation of such difficulties.
Q. Does the source of the child's difficulty require differences in how the model is used?
A. The question in all cases is "What skills does the individual need?". Once this is answered it is time to get to work.
Q. Where do memory deficits fit into the model?
A. Memory is an executive skill?
Q. Where do sensory sensitivities fit into the model?
A. Sensory sensitivity is a potential source of triggers if those sensitivities are connected to a pathway deficit.
Q. What do you do when it looks like a child is exploding or disrupting out of a need for fun, rather than in reactivity to an triggering expectation?
Q. What connections are there between the CPS assessment of pathways and triggers and a Functional Behavioural Assessment?
A. In CPS you do a cognitive rather than behavioural assessment. In CPS not all behaviour is assumed to be functional. In other words behaviour is functional in helping identify triggers and pathways but is not necessarily means to an end. Functional behavioural assessments often start with conclusions about why exploding children do what they do while CPS makes the inquiry.
1. Greene, Ross W. (2010). Lost at School: Why Our Kids With Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them (2nd Ed.). New York: Scribner.
2. Greene, Ross W. (2009). The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children (4th Ed.). New York: Harper Collins.