29 June, 2010

Changing to a Solution Focus approach

There is  a central issue that has challenged me for years:
  • Why is it so difficult to get a field like education to adopt a well
    demonstrated strategy?
The issue is made all the more puzzling by the fact that there are numerous examples of where a strategy (in this case SF) has been used successfully in the field, yet it remains very difficult to achieve wider and systemic adoption. Here is my latest thinking:

Most schooling is currently dominated by the idea of a simple production system
  •  input -> process -> output 
  • curriculum -> teaching & learning -> knowledge and know-how 
Indeed in most places in the world, schools are the last of the great factories. They certainly are here in Tasmania.

On the other hand, SF is based on the idea of a complex adaptive system: one in which 
  • the interactions of those involved result in the emergence (or lack of emergence) of such things as knowledge, relationships, attitudes....
I now believe that the current domination of "production thinking" in education, particularly amongst administrators, makes it  very difficult for education to adopt a  Solution Focus  approach  on a large scale.  

The production model assumes:
  • predictability of outputs and outcomes 
  • transferability of processes ('best practices'), and thus 
  • "justifies" decision making that is remote in place and time.
One the other hand, Solution Focus 
  • is a local and real time strategy 
  • with unpredictable outputs and outcomes, 
  • resulting in  specific situated responses that are 
  • not readily transferable, and so 
  • highly problematic for administrators and governments responsible for
    policy, planning and resource distribution.
Of course, some aspects of schools and schooling can be modelled as production systems. However, most aspects of teaching, learning and improvement are best understood as complex  (emergent, unpredictable...).

In such situations it is best to understand that the challenges involved 
  • are complex, and so are
  • about nurturing the emergence of those things that are desirable in the specific situation
  • likely to be amenable to complexity-based strategies such as Solution Focus
Almost universally, the world wants teachers to change their practices to improve student learning. But teachers are caught in the middle:
  • Good teachers understand the complex nature of teaching and learning and usually respond well to SF.
  • At the same time, teachers are constrained by the erroneous 'production system' thinking of the schools amd schools system in which they work.  
That is, the well intentioned policies and accountability requirements  based on "production" thinking make it very difficult for teachers and schools and school systems to adopt well demonstrated but less predictable strategies.

IMHO, this is why there are examples of individual schools having great success with SF but no school system has yet adopted it as its improvement strategy.

See also an overview of Solution Focus and Nurturing Emergence