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Weekly articles for school counselors with ideas on how to resolve typical school situations with students, teachers and parents using the solution focused approach.

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Solution Focused Documenting: Writing Down What Works

April 10, 20233 min read

When I was a school counselor, I kept two sets of files. One was for academics and the other for counseling.

Early on, I learned from my graduate program that when documenting what goes on in a student’s, parent's, or teacher’s conversation, I should just put down the basics, and never share an opinion.

Having gone to court many times over the years, I can attest to the helpfulness of a) brevity, b) no opinion, and c) documenting with a solution focus.

Using the solution focused mindset, documentation became much simpler. I would:

  • Document what the school client’s best hopes were.

  • Document some the steps the school client came up with to create their preferred future.

  • Document exceptions…lots and lots of exceptions! 

Here’s an example of what my notes looked like with a solution focused mindset:

Calvin L., grade 5, was encouraged to talk to me by his teacher on April 10. It was his first visit of the school year. He said he was being bullied by another boy at recess when he started playing soccer. While the other boy had “been in trouble,” he still bothered Calvin.

Calvin's best hopes were that he could begin having fun again at recess like he had all year, up until now.

His preferred future was that he would go onto the playground and play with other friends who were in a different part of the playground.

Exceptions were that he had played with the other friends most of the year until he started playing soccer.

Finally, he said he would tell one of his friends why he was moving to that place and ask the friend to go with him.

I asked if he and I could share his plan with his teacher, and he agreed. I walked him to class and let his teacher know that he had a plan to enjoy recess again, and asked her to observe him for a few days.

Notice in this documentation, there is not a focus on how or why the bullying started. Instead, the focus is on what Calvin wanted, when it had occurred before and what he might try out now. Notice too, the involvement of the system, the teacher.

I want to share, too, that documenting in this way often made going to court less stressful during my career in schools. When attorneys looked at my notes, there was less to interrogate me on, especially when I explained the way I worked.

As the school year winds down, think of the good work you have done this year. Don’t forget to document what has gone well for your students and share that information with the future teacher next year.

In one district that I trained years ago, they liked documenting like this so much that at the beginning of the new school year, once students were assigned to teachers, the counselors passed on an “orange folder” that had solution-focused documentation of what worked academically or behaviorally. That way, the new teacher got a heads up on how to approach future 'Calvins' when they walked into their class.

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Dr Linda Metcalf

Linda Metcalf is the best-selling author of Counseling Toward Solutions and 10 other books. Linda is a former middle school teacher, all-level certified school counselor, licensed professional counselor supervisor, and licensed marriage and family therapist in the State of Texas. She is a Professor at Texas Wesleyan University.

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