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Monday Ideas for School Counselors

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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Got Complaining, Students, Teachers, and Parents?

March 27, 20233 min read

The solution focused mindset holds the power to guide us into a preferred future whenever we are stuck wondering which way to go with a student, teacher and parent. But sometimes, when “complaining” people come to see us, it’s not so easy.

Insoo Kim Berg, one of the creators of the solution focused approach, used to describe her clients as one of the following:

  • The visitor - someone who was sent by someone else

  • The complainant - someone who only wants to complain

  • The customer - someone ready to make changes

So, the complainant, or, as I would rather story them, people who haven’t thought about what they want instead, are very stuck. They seem to think that telling me everything that’s wrong will help me muster up a really good answer!

And, of course, that’s not going to happen. 

So, here’s a relatively simple idea for how to proceed and slow down the complaining. Below, are my thoughts as I encountered such a complainant that I hope might be helpful to you this week:

I was a high school counselor at the time and a parent came in very upset.

Parent: “I am so tired of this school giving students free rides. My son is a senior and today he told me that in the spring, the last semester, he gets out at 12:30 PM for something called “senior release.” Unacceptable. He is going to college and needs to study.”

LM: “Okay. So, tell me, what would you like to see happen instead?”

Parent: “He needs to be in school.”

LM: “Well, thanks for telling me this. Unfortunately, he has taken every class he can take, so he does get senior release. But, I am interested in what difference it would make for him to be here without having a class to take.”

Parent: “Our family is a working family. No off time. You keep going, learning, succeeding.”

LM: “Got it. Yes, I see that he is our salutatorian, too, quite an accomplishment! Wow. I am so impressed with him! So, if he is to stay here in school, even without a class, what might you see him doing instead of having off time?”

Parent: “Maybe he can help out a teacher in the afternoons. You know, like his Physics teacher. He loves Physics.”

LM: “You know, that’s an idea. Let’s walk down to the Physics teacher’s room and talk with the teacher.”

As it turned out, the Physics teacher happened to really like Ms. Chung’s son and was quick to say yes to the idea of having a student assistant. Ms. Chung was delighted. Her son? Well, not as excited as his mother, but he did like helping the Physics teacher. 

Motto: When we find our way in, to cooperate with what people are so passionate about, solutions come easier. We can and still must follow policy, but we enlist the “complainants” in the solution building. If having a student assistant had not worked out, I would have kept talking to her about what difference his helping the teacher might make, and so on. Who knows what she might have come up with.

So, this week, keep this question, cleverly called, The Great Instead Question” by my friends at BRIEF Therapy Practice in London, in mind when complainants show up at your door. Then, hang in there with “What difference would that make?” and watch, as your complainant becomes a customer.

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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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