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A Solution-Focused Mindset in A City

A solution-focused approach for schools in a city

In the innovation, all elementary schools in the city are trained to use the solution-focused approach. The training makes it possible to use the approach in all communication and work between students and guardians, staff, management and various partners.

HundrED 2018


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2018

Finland 100






Target group
March 2017
Although the required investment for training and creating a new solution-focused working culture is quite substantial, the great thing is, that there are no additional costs. Just by changing our ways of thinking and socially interacting the quality and results of working practices will improve.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

People constantly face different kinds of challenges and problems in their lives. These may be small issues that we have learned to deal with using certain mechanisms, but sometimes the problems are bigger and require more effort from us to solve them. Challenges and problems can be related to everyday life or work, but they often appear when we are learning or faced with something new.

Both students and school staff face numerous small and more challenging problems in learning, social interactions, or teamwork, for example. Problem solving skills can be learned separately, but the thinking mechanisms used to solve individual problems, ways of acting and adopting attitudes can also be connected to all school related issues and the whole school culture. This way, problems become objectives and the conversation around them becomes solution-focused.

The solution-focused approach is a way of thinking and acting, that focuses on the future and goals. It differs from problem-oriented thinking, which concentrates on the problem or why it emerged.

The approach is also strongly linked to interactive dialogue. It focuses on listening and understanding the parties involved on an equal footing while proceeding constructively in a respectful atmosphere.

The solution-focused approach involves respectful social interaction, finding out the cause of the problem from the concerned party themselves instead of making assumptions, focusing on desired future outcomes and agreeing on practices and follow-up. In addition, the model focuses on everyone’s strengths and maintaining positive speech at the school. The central view of the approach is that the words we use matter and constantly shape reality.

The City of Lappeenranta started training its teaching staff as solution-focused neuropsychiatric trainers in 2008. Originally, the training process was initiated to provide teachers with the ability to work with students showing neuropsychiatric problems using solution-focused approaches. It was soon discovered that the approach is an excellent foundation for all school related areas.

In the Lappeenranta model, the education provider has provided solution-focused training for staff and supervisors. The municipality’s curriculum stipulates that all personnel should implement the solution-focused approach in their work.

The solution-focused approach has completely transformed the foundation for social interaction between people working in Lappeenranta schools. The approach proved fruitful immediately in social and multiprofessional interaction – teachers and students; teachers and guardians; teachers and teachers; teachers and their supervisors; as well as teachers and other staff started to communicate more effectively. In addition, school and work satisfaction has increased among staff and students alike.

The following steps provide guidelines for training teaching staff on a municipal level. The content and implementation of the approach is also explained step-by-step for teachers.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Training all staff in the city’s schools in the solution-focused approach.


The impacts of adopting the approach are immediate. Extending the training to every school in the city will achieve a substantial and visible change in the working culture.


A solution-focused working culture can be easily adapted to different schools and municipalities.


Implementation steps

Municipal level: Introduction of the solution-focused approach
Assemble a group of educational professionals from your area.

The team may consist of a few principals and a few teachers, for example. The idea is to get to know the approach resource-efficiently from both an individual teacher’s and school management’s point of view.

It is important that the members of the group are thoroughly acquainted with:

  • what the solution-focused approach means.

  • what it means in practice.

  • what kind of help the solution-focused approach can bring to the everyday life of the school, teachers and students.

If the group is already familiar with the approach, instead of orientation, organize training directly for a small number of regional teaching staff.

The orientation or training can be held locally or outside of the municipality by a person trained in the approach. You can also organize a visit to a school or educational institution already using the the solution-focused approach.

Case Lappeenranta:

4-5 teachers were first trained at the University of Helsinki's Centre for Continuing Education HY+ as solution-focused neuropsychiatric trainers. Originally the training was intended to provide tools and know-how for working with students with special needs. Soon, teachers trained in the approach found the means to be effective with all children. The positive and immediate feedback inspired the head of the municipality’s Education Department to arrange training for as many teachers as possible.

Municipal level: Testing the solution-focused approach in practice
When a group has been introduced or trained in the approach, it is good to share your new know-how with others and take it into practice in schools.Introduction:

If the training has not yet been implemented, the group can reflect on any insight and benefits gained during the introduction stage. Based on this, you can determine the interest of the rest of the staff in the training. After this, the group and the education provider must decide whether to implement the training on a municipal level.


If the group took part in the training, it is good to put learning into practice by taking what they have learned into their own schools. It is good to set a timeframe and within it, gather observations and experiences from the solution-focused approach. Trained teachers and principals can also act as consultants in their own schools, in addition to their own work. After testing and gathering feedback, the need for further training is determined.

Case Lappeenranta:

In Lappeenranta the teachers have tested the approach already during training. Because the results have been positive, the teachers have established the approach as an integral part of their work. First, one teacher at a time at and later on a wider scale, when more teachers have been trained.

Municipal level: Resource inventory and acquisition
Find out what resources are available to you and organize the training. You can apply for funding for the training from various government sponsored project funds.Case Lappeenranta:

The City of Lappeenranta has used state subsidies granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture and the National Board of Education for the development of special education and educational equality in order to provide different levels of solution-focused training.

Municipal level: Organizing training for the whole municipality
When the decision has been made to go ahead with the training, make a plan and timetable.

With this plan, it is important that the principals and teachers are trained systematically. This means that more teachers are trained every year.

You can arrange training, for example, in the following ways:

A) One school at a time:

The staff of each school in the area is trained in the solution-focused approach in two-year cycles, so that half of the school staff will be trained during the first year and the other half in the second. This is repeated school by school.

B) A few teachers from each school simultaneously:

Training is allocated for each school in the region, for example, so that three teachers per school attend in the first year. The following year the next three or more teachers attend, according to resources. This is repeated until all teachers chosen to complete the training have done so. Teachers can be selected for the training, for example, on the basis of their own motivation or the need for training in relation to the teacher's job profile, prioritizing teachers with special-needs students.

It is worth noting that during the training and after the implementation of the solution-focused approach, it is good to gather feedback from principals, teachers, students and parents. Positive feedback motivates teachers and decision-makers to continue systematic teacher training in the region. It also illustrates the impact of the approach in the school community for guardians, as well. In addition, the feedback also serves as a criterion for acquiring further resources.

Case Lappeenranta:

Each year around 50 teachers are trained in the City of Lappeenranta, using the quota-based training (option b). At the end of the training, all teachers gave feedback on the training. In addition, the head of the municipality’s Education Department met with the group on the last day of the training and discussed the usefulness of the training with the teachers.

Municipal level: Bringing the solution-focused approach into the curriculum
For the training to be ongoing and and for the approach to become an established practice in schools, it needs to be part of the local curriculum and the municipality’s strategy.Case Lappeenranta:

The decision to make the solution-focused approach a part of the municipality’s curriculum was made about 5-6 years after starting systematic training. A working committee prepared the proposal and heard staff on the matter. After this, the committee submitted its proposal to the board, which decided to incorporate the solution-focused approach into the municipal strategy and curriculum.

Schools: Applying for training
If you are interested in being trained in the solution-focused approach, let your school management know.

There are many organizers that provide training that you can choose from. However, it is important that the main content of the course deals with the solution-focused approach.

Concise training: Duration two days

Extensive training: From 5 days to 12 months

During extensive training the person is able to take charge of their development, and, as a result, create lasting changes in their working practices.

Recommended trainings include:

Solution-focused neuropsychiatric coach training -- various organizers (including summer university courses)
Solution-focused coach training

Schools: Changing your thinking towards a solution-focused mindset
You can adopt a solution-focused mindset in your work even before training or if you do not have the possibility to train.

You can begin developing a solution-focused mindset by adopting one new habit first and many more later.

  • Notice the good. What we focus on, often seems to grow and increase.

  • Pay attention to the way you talk and the words you use. The words we use shape our reality.

  • Transform a problem into a goal in your mind. Problem talk becomes solution talk. The problem will still exist, but your thinking, speech and actions will be guided towards the goal instead of the problem.

  • Think about what kind of story you want to uphold of a certain student. You, as an adult, are in charge of this story.

  • Be prepared to create and promote as many positive emotional experiences as you can, not just for yourself, but also others.

  • Promote genuine, heartfelt appreciation in all situations. Appreciation also often creates appreciation.

  • Foster sympathy rather than judgement.

  • Don’t spare your questions. Assumptions and interpretations can often go wrong.

  • In difficult situations, try to remember, that everyone is doing their best and what is possible at the given time. This thought usually helps everyone involved.

  • If a situation needs to change, first make a small change in your way of doing things and see what happens.

Schools: Putting the solution-focused approach into practice
You can start using the solution focused approach in all areas of your work, with colleagues, students as well as guardians

By repeating and practising social interaction with the following advice, your habits become solution-focused.

  • Focus on listening and leave your own thoughts in the background.

  • Show you are listening with non-verbal communication, as well. Pay attention to your body language: where you are looking at, your facial expressions and posture.

  • Remember genuine dialogue, concentrate on what the other person is saying and leave your personal matters for another time. The idea is to ask in detail and ask for specifications

  • Be genuinely interested in what the other person has to say and show positive curiosity.

  • In difficult situations, avoid giving advice. Rather ask what the other person could do for themselves and what they would hope for others to do.

The solution-focused approach and putting it into use requires practice and reflecting on situations and one’s own actions. Be easy on yourself if you find that you were not able to act accordingly when communicating. Reflecting on past situations can make you realize something new for the next time. It is also often possible to raise the same matter again and to solve the problem of the previous situation in a solution-focused manner.

The solution-focused approach is always goal and future oriented, based on strengths and communication. Being genuinely solution-focused means acting in a way that makes your own life, your student’s and their guardians’ lives easier - whatever the methods may be.

Schools: Solution-focused working practices with your student
If you like, you can begin trying out solution-focused work methods with your students in the skills they still need practice in.

In the classroom, the approach is used for setting a goal together with the student to achieve a sufficient skill level. When the student is involved in setting their own goals, they also commit to achieving them better. The main point is that the teacher/coach/adult does not define the skill level alone, but the student is always involved in defining it according to their own resources.

The student's abilities, skills and other resources must be proportionate to the objective, which must be concrete, achievable and well-defined:

  • What do you want to achieve?

→Instead of what you want to get rid of

  • Which direction do you want to go in?

→Instead of what you want to move away from

  • What do you want to begin?

→Instead of what you want to end

  • What replaces the problem?

→Realistic goals

In the approach it is important to pay attention to the standards the student is already exceeding in and highlight them. This is how positive emotional experiences are made, leading to motivation towards achieving the next skill level.

Schools: A solution-focused approach as a school-wide practice
Your own behavioral example is the best influence.

Your example also illustrates to your colleagues what the solution-focused approach is about, and what impact it has in social situations - those who use the approach in their work often get an interested response: "What exactly did you do and how did you do that?"

For example, by implementing simultaneous or co-teaching with one of the teachers having been trained in in the solution-focused approach, your colleagues are able to see and observe what the approach means in practice.

You can also encourage your colleagues to participate in the solution-focused training and transform their practices for example, by following the guidelines described in the above steps.

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