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Working on What Works (WOWW):

Coaching Teachers to Do More
of What's Working
Michael S. Kelly and Robin Bluestone-Miller

orking on What Works (WOWW) ships.Teachers enter schools excited to give their
was developed by solution-focused students a love of learning and with the belief
brief therapy (SFBT) pioneers Berg that students want to learn.Again and again, be-
and Shuts in 2002 (Berg & Shuts, 2005). After ginning teachers report a "love of children" and
being piloted in urban schools in Fort Lau- a passion for teaching as part of their reasons for
derdale, Florida, the program has been piloted choosing teaching (Roehrig, Presley, &Talotta,
in other cities, including five schools we have 2002) .Yet research also shows that 50 percent of
worked with in Chicago (Berg & Shuts, 2005; those same excited, idealistic teachers will leave
Kelly, Kim, & Franklin, 2008). In this practice the profession of teaching altogether within five
highlight, we share some of our own preliminary years (National Education Association, 2007).
fmdings on how WOWW is helping to improve WOWW philosophy includes a list of assump-
teachers' perceptions of their classes as being tions about teachers, children, and parents (Berg
more manageable and how it is helping them & Shuts, 2005).The assumption is that teachers
to become better teachers. want to have a positive influence on students
and to feel like good teachers.
A PARADIGM SHIFT We offer the WOWW program as one way
School social workers hear a lot of venting from to help multiple levels ofthe school contextual
educators about problem students. It is tempting system. It is unlike other classroom approaches
for the school social worker to agree to observe whereby the classroom environment is inter-
the student and to notice the behaviors men- rupted so that the social worker can explain an
tioned by the teacher, thus paying attention to intervention and then students can respond to
what the student is doing wrong. What usually it. In WOWW, the basic tenets of SFBT, such
follows is a meeting with the teacher to discuss as looking for exceptions to problems and past
how the social worker will work individually successes as part of constructing solutions, are
with the child to attempt to "fix" the behavior revealed in contrast to other more manualized,
problems. A persistent question has nagged problem-focused approaches. There is a belief
school social workers: Are we really helping to that change is also going to happen.The class is
remedy this situation by opting out of working invited to recognize its strengths and to devise
in the actual learning environment? Although solutions to class discipline problems together,
we want to understand the teachers'experience, validating the students who are already following
we also want to encourage them to think differ- the teacher's rules and working well with others
ently about their classes and to focus on what is rather than singling out a few defiant students.
going well or on what is working.
Teachers are integral parts ofthe school cul- COMPONENTS OF THE WOWW PROGRAM
ture that we seek to serve, and we often serve Educators appreciate that there is no new cur-
them in collaborative and consultative relation- riculum to learn and no specific students are

CCC Code: 1532-8759/09 $3.00 C2009 National Association of Social Workers 35

puUed out for the WOWW intervention; instead, ful learning environment. The three specific
the intervention focuses on doing all the work WOWW behaviors that were chosen by the
in the classroom, the most natural environment, class to focus on were as follows: (1) being quiet
with all of the students and the teacher present. when the teacher or another student is talking,
The WOWW program is grounded in the SFBT (2) saying excuse me and thank you, and (3)
approach, with its emphasis on solution-building offering to help someone else. Students were
conversations, scaling, and goal setting. Several asked to evaluate the entire class on a 10-point
recent reviews of SFBT research have shown that scale ranging from 1 = poor to 10 = excellent.
this approach produces solid treatment outcomes Most of the students rated the class a six be-
comparable to other therapy techniques (Kelly cause not everyone was looking at or listening
et al., 2008; Kim, 2008).There is also increasing to the teacher during the language arts lesson.
evidence that these therapeutic techniques can The teacher agreed that some of the students
be adapted successfully to a school context (Kelly had been answering her questions and writing
et al., 2008). Table 1 shows how the WOWW notes as she talked but that there were students
program sessions are structured, with attention who looked as if they could do a better job of
paid to specific SFBT techniques like interview- listening. Notice that no students are singled
ing for strengths and using scale questions to out and positive behaviors are highlighted in
help the classroom. the rating discussion.
The following example from our study is During the next step, the coach asked the
typical of a WOWW discussion, during session class how they could improve their behaviors
6 in a seventh-grade classroom: Students were to reach their goals. Using rating language, she
observed by the school social worker, acting said, "If we agree that we are at a six today,
in the role of coach, as being argumentative how can we move up to a seven or eight by
and overly talkative during their language arts next week?" Students answered, "Some kids
lesson. Obviously, this behavior was counter could put away their pencils and stop doodling
to the overall stated desire to have a respect- and others could stop their side conversations

Table 1: WOWW Program: Step-by-Step

Phase 1: Compliments phase 1. Introduce yourself to students, saying something like the following: "I'm going
Weeks 1 through 3: Sessions are about to be visiting your room to watch for all the things the class does that are good
40 minutes for observation and 15 and helpful. I will report back to you what 1 see."
minutes for feedback. 2. Note class strengths by giving group and individual compliments to students
Timing depends on each school's and teachers, too.
schedules. 3. Meet with teacher to discuss observations and for creating classroom goals.

Phase 2: Rating phase 1. Continue giving positive feedback.

(Building the rubric for self-assessment) 2. Define in behavioral terms, "Best Class in School. (Rubric)
Weeks 4 through 6: Observe for approxi- 3. Decide on rating method, 1 to 10, 1 to 5, smiling faces, et cetera.
mately 40 minutes. Allow 15 minutes 4. Discuss "best" classroom and ask, "What would a 10 look like?" "What would
for feedback and discussion. a 5 look like?"
5. Help students and teacher understand rating method and practice rating each
meeting. Draw consensus from teacher and class and record results every week.
6. Make prediction for next meeting. Discuss which behaviors on the scale need
to improve.

Phase 3: Goal setting 1. Decide with teacher and class which behaviors in the rubric need to improve.
Continuing same routine as above 2. Choose only one to two goals.
WOWW sessions. 3. Encourage teacher to rate class at least once a day and post a chart.
Weeks 7 through the end of intervention 4. WOWW coach continues positive feedback, notes strengths, amplifies change,
arid keeps it interesting.
5. New goals can be added when other goals are accomplished or something needs
to be changed. (SFBT basic tenet: Do something different if the therapy is not
Notes: WOWW = Working on What Works. SFBT = solution-focused behavior therapy. Adapted from Berg and Shuts (2005).

36 Children &Schools VOLUME 31, NUMBER I JANUARY 2009

unrelated to the lesson." So the WOWW coach A pre- and posttest design was used, accompa-
asked/'If we do some of these things next week, nied by a brief scale designed by the researchers
where do you think we can be on the 1-to-lO and completed by the participating teachers.
scale next time?" Items on the five-point scale assessed how
In addition to the importance placed on get- teachers perceived their own classroom manage-
ting students to mobilize around their inherent ment skills and how WOWW had affected their
strengths, ample attention is paid to what the students' behavior. Repeated measures t tests
teacher hopes to change about her classroom. In revealed that WOWW had statistically signifi-
the spirit of collaboration, there are whole-class cant outcomes, indicating its effectiveness as an
discussions as well as debriefings at another time intervention to improve classroom climate.The
between the WOWW coach and teacher. Unlike findings are summarized as follows:
other classroom management models that might
try gimmicks or external rewards, the WOWW WOWW resulted in an increase in teach-
coaching intervention is interested in teachers ers' perceptions of their classes as better
and students discovering what small gains they behaved [i(20) = 2.6,p< .01].
are making and then doing more of what is WOWW resulted in an increase in teach-
working to turn those successes into larger gains ers' positive perceptions of themselves as
for the whole classroom environment. effective classroom managers [t(20) = 1.9,
The teacher debriefmg times are crucial to p < .05].
maximize the effect of theWOWW program. In WOWW helped to increase the teachers'
these confidential sessions, the teacher is given views of students as better behaved and
the same opportunities as the students to reflect their sense that students would also report
on the classroom and to identify his or her own better behavior [i(20) = 3.22,;? < .05;i(20)
capacities and strengths. Here is an example of = 2.8,p< .05].
a WOWW coach debriefmg from the same
seventh-grade classroom discussed earlier: This pilot data (N =21) shows the promise
of WOWW as an effective classroom manage-
This teacher started giving more positive ment and staff development program (Kelly et
statements and compliments to her students al., 2008). However, the small sample size, lack
when they were paying attention to her or of a comparison group, and lack of informa-
when they said positive things to each other. tion on the benefits of the WOWW program
The coach noticed how much the students for other classroom performance variables (for
enjoyed working together in groups and example, test scores, discipline referrals, atten-
seemed to participate more when the lesson dance) precludes an interpretation at this point
was group directed instead of teacher directed. that WOWW can have a significant effect on the
The teacher appreciated this feedback and said many school performance variables that other
she would try more group lessons. In addition, classroom management techniques have claimed
e-mail notes proved to be a very good tool for to address (Marzano, 2003).
continued support and communication with Nevertheless,WOWW has an intuitive appeal
this teacher. to school social workers trying to find positive
and nonthreatening ways to help teachers and
PREMLIMINARY DATA FROM PILOT students function better together in a classroom
STUDY OF WOWW IN CHICAGO setting. It is a promising new idea that is try-
In 2006 and 2007, the Loyola Family and Schools ing to use the active ingredients of SFBT to
Partnership Program brought WOWW to five have meaningful effects on classroom behavior,
kindergarten through eighth-grade public el- teacher resilience, and student achievement. It
ementary schools in Chicago. The pilot study also fulfills many of Illinois' social-emotional
described here was conducted with 21 teachers learning standards within the classroom environ-
who agreed to participate voluntarily. ment, without the need for learning an entire

KELLY AND BLUESTONE-MILLER / Working on What Works (WOWW): Coaching Teachers to Do More of What's Working 37
new curriculum. It is far too early to say whether
WOWW is an intervention that can positively
affect such important variables in schools, though
it is our hope in 2008 to bring the WOWW
program to more classrooms in Chicago and the
surrounding suburbs.We hope to study the pro-
gram in those settings with a larger sample size
and classrooms acting as comparison groups. In
the meantime, we are training a number of social
workers and counselors so that they can work NASW PRESS POLICY ON
more consistently with the teachers beyond the ETHICAL BEHAVIOR
scope of this research program. S

T he NASW Press expects authors to ad-
here to ethical standards for scholarship
as articulated in the NASW Code of Ethics
Berg, 1. S., & Shuts, L. (2005). Classroom solutions:
WOWW approach. Milwaukee; Brief Family and Writing for the NASW Press: Information
Therapy Center. for Authors. These standards include actions
Kelly, M. S., Kim,J., & Franklin, C. (2008). Solution-
Jociised brief therapy in schools: A 360-degree view of
such as
practice and research. New York: Oxford University
Press. taking responsibility and credit only for
Kim,J. (2008). Meta-analysis of solution-focused brief
therapy. Research on Social Work Practice, 18, 107-116. work they have actually performed
Marzano, R.J. (2003). Wliat works in schools: Translating honestly acknowledging the work of
research into acii'oH. Alexandria,VA: Association for
Supervision and Curriculum Development. others
National Education Association. (2007). Attracting and submitting only original work to
keeping quality teachers. Retrieved August 4,2007,
html fiilly documenting their own and others'
Roehrig,A., Presley, M., &Talotta, D. (2002). Stories of be- related work.
ginning teachers: First-year challenges and beyond. South
Bend, IN: Notre Dame Press.
If possible breaches of ethical standards have
Michael S. Kelly, PhD, is assistant professor and coordinator been identified at the review or publication
of research and outreach. School of Social Work, Family and process, the NASW Press may notify the au-
Schools Partnership Program, Loyola University. Robin Blue.- thor and bring the ethics issue to the attention
stone-Miller, PhD, is faculty member. Family and Schools
of the appropriate professional body or other
Partnership Program, Loyola University.Address correspondence
authority. Peer review confidentiality will not
to Michael S. Kelly, 820 N. Michigan, Lewis Towers 1245,
Chicago, IL 60611; e-mail:
apply where there is evidence of plagiarism.

Accepted August 13, 2008

As reviewed and revised by
NASW National Committee on
Inquiry (NCOI), May 30,1997

Approved by NASW Board of

Directors, September 1997

38 Children drSchools VOLUME 31, NUMBER I JANUARY 2009