What Your Ministry Can Learn from Teachers

Uncategorized Apr 24, 2019

Picture yourself with a roomful of 30 clients. Some of them are misbehaving in ways that derail your best efforts to help them.

Many teachers feel just like that. Every day.

Child psychologist Dr. Ross Greene, in his article on compassion fatigue, describes the troubled students whom many teachers serve:

“These students sometimes come from very unfortunate circumstances (trauma, neglect, family dysfunction, etc.) and exhibit a wide variety of maladaptive behaviors: hyperactivity, poor impulse control, inattention, inflexibility, poor tolerance for frustration, poor problem solving, social skills deficits, irritability, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse…the types of things one would see in a mental health clinic.

“Of course, there’s the rub, since schools weren’t designed to be mental health clinics and teachers aren’t typically trained as mental health professionals."

Can you relate?

Like you, teachers want to provide a service (education) but also want to see lives transformed (into healthy, contributing citizens). Unfortunately, the traditional classroom management models are failing them.

Greene says this failure springs from this old school of thought: poor behavior is rooted in attention-seeking, manipulation, and limit-testing. But actually, he says, research now shows kids’ behavior is challenging “because they’re lacking the skills not to be challenging.”

In short, kids act up when they face expectations that exceed their skills for meeting them.

To offer teachers a more effective approach to changing problem behaviors for good, Dr. Greene has created a model he calls Collaborative and Proactive Problem Solutions, or CPS.

What can we in ministry learn from his approach? Here are the three steps of Greene’s model adapted for use with our clients:

  1. Empathy step – Gather information from the client so as to achieve the clearest understanding of his or her concern or perspective on a given “unsolved problem” (the behavior expected of them). Ask the client “What makes it hard for you to [do the desired behavior]?” Then listen carefully to the answers. The client needs to know his/her concerns are heard.
  2. Define Ministry Concerns step – Help the client consider the ministry’s concern or perspective on the same unsolved problem. Explain, “We ask for [the desired behavior] because we believe it will [accomplish this purpose].” This lets the ministry’s concerns be heard.
  3. Invitation step – Invite the client to brainstorm mutually satisfying solutions. Ask the client, “What ideas do you have? How could we solve this problem?” Add the ministry’s ideas. Work together toward solutions that would address both the client’s and the ministry’s concerns.

This model helps build trusting relationships—just what we know we need to really make a difference in clients’ lives. But that takes time.

It’s tempting react in the heat of the moment, to hand down unilateral solutions to the problem behaviors we see. This seems easier and faster. But how does it leave our clients feeling?

Left out of the picture. Helpless once again.

Collaborative problem-solving helps our clients start developing the skill set they need in order to grow out of challenging behaviors. For many people, this may be the first time anyone gave them room—and time—to learn problem-solving skills.

The Proactive Piece

Greene also stresses planning ahead to deal with problem behaviors:

“CPS can also help adults understand that challenging behavior is highly predictable and occurs under certain conditions, thereby facilitating proactive, planful intervention (rather than the reactive, emergent interventions that typify many school discipline programs).”

Trauma-informed ministries learn this same lesson. We train our teams to understand common triggers of undesirable behaviors. Then we work to minimize those situations--before problems arise.

Think about the challenging behaviors you sometimes see in your clients. Do you usually respond in the heat of the moment, reacting to the visible behavior only? Or do you have strategies in place to prevent most troubling situations? Is your team trained to calmly address the root of problem behaviors that do arise? [link to either Online Training or On-Site Training page as most appropriate]

Take this lesson from teachers: Collaborate and be proactive in problem-solving.

And if your ministry deals directly with children, you may want to learn more about the specific applications of Greene’s principles. Check out his website here

For more ideas on dealing with your clients’ difficult behaviors, keep watching this blog. There’s much more I plan to share in the days ahead.


Let me know what you think! I love to read (and respond to) your emails.

[email protected]

Suzanne is Founder and Director of a maternity home in Tennessee. She also offers coaching and training to churches and ministries, encouraging others to understand poverty, trauma, and addiction so that you can "Do Good - Well". Check out her most recent ebook, The Accidental Social Worker, as your free gift. 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash


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