Problem Solving for Academic and Social Success




Problem Solving for Academic & Social Success

As an assessment program, Dearborn STEP is all about helping students develop creative problem solving skills. According to Director Laura Rice, students come to STEP – often in crisis – because they need intensive social-emotional support. Some of that support includes helping them learn to solve different problems that they face in new, creative ways. The students often were less successful in previous settings because they had not developed the ability to assess a difficult situation, look at alternative ways to resolve it and choose the one that best fits the issue.


STEP provides intensive supports and deep assessment for every student, according to Laura. Part of that work includes looking at the thought process behind a student’s actions. “Our premise is that you are working really hard and you just need help with the ‘process of progress.’”


Just as STEP staff work to understand the thought processes behind a student’s actions, they help the student step back, define goals for those actions, and create the best way to achieve the desired outcomes.

The process begins with understanding a student’s learning style. STEP staff then decide on an appropriate problem-solving model that is tailored to the needs of each student. “We use different models for different ages,” explains the program director, “and then tailor the model to each student’s needs and circumstances.”


As students continue through their 40-day stay with the program, they map out their progress with the staff, playing a central role throughout the process. At every step, they review whether they are still on track to meet their goals. Rice explains that many of the students expect “negative consequences” if they hit a bump in the road. Many have experienced educational failure before. Students quickly learn, however, that STEP staff will help them map out what steps they need to take or systems that need to be put into place to continue moving forward successfully.  


According to Laura, instead of starting with “there are consequences,” students feel that they are writing a story, their story. Instead of feeling like they don’t fit in, they realize that they are central to what happens to them. They realize that they have the power to problem solve. They are more open to gaining the skills and following the guidance to help them do it.


In addition to practicing these skills one-on-one with staff, students also practice problem solving in group sessions. Among a host of models, STEP uses the Social Thinking Model; younger students practice self-regulation, social thinking, and related social skills as they use the Superflex action hero curriculum. When students learn from the principles of dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, they better understand the thought processes behind their actions and learn how to manage them. This is an important part of problem solving – and a critical part of helping unlock academic and social-emotional success.