The InterAction Collection

"What can we learn from SF children?"

Jan 29, 2021

Anna-Julia Szabo

Introduced by John Brooker

I’m happy, and I hope you will be too

“What can we learn from solution-focused children?” A great deal it seems, and much of it provides lessons for those who work with adults in organisations. 

From the outset, Anna-Julia sets the scene with her warm and informal introduction; “I’m happy, and I hope you will be too”. Watch this video, and you will.

Anna - Julia teaches young children in a school in Switzerland, and I suspect many participants wished they had such a teacher in their childhood. However, ‘facilitator, might be a more apt word.  She engages the audience immediately, demonstrating well that slides are not necessary to make your point. 

With handwritten signs and clear questions, she quickly turns the virtual and physically isolated audience into one with many connections and a resourceful outlook, happily sharing stories and experiences.


Having engaged her audience, Anna-Julia relates her own stories:

  • On responsibility: She describes handing much responsibility for their education over to the children, following their COVID break. For her, this took ‘trust’ and an ability to ‘let go’. The children had to negotiate with their fellow pupils to ‘sell’ their sessions, then research, design and present their sessions – excellent skills for taking responsibility. 
  • On focus: Anna-Julia highlights the value of our solution “focus” mindset to restrain our negative assumptions, communicate more effectively and so be more open to what the children learn and how they do it.
  • On meaningful purpose: The teachers co-created a ‘purpose’ with parents. Each party expressed and shared their wishes for the competencies children should have at the end of their time in the school. Examples included that the children learn to be responsible people, ones who accept change as a challenge. This shared ‘purpose’ led teachers and parents to identify how they should work together to make this happen.  

These stories led to small team discussions on how the stories told inspired the participants, some output of which you can view in the video. 

Preparation and spontaneity

Anna - Julia points out that there are things you can prepare to do to make SF work in your organisation and others that you do spontaneously. It requires a balance. 

For preparation (‘institutionalising’), she suggests:

Having people visit the classroom regularly to do WOWW - Working on What Works (1) - to observe and report back to the children what is working. Anna-Julia extends this by: 

  • Having the children do WOWW activities in their class as they become used to the approach and the language  
  • Inviting children from higher grade classes to come back and carry out WOWW observations

A ‘strength book’ for children to capture and review positive events and actions 

Spontaneous responses may happen at any time as Anna-Julia relates amusingly.

The Roman Emperors

Finally, Anna Julia relates further stories about the magic and surprise that can arise when we accept that children can be responsible for their education. The tale of the Roman Emperors is an exemplar of ‘letting go’ and a masterclass for those who wish to be excellent facilitators. It triggered thoughts of self-organising and self-learning teams and how Solution Focus practitioners might encourage this in classes and workshops.

How might you adapt?

As John Teager (Co-Leader of the SFiO chapter in Australia) said at the end, this was a free-ranging and thought-provoking session.  Throughout, Anna-Julia role models what she describes. She can evoke an adult response in children and encourage adults to have a childlike (not childish) curiosity. 

As you listen to this class, you might like to note how you might adapt the ideas to your organisation, or those organisations with whom you work. It will be time well rewarded. It seems there is indeed much you can learn from solution-focused children!

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(1) Developed by Berg and Shilts 2005. You can find a video of Insoo Kim Berg explaining this in 2006 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dolxfE68vVs

Anna-Julia Szabo
Anna-Julia Szabo
InterAction Contributor
SFiO Contributor

Anna-Julia Szabo lives in Basel, Switzerland. She was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where solution focused conversations were normal. She now works as a teacher in primary school, applying SF in school with the children, parents and colleagues.

John Brooker
John Brooker
SFiO Reviewed Practitioner
Editor of Interaction
Chapter Head
SFiO Contributor

John has over thirty years experience of leading people to collaborate effectively. He gained his leadership experience as a Senior Vice President in Visa International, working on international projects. Since 2004 he has used his leadership and Solution Focus expertise to enable people in multinational and national organisations to collaborate effectively. He is Co-President of Solution Focus in Organisations, an SFiO Reviewed Practitioner and has an MBA from The Open University in the UK.