As a school social worker in the late 1990s, I took pride in recommending, assisting to implement, and implementing interventions that were evidence-based. Yet the identification of effective practices held little value unless I could influence others to use them. While much professional dialog focused on identifying and adopting effective practices, very little detailed other skills to insure school-based consultants’ effectiveness. I was certainly not trained to understand motivation to change the behavior of others.
My first faculty appointment within a school of social work thrust me into teaching direct practice. Our curriculum was organized around various clinical approaches to therapy, including cognitive, narrative, solution focused, and gestalt. Teaching direct practice over the next several years, I became familiar with the similarities and differences among these approaches and reflected on my role as a school-based consultant. I never considered myself a therapist. However, I used many of the skills associated with clinical counseling in my school-based work. I continued to work in the schools as a mental health consultant in a Head Start program and began using clinical counseling skills more intentionally.
In 2005, I began working with Hill Walker and his colleagues at the University of Oregon and the Oregon Research Institute. We discussed ways to strengthen an already effective early intervention (First Step to Success) for young children with challenging behavior, particularly from hard to engage families. We proposed to infuse motivational interviewing into the home component, which was a psycho-educational approach promoting effective (behavioral) parenting strategies. After three years the Department of Education (Institute of Education Sciences) funded this project. We were unaware of the nuances of motivational interviewing when it was funded. However, we consulted with Tom Dishion and Beth Stormshak, who had been applying the practice with parents of children with challenging behavior, and began employing the practice within the existing home component of the First Step intervention. The skills resonated with me and our interventionists, yet the application was challenging. There were few existing models to guide us, and it was impossible for us to simply learn how they were applied in the context of substance abuse counseling and use them in the context of school-based interventions. It took time, and lengthy processing (verbal and written), but we began to use the skills and suspected they were both effective and worth sharing with others. It was enlightening to give so much thought to an aspect of our work that was obviously critical to successful outcomes, but discussed infrequently in our training and in the professional literature. With such positive results, we decided to employ the same interaction style with teachers. We committed to creating a motivational interviewing application with teachers and a quick literature review (by my colleague Jon Lee) revealed Wendy Reinke had already done so with the Classroom Check-up. She and Keith Herman agreed to consult as the project progressed. Our team learned much from their experiences, and the collaboration eventually let to the writing of our new book, Motivational Interviewing in Schools: Strategies for Engaging Parents, Teachers and Students.
My experiences learning to apply motivational interviewing with parents and teachers have been a wonderful journey. I am now far more intentional when attempting to influence adult behavior change. Motivating others to change is an art and a science, but it can and should be intentional. There is far more to learn about school-based applications of motivational interviewing. However, this book is a superb start, and it has been an honor to be a part of it.