December 4, 2009

Advice from the future

Case sent in by Jo Hanssen from Curaรงao

One day, I walked past the room of one of my vice principals. There she sat, opposite to a student. In that small room the both of them had managed to create a maximal distance between them and you could see steam clouds escape. In other words, there was a crisis. She gestured me to come in. It turned out the student had been rude to the caretaker and she thought he should apologize. He, however, thought the caretaker had snubbed him so he was right. The more she tried to convince him, the more he opposed. His mother had already been called to come to school to talk about this.

The conversation had turned very grim and seemed like it could only escalate further. After the vice principal and he both had told their -reasonably similar- stories I asked the student which class he was in. It turned out he was in HAVO-5. Then I said that I expected someone at the level to be able to solve problems in a positive manner.   Next, I asked him where he would be in two years time. He said that he would then be studying in Rotterdam. I asked what he would be studying and how things would be going. He began to explain enthusiastically and his body posture changed from leaning back in chair to leaning forward. The vice principal's body posture started to change too. She leaned forward and started to listen with interest.

After the student had described many things about how his life and study in Rotterdam would be, I asked him whether he would then still be having this kind of problems. Then he started to laugh. No, he would then be able to handle this type of problems. Then I asked him whether he, as this future student, would have some suggestions for this younger version of him that was now sitting in the vice principal's office. We were very surprised when started to choose practically all the solutions that the vice principal had just mentioned in their conversation. His mother was called off, I could leave, and the two of them took care of the situation.


  1. Great story, impressive. I will use this on my fosterson during our next conflict (should this arise) and see how it works out

  2. Thanks for this beautiful written example of the power of future perfect, reminding me of this great spot to be (but unfortunately not ideal for working as a Organisational Developer from Switzerland).

    I read this while I am preparing as Santa Clause in hot Australia. Parents want me to say things like: don't talk back, don't argue etc... And I try to translate this to a positive stimulus.

    So that is why I see two positive things in the behaviour of this boy: First - not always being "easy-care" might be a strength, e.g.: not wanting to excuse if I do not really see the reason. And then I am impressed by the flexibility to change attitude after having seen the issue from an other perspective.

    And this was only possible because of the respect of the vice-principal and the writer towards the caretaker AND towards the student. GREAT!

  3. Simple and elegant. Yes. I work in an urban inner city school setting. Gangs, street survival, multi-generational poverty. Will post back and let you know how it goes!


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