Yasmin has been a teacher for 4 years and recently accepted a promotion into middle-leadership in her large primary school.
Yasmin came into her first session with a ring binder, which she held during the initial discussion with Phil, her therapist. Once they had completed the contracting discussion and Phil had re-acquainted Yasmin with the purpose of her Bring a Child to Therapy sessions, Yasmin opened her folder and told him:
"I've been doing quite a lot of thinking, actually, about what I want to bring to these sessions."
"That sounds like a good place to start. What's at the forefront of your mind?"
"Well since I knew I was coming I've started to keep a reflective journal - just like I did when I was training, but I guess things like that are hard to keep going with."
"And what have you learnt from that?"
"Well I don't know if 'learnt' is the right word. It's left me more confused than anything. I thought writing this I'd get clearer not more muddled!" Yasmin laughed, a little awkward.
"Well that's often the case in my experience: things get murkier before they get clearer again. But we have a lot of time together so hopefully we'll find a way through the murk in time. For the moment, maybe it would be best to start with what's stayed with you from your journalling?"
"Well, ok, but I'm not sure how relevant it is to Bring a Child to Therapy. Am I allowed to bring stuff like that? It's more about me than it is about a child?"
"That's alright. We can start with you and then move on to your relationships with children in your class as we go along. I'll make sure that we stick to our brief, though, so don't worry about that."
"Well, if you're sure. Um, I think the thing that's really stayed with me is how selfish it felt to be writing about myself at all, actually. I'd start writing about what had happened in the classroom and then before I new it I'd have gone on to write about colleagues - not in a bad way, but, well you know, staffroom stuff, or about irrelevant stuff from a previous school I've left behind. And then I'd be really down on myself for not being able to stick to the children. I got so frustrated I ended up screwing up half of what I'd written!"
"Ok. Well the first thing I need to say is that it doesn't sound like this will be irrelevant to Bring a Child to Therapy. Although we do aim to help you engage with children on a deeper level, it's often the case that you can only do this once you've engaged with yourself. And the second thing I'd like to say is that it sounds like you're carrying around a lot from your previous roles that sounds like it's not been processed yet. The way you described it sounded to me like everything was spilling out and you weren't able to hold it back, but then felt guilty about it spilling out."
"Yes! That's exactly it - I felt guilty for not being able to stay on task. It made me think I wasn't up to the task of being a teacher."
"And do you feel that now?"
Yasmin looked thoughtful. "No. Rationally I know I'm a good teacher and others tell me so, but I should be able to keep my focus on the kids and not myself! And then you saying that it's spilling out, well, does it mean I'm doing a bad job though? I shouldn't be feeling this kind of stuff at all - it shouldn't be about me, it should be about the children."
"No. Look, I'm not in a position to judge how good a job you're doing, but my impression is that you've thought deeply about this already, which shows that you're being reflective. And I've also heard how annoyed you were at yourself for not being able to stay focused on your children, which shows me that you care about them."
Yasmin looked nonplussed.
"But we're here to do the best with whatever you're bringing," Phil continued, "and that means accepting where you are as a starting point and not getting hung up on 'mights' and 'maybes' and 'shoulds'. So if it's ok with you I'd like to explore a bit more what you meant when you mentioned the stuff from the previous school."
Yasmin went on, somewhat reluctantly at first, to describe a difficult NQT year. This had partly been down to the pressures of taking on a class full-time, but this had been exacerbated by a difficult relationship with her Year Group Leader, Linda. Yasmin told Phil how at first they were very close and Linda provided some important support for her. As the year went on, though, there were a number of 'crunch points' when Yasmin felt let down and undermined by her line-manager. One particular instance stayed with Yasmin:
"We were in a meeting about levels. Not a big whole staff meeting, just the Year 3 teachers and the senior team, but it was pretty intense. It was just before Easter and we were looking at the data for the year so far and I thought we'd done a pretty good job. As far as I knew they were making progress and Linda kept on telling me it was so much better than the previous year when she'd had some real dud teachers in her team. But then, the assistant head - she was quite new in post and I don't know if she really knew what, well it's not my place to say - but anyway she really tore into us. She made us sound like monsters! Like we didn't care at all that we were failing our children and I was just, well I didn't know we were! And I felt pretty awful about that. I guess I didn't say what they wanted to hear, but I didn't know what to say, and, well the thing that stays with me - the reason I bought this up and it's been playing on my mind I guess is the way that Linda was. It was like she just switched. Like she'd been my friend up until then - I mean, I know it's not about 'friends', it's a professional relationship, but still, I thought she'd look out for me, but she started to lay into me too - she made it all my fault, and kept on going on about the maths being so much worse and that's the bit that I planned. I just felt so, so, argh! And then it ended just like that, 'cause it was Year 4's turn after that and she went back to being normal."
Yasmin continued recounting this experience, after which Phil asked:
"I'd just like to take you back to a moment you described there, when you were in the room with the senior team and with Linda, and the assistant head is saying that you're failing the children, and then Linda spoke up and responded in a very different way to what you expected. I'd like you to try to remember exactly how you felt at that moment. Remember exactly where you were sitting and who you were facing and what was going on in your body and your mind. Visualise the colour of the chair you were sat on and any other details that stick in your memory. Just take a few seconds to really tune in to that experience." Phil paused. "And if it feels ok, tell me what you recall feeling and thinking."
Yasmin sat for a few moments, breathing deeply. Then said, quietly "It feels like the ground's been pulled out from under me. Like I'm falling. I've got that feeling in the pit of my stomach that's like what you feel on a rollercoaster when you're in free-fall. And I can feel it now I remember feeling hot and flushed all up my shoulders and my neck and just wanting to hide. I think I turned to Linda but she didn't make eye contact. Nobody did - they were all looking at their papers. It was horrible. Really horrible."
"And if it's ok just stay with that memory for a moment. I wonder what emotions are bubbling away for you?"
"I feel hurt. And, no it's not hurt, I feel angry. Angry with the assistant head but more angry with Linda. How could she let me down like that? Who would do that to someone who trusted them?"
"Ok, now I'm going to ask you to just come back to the present moment, and tune in to where you are now and what's going on for you."
"I - I don't think I've said before how angry I was. I had to suck it up in that meeting and then we went back to class and Linda never bought it up again, but I never really trusted her again. I was too scared to say anything about it because I thought 'you're just an NQT, maybe this is what you've got to expect, just keep quiet and get through'. And afterwards Linda was just so normal, but I couldn't be - I guess I cut off from her. Gosh, it's funny how much, how strong that emotion still is. I wouldn't have expected that - I was thinking we would be talking about these guys!" Yasmin smiled as she gestured towards her file.
"And I'm sure we will, but I don't think we'll have time today. We've only got about 10 minutes left. Before we finish, though, I wonder how you feel about reconnecting with this experience?"
"I'm - I'm not sure. I think I need to go over it some more, but in my own time, if that's alright? It's really difficult to do it here?"
"Of course. All I'd advise is that you trust that whatever needs to come out - whether through your journalling or through talking to whoever, or just through thinking about it - and don't be down on yourself if it's not what you were expecting, or what you 'should' be reflecting on. Does that make sense?"
"Yes, it does. I will. "
"I've been thinking a lot about what we talked about last week," Yasmin said as she sat down across from Phil. "And I think I've worked out why the stuff with Linda - my old line manager - has come up for me now."
"Oh?" Phil replied, interested, but not surprised that Yasmin had been working on this in between sessions.
"Well it's something that Carol - my old TA, from last year - said to me in passing before our session last week. It hadn't even occurred to me, but she was talking about how supportive I'd been to her last year when she had some issues with the headteacher. I won't go into it now, but basically she said that I'd been the one keeping her safe, and that she knew I'd do the same for the whole team now I'm Phase Leader. It was lovely, but it also felt like I was really put on the spot."
"Ah, so do you think you were comparing - "
"Myself with Linda - exactly! I got so caught up in that stuff last week because it reminded me of who I was then and how I needed someone to look out for me. I was so reliant on Linda and - whether or not this is true - I felt so let down by her. I'd never want anyone to be let down by me."
"I see. The memory of feeling let down by Linda left you focusing on the people you feel you mustn't let down."
"That's pretty much it. But it's more about me not letting them down. And even as you were saying that just now, it's really struck me how big a deal that is, and how I'm not sure I'm prepared. I mean, I think I'm the right person for the job, but I don't really have any training or experience, so what happens if I end up like Linda?"
"How likely do you feel that is?"
"Rationally speaking, not much. But I'm not sure, really. I mean, how can I be sure when I've not done it yet?"
"Well, one of the things we might look at is what strategies you can put in place to check in with yourself and your team. You may even have these strategies yourself already - things you do to, well, almost to hold yourself to account - to make sure you're living up to your expectations."
"That'd be really useful." Yasmin responded with a big smile.
They proceeded to spend the next 20 minutes exploring Yasmin's expectations of herself. Phil led Yasmin to rank her expectations from extremely important to not important at all, before reflecting on which expectations were reasonable, and working out how to check that she was meeting them. At the end of this exploration Phil asked:
"Does it feel like you're in a better place now with that?"
"Yes, it does. I like having it all written down on this piece of paper so that I can remind myself of what I want to be if I ever feel myself drifting."
"Almost like an anchor."
"Yes. So long as I can look back at this I don't feel like I'm going to end up like Linda."
"That sounds really positive. If it's ok with you I'll ask you occasionally about how that's going, to see if we need to open it up again or change any elements, but maybe it's a good point now to move on to some of the children you're teaching, and how that's going? I can see you've bought your file again!"
"Yeah, I'm a bit anal when it comes to organisation. Yeah, that does sound good. I'll feel less guilty about spending this time on myself and my stuff, even though you did say it's alright to. So how do we start?"
"Well, a good way to start is if you just tell me the first name that comes into your head when I ask you about your class."
"Oh, that's easy: Clarissa!"
"Ok, and before you tell me any of the details about Clarissa, how about you tell me what image springs to mind as you say Clarissa."
"Well, right then it wasn't just an image - it was a whole scene! It was me teaching and I notice Clarissa's talking to whoever I've sat her next to and I've stopped, and all the children know why I've stopped - even the kid she's speaking to knows, but she's just carrying on like nothing's happened."
"That's a great place to start - you've zeroed in on what sounds like a really frustrating moment. If you can, could you describe that scene again but in even more detail - try to paint as vivid a picture as you can of what you're experiencing in that moment."
Yasmin took a deep breath, and began to describe a typical literacy lesson, with everyone getting along well and the majority of the teaching done. "I've done the shared writing and the modelling, and I'm just going through the final instructions - you know, where I want them to write it, going over the success criteria again, and then I notice her openly talking to someone next to her, brazen as anything! It's not even like she's doing it that quietly - everyone can hear her. And I'm just, like, what is she even doing?!" Yasmin's tone was becoming increasingly annoyed as she spoke. Phil interrupted:
"And what's going on for you, in that moment?"
"I'm, well if I'm completely honest I'm pissed off with her! Sorry, I know I shouldn't say that, but it's ridiculous!"
"I'm not here to judge what you should or shouldn't feel, I'm more interested in what you do with that pissed-off-ness. Where does it go? Do you act on it?"
"Oh no, no, gosh no. I wouldn't act out of anything like that. I go through my strategies - normally that'd mean praising the children near to her who are doing the right thing, or if that didn't work reminding the class of the behaviour steps. That normally works. But - "
"So it sounds like you're able to deal with the behaviour, but you're - "
"But I'm still frustrated about it. I still don't get it! It's happened in some of my observations that she's done it, and the person observing me has always said that I'm dealing with it the right way - one of them taught her before and reckoned I was doing a better job than she did. But it still annoys me, like, I just can't make sense of it, and I want to understand what's going on in my classroom."
"To summarise what we've spoken about, then - and we're just coming to the end of our session so we'll have to pick this up again another time - Clarissa's behaviour is mystifying you and that frustrates you in the moment, and afterwards, even though the strategies you've been taught are minimising the impact of her behaviour on her peers."
"Not just on them, on her too. She's learning just fine, it's just that bit I'm stuck with - that bit I don't understand."
"Ok, well it's a shame to leave that hanging but we're going to have to finish there. Perhaps we can pick this up the same time next week?"
"Yes, that'd be great."
In their third session, Phil and Yasmin returned to discussing Clarissa, or, more accurately, to Yasmin's response to Clarissa.
"There was something you said last week that really stuck with me," Yasmin began as they settled down. "I dont' know if it's the way you said it, but it felt a bit like you were saying I shouldn't be worrying about Clarissa, seeing as she's learning alright and not distracting others. I don't know if you meant it that way, but I've been thinking about that - should I be worried?"
"Hmm, I'm not sure whether or not I meant that, in all honesty. I guess there was a part of me that might have been thinking 'why worry about her, when she's doing well?' but that's a part of me that's left over from my managerial days, when we were so focused on the attainment that we forgot about the children. I'd not want that part of me to have too big a say in what goes on in Bring a Child to Therapy. Does that make any sense?"
"Haha, yes it does. I remember you saying you used to be in management. It did feel a bit like that to me. I actually went back to my file and picked out someone else to talk about today - someone who's not doing so well. I felt a bit guilty for picking Clarissa without thinking properly about it."
"Well I'm happy to return later to this other child - there's nothing wrong with using the data to inform your reflection, but I'd like if we stick with the part of you that instinctively said 'Clarissa' - it feels to me like there's something important in that choice. Plus, I'd hate if my old managerial self were allowed to shut you down when you choose someone out of the ordinary."
"Haha, no don't worry about that. I can stand up for myself where managers are concerned. I guess I learnt that after my experience with Linda!"
Phil laughed with Yasmin, and they returned to Clarissa.
"Actually it did set me thinking, why I'd chosen Clarissa."
"Mm-hm, and what did you think?"
"Well, the more I thought about it the more I realised what annoys me is that I don't get her. Like, I'm happy she's doing well - better than some of the other children I didn't bring - but I don't like that I don't get her. I should be able to understand all of the children in my class. I mean, that's what I'm there for!"
"So with the other children, even if they're not doing so well, at least you know why they're not doing so well. But with Clarissa, you're in the dark."
"Yes, that's it! She'll produce this work that's amazing one day - I mean, some of her literacy work is actually really moving - and then the next she'll forget to put a capital letter after a full stop! I know she'll do well, regardless of what people might think when they look in her exercise books, but sometimes I feel she's holding back, and I don't know why so I can't help her out."
"Ok, it sounds like you've already gotten to the heart of why Clarissa popped up for you in the way that she did. And there's a couple of things I've heard there which we should maybe investigate: first, I heard you say that you have to be able to understand what's going on for each of your children - not just that they're learning but why and how they're learning. That sounds like an important expectation of yourself as a teacher that we might explore in more depth. Second, it felt to me listening to you that there's almost an issue of control going on - that Clarissa won't let you in and that that frustrates you - both for yourself and for her potential development. And third, I wonder if there's another aspect to this anxiety she provokes which is to do with the difference between what you see of your class, and what others see."
"Blimey, you hear a lot!" Yasmin responded, laughing. "I... I think - you used the word 'control' which I don't think is right - I don't want to control Clarissa. But I think you're right I do want to get inside to know what's going on, just so that I can help her."
"Right, and I guess that links back to my first point about what a teacher should be able to do."
"Yes. Well it's pretty fundamental isn't it - understanding what's going on in their little heads?"
"And the third area?"
"Sorry, that was?"
"The bit I was picking up about the Clarissa that you see compared to the Clarissa that others might see when they look at her book on an off-day. Does that sound like it's relevant to you?"
"A little, maybe? But I think that's only a worry because I can't explain what's going on. I've been in book scrutinies when I've had to justify giving her a higher mark than might seem justified, and I can't do it as well as I'd do others. If I got her - really got her - there wouldn't be a problem."
"In which case I think we've arrived at our priority for the moment, which is to get Clarissa better - to get inside her head and see if we can work out what's going on."
"But I can't bring her here can I - for you to psychoanalyse?"
"Haha, no. But we can begin to draw on what you've noticed so far and work together to build up an understanding of how she's functioning in those odd moments that trouble you. It may be that I can illuminate with psychological theories but by-and-large it'll be down to your imaginative work. You've a lot of experience and insight into Clarissa - it's maybe just a case of rearranging that and putting it in an order that makes sense."
"Hmm, I don't know about that. I feel like I don't know anything."
"Well shelve that thought for the moment, and we'll see how far we can get. One way we might get past the 'teacher's' understanding - you know, learning behaviours, levels, that sort of thing - is for me to lead you through a guided visualisation. It'll take about 5 or 10 minutes - would that be ok?"
"Yeah, why not. The word visualisation sounds a bit, well, a bit artsy-fartsy to me, but I'm willing to give it a go."
"Great. If it doesn't work out for you that's fine, we'll find another way. The idea with this kind of visualisation is that it helps you to get in touch with a different kind of knowledge - almost like the felt knowledge that lies underneath the knowledge we can talk about. But enough of the theory of it - let's have a go."
Phil explained that he was going to read out a series of prompts, and invited Yasmin to sit with these and follow the instructions, but not to reply. Yasmin chose to close her eyes as Phil began, so as to concentrate more fully:
"For this exercise you are going to imagine what it is like to be Clarissa. You can use what you know about her – about her home life and school life – to inform your imagining, but you can also create your own picture which ‘feels right’. Don’t be worried about getting it right, or about making assertions that have no basis in reality: the point is to experiment with seeing the world from Clarissa's perspective." He paused, before continuing in a calm, unobtrusive voice:
"First, then, I’d like you to start by imagining Clarissa in a situation you’re familiar with: perhaps the literacy lesson you mentioned earlier. Picture where she sits as she comes into the room, who sits next to her, and what her view of the front of the classroom is like. Put yourself in that position. What does your environment look like? Are you comfortable in it? Are there any threats? Try to feel the floor underneath you. Is it carpet or something harder? Is there anything in your hand? Try to inhabit the position that Clarissa sits in - leaned over or fidgeting or hunching or whatever it is that she does. How does it feel to be Clarissa?"
Phil let the question hang in the air for a few moments, allowing Yasmin time to sink in to the exercise.
"Now imagine the lesson has started and the teacher is talking to the whole class. What do you see? What does she look like? Who does she remind you of?" Again Phil paused, before continuing: "And now the teacher has addressed a question to the class. Do you know the answer? Do you choose to put your hand up?
"As the teacher asks another question, you catch her eye – how does this feel? What is she thinking and feeling about you? What do you want to do?"
At this point Phil left a long pause, before asking Yasmin: "Do you want to carry on with this, or would you like a moment to explore what you've been aware of while I've been talking?"
"Carry on." Yasmin said, without opening her eyes. Phil led her through a series of situations, each building on the previous to create a broader, deeper picture of Clarissa's world. These included what Clarissa experiences at play-time, how she feels about her peers, and what her experience of life at home was like. Finally Phil came to the last part of the visualisation, telling Yasmin:
"Now for this final part, I'd like you to stay as Clarissa but to come into this room, now, to talk to Yasmin. You can imagine that it's just Yasmin in here with you, and that you're coming in to tell her something important. How do you feel as you come through the door? What do you see? What is it that you want to say." There was a long pause before Phil said: "And as soon as it feels ok to come back into the room, you can open your eyes."
Yasmin remained still for a few moments, before slowly opening her eyes, blinking a few times. It seemed to Phil like she had engaged very deeply in the exercise, and he didn't want to interrupt her reflections too soon: "There's no need to say straight away what's stuck with you, or what you feel about the exercise, so just take your time and as soon as you're ready you can share whatever feels important to share."
Yasmin looked thoughtful for a moment, then regained her previous composure and said: "Phew! That was surprisingly difficult. I mean, not difficult to do but difficult emotionally. I found myself getting really upset part of the way through. Really emotionally connected with Clarissa. Well, not Clarissa, but with what I was imagining."
"And what were you imagining?"
Yasmin went on to describe the "secret life" she imagined Clarissa led behind the character she adopted in class. Yasmin imagined her keeping things private to her family as well as her teachers, and always holding back something from her friends. She asked Phil what they were going to do with all of this imagining.
"Well, like you said before, we've nothing to say that this is or isn't correct, but I wonder if anything has changed about the way you think of Clarissa in those moments when she behaves in ways you can't understand? It may be too soon to - "
"No, it's not. It's not at all. I can already picture myself in front of the class when she's just openly talking to her partner like I told you about before, and I don't... I don't feel so anxious now. I'm looking at her and I'm thinking: "You've got something going on which you need to keep to yourself". I don't feel like I need to know now - almost like I'm in on the secret, even though I don't know what it is. I can smile and roll my eyes instead of getting frustrated."
"Right. So it's not the content of your visualisations so much as the experience of getting in touch with what it might be like to be Clarissa."
"Yes. I couldn't tell you I understand her any better, but I guess I can forgive her?"
"Like you can let her go."
"Which sounds like a good place to have arrived at, but I'm aware that the third issue I mentioned before - about how you could justify your approach to her in book scrutinies and that sort of thing, well, we've not really helped with that, because you're not any closer to understanding her."
"Well, maybe." Yasmin trailed off, and appeared to be deep in thought. Moments later, she continued: "No, no that's not a worry any more. I was just picturing myself in a discussion with the deputy head, and actually, I'd be fine to stand up for her. I'd just do it. It doesn't matter whether or not I've got the whole picture. I could fight her corner now."
"Which is just as well as I've just noticed we're coming to the end of our 50 minutes. I know it's been quite an emotional process you've been through - are you ok to end it there or would you like to do something to decompress before you leave?"
"No no that's fine - I feel a funny sort of calm actually. And a resolve - I wanna go out and do something!"
"That sounds great! I'll not hold you back then. See you next week!"
In their fourth session, Yasmin began by returning to her previous concerns about her new leadership role. She described a meeting she had held with a new member of her team who was struggling, and which the headteacher had taken a lead in. Yasmin told Phil that she had felt pretty useless in the meeting, and wondered whether her colleague hated her now.
"Ok, this seems like a really good time to go back to those expectations you had of yourself, and to check in with them. Do you have them with you?"
"Yes, I do." Yasmin replied as she turned her binder to the appropriate page. "Here they are... Right, this is the one that seems relevant to me: 'I expect myself to stand up for what is right, and take action to make sure that teachers in my team are treated fairly by myself and others'."
"Ok, that does sound relevant." Replied Phil. "How were you going to check in with that? Did we break that up into specific bits?"
"Yes. They were... ah, here: '1: state clearly what I believe is right, when I don't believe this is happening (so long as it feels safe to do so); 2: evaluate the situation to see if it is fair; 3: take whatever action I am able to; 4: where I am not able to take action, to explain what I would like to do, and seek alternatives'."
"Ok, so take me through the meeting and how it relates to that."
"Well, well it doesn't really. There wasn't anything in what the Head was saying to Alan that wasn't fair, and I didn't disagree with any of it, really."
"Ah, so it wasn't a question of letting your colleague down or betraying them, more just - "
"Just that feeling of powerlessness. Like I wasn't really needed there."
"Why do you think your headteacher had the meeting with both of you there?"
"Well he said afterwards that it's important for me to be seen to be part of the management system, so that I'm involved from the beginning in case things get difficult later on. I don't know - it just felt awkward."
"So if I'm getting you right, there was no conflict for you with the aims of the meeting or the way it was conducted; it's more the feeling of powerlessness."
"In which case this isn't, it appears, the kind of thing our discussion was about in the first session - it's not about your role with regard letting down your colleagues, but more to do with your place in the school and in the hierarchy. Am I getting that right?"
"Well, yeah I guess. But, there's something more than that pointlessness - it's more the feeling of letting someone down. Not that I've done it - I know I haven't and I know it's silly, but I'm still stuck with that 'does he hate me now?' feeling. I know what you'll say: if we check it against the facts of the situation I've not done anything that I would change, but I still feel, well, guilty I guess. And a bit childish - worrying about someone hating you, it's like being back in school!"
"Say a little more about that."
"Well, umm, well it reminds me of being in school and all of the worries you have then about who fancies who, and who said what behind whoever's back. It's kind of stuff I hated - absolutely hated - and I wouldn't teach in Secondary because of it. It's all just too - ugh, too silly and horrible."
"You'd rather work with the younger children because then you don't get pulled into that kind of world."
"Yes, it's more straightforward, I think, working in primary - you're the adult they're the children. Of course they have arguments and there's tension, but you can see it from above - it's not such an issue."
"But in this meeting, you were left feeling like a child."
"A little bit, yeah."
"And there was something in what you've said that made me think of the teacher's pet - it sounds like you were siding with the more "adult" side of that meeting - the headteacher - and yet feeling like a child. And I guess that role is the role of the teacher's pet."
"Yes! That's exactly it! I was thinking all the way through "I bet Alan just thinks I'm doing this because I got promoted last year", and that's not true! But then I don't know if he thought that - maybe he wasn't. I'll never know."
"Ok, it sounds like there's still a little bit of unfinished business with Alan here - or with the Alan whose responses you're imagining. And I guess there's two options - one is to help you plan how you might open up a dialogue with Alan; the other is to let the unfinished business play out here, where there's no possibility of hurting anyone, or mis-reading or overreacting. Does either appeal to you?"
"The second one. Definitely. I feel like this is much more to do with me and much less to do with him. Even if he did think I was being a teachers pet or whatever, that's his right and I've got to suck it up and deal with it. No, I'd rather get it dealt with here."
"In which case what I'd invite you to do is to put yourself back in that place of doubt where you were feeling like a child, and to speak from that place to Alan. Now, this kind of thing isn't to everyone's tastes as it is a bit like role-play, but I'll guide you through and if it's not working out we can stop."
Phil helped Yasmin to 'become' the person she was in that meeting, with the same impulses, thoughts and feelings. He asked her to speak to Alan, but after a brief exchange in which he played the role of Alan, Yasmin said:
"I'm sorry this isn't working for me, do you mind if we stop?"
"No, not at all. It isn't for everyone. I think the only reason I offered it was because we had done the visualisation before and it seemed to have quite an impact, so I wondered if this might do the same."
"It did - the visualisation I mean - but I'm not really into the acting thing. I couldn't let go into it, if you know what I mean - I kept on thinking 'am I doing this right?'"
"I understand. Perhaps instead of asking you to respond we could do it like we did the visualisation: I'll talk you though some prompts and you don't have to respond out loud. And at the end of it I'll give you some paper to write down any reflections you want to write down."
"Could we? That sounds much better."
Phil led Yasmin through a series of visualisations concerning the meeting, inviting her to consider the things that she wanted to say but couldn't, the feelings she had to each of her colleagues, and how each of them was feeling at different moments. After a short time he gave Yasmin some paper and invited her to write down anything that felt relevant: "And you don't have to share these with me unless you feel it would be useful. That's entirely up to you."
Yasmin wrote, slowly at first and then more intently, covering nearly two sides of A4. Once she was done she folded it in four and put it in her bag, saying: "I'm sorry I don't want to share that right now, is that ok? It's just it's bought up a little more than I thought it would, and I'd rather leave that til I've had a proper chance to process it."
"That's absolutely fine. You can bring it up whenever you're ready, or keep it to yourself if you never are. Would you like to move on to talk about some of your children now?"
In their penultimate session, Phil and Yasmin returned to discussing some of the more challenging children in her class. It had been two weeks since they last met, as the half-term break had occurred, and Yasmin explained that she'd been doing some 'homework':
"I remembered what you said in our last session about understanding the whole child in their context, so what I've done is I've come into school for a day and made a map for each of the children I'm most worried about."
"Ah, is that what those scrolls are?"
"Haha, you make them sound so important - yeah they did get a bit bigger than I imagined - I had to keep on adding on sheets - taping them together - and the only way to store them was rolled up. The thing is, we've only got these two sessions and I've found them so useful so I wanted to get as much done as possible in them, so I've done a lot of the groundwork first, so we can use our sessions to go deeper."
"That sounds great, though there is a little part of me that's thinking 'what about half-term holidays? What about relaxing and de-stressing', but I'll leave that thought where it is for the moment. Tell me what these maps mean, then."
Yasmin went on to explain the way she had organised her thoughts on the page, putting a child's name right in the middle of the page and then connecting the different areas of their school life together with their personal attributes and skills, their friendship groups, their home-life, siblings - everything!
"These certainly are exhaustive - I can see why you needed extra space!" Phil joked, impressed but slightly daunted by the scope of Yasmin's research. "What would you like us to do with them?"
"Oh, well I thought you'd tell me that." Yasmin looked a little deflated.
"I've led quite a lot of what we've done, that's true. But I feel like we're getting to a point where you can set the agenda more - you're clearly taking the lead in enriching your own understanding of the children you've struggled with."
"Hmm, well, well I guess the question that's been floating around for me is 'what next?' I mean, it feels great to have all of this down in a diagram - I feel a lot less stressed and you know how much I like to keep things in order. And maybe that's all that comes out of it - feeling less stressed. But what do I do with this? Can I act on it? Can I change what I do in the classroom because of it?"
"Those are really interesting questions. Do you feel like anything's begun to emerge for you as you've been making these maps - in terms of your classroom practice?"
"Well no not really. Except I'm definitely changing the seating for the Yellow Table. That's so obvious I can't believe I didn't do that before, and I'm not going to be so hard on Mahmood when he..." Yasmin went on to speak for 5 minutes about the impact of her 'maps' on her practice, which included changing her realtionship with her TA, sourcing some CPD for her team on managing low-level disruption, and investigating how she could change the way she managed her maths group-work to make it accessible for everyone.
"Not much then!" Phil laughed, still reeling from the list of actions Yasmin planned to take.
"Haha, yes, when you put it like that I guess there was quite a lot that came out. I guess I was expecting it to be a different process, like, you make the map and then you interpret it, but - "
"But you've already done the interpreting and planning when you've been making it."
"Yes! In which case maybe there's not all that much we need to do now? I've already worked out what action I'm going to take."
"Well, there might be a different kind of action."
"I don't know if you remember but when I introduced Bring a Child to Therapy I mentioned that one of the important things that doesn't - I think - happen enough in a busy school day is sharing what knowledge we're creating from the ground up. You know, we're constantly told how to do it and what to do, but there's stuff going on in classrooms which is really great, but stays there, which is a crying shame."
"So, sorry I don't get you?"
"So I was wondering whether it might be a good thing if you could share this process you've been through with the school. Through, I don't know, a team meeting or a section in a staff meeting - that kind of thing."
"Oh. Oh, I don't know about that. That sounds very, no. No that's not for me I'm afraid."
"Ok, that's absolutely fine - you can decide what you want to do with the process you've developed, but could you tell me a little more about your reaction?"
They went on to discuss the fears that presenting her own 'research' caused in Yasmin, and the way that it would make her feel even more a teacher's pet to the headteacher. It'd be too big a thing to stand up in front of the whole staff and present like that.
"And what about the team-meeting idea - just sharing it in a smaller group?"
"Who am I to tell them what to do? Some of them have been teaching way longer than I have. And anyway the agenda's always set by the SLT, pretty much. I don't go that far away from what they set out should be in each team meeting. There is a bit for any other business but we tend to just skip by that bit."
"Right, ok. This is maybe going to sound quite challenging, but you've just said two things that sound like they're at odds with each other: you don't want to present to the whole staff because you'd feel too much like you were doing the senior team's bidding, but you can't present to your team because you've decided to stick to the senior team's agenda. That feels like a conflict, to me?"
"Blimey you don't make this easy do you! Ok, maybe I could present in a team meeting, but still who am I to tell them what to do?"
Phil remained silent, bouncing the question back to Yasmin. She shook her head:
"No, I know what you're thinking and it's not that. I do my job just fine - I deal with all the accountability stuff and run the meetings, but I'm not - I don't feel like - a leader yet. It's just, I don't know if that's in me yet. I'd feel like a fraud saying "This is my invention and you should all be amazed". It'd be alright if it was a school initiative that I was implementing - that's what I mean I can do my job when it's someone else's stuff, but I don't think I can stand up like that for - for this."
"Ok, that's absolutely fine. I know I've pushed you a lot with this, but it really is your decision to make. All I can say is that I think it's quite a powerful way of looking at children, and I might even steal it for myself, with your permission. It's clearly worked for you and it might work for others too. But if the time's not right to share then it's not right. You've plenty of time ahead of you."
"Yeah but now I feel guilty that I'm not doing it. Do you think I should share it?"
"I don't know the way your team meetings work, and I don't know your colleagues, so I can't say how it would go down or whether it would be appropriate, but as an idea and a way of understanding children, I think it's really powerful."
"Ok. I'll think about it."
"Ok. Now, was there anyone else you wanted to bring today?"
Yasmin and Phil spent the rest of the session discussing one of the children that hadn't been 'mapped' but who was very quiet, and who, Yasmin feared, might easily slip through the gaps. It was an illuminating discussion but there wasn't the same excitement as there had been when they had discussed children previously.
"Well, I've done it!" Yasmin announced as she bounced through the door. Phil raised his eyebrows, unsure of what exactly she meant.
"I've done a staff meeting - well, not the whole thing, not even 15 minutes - but I've showed my 'maps' to everyone!"
"Wow! That's, well that's unexpected. Congratulations!"
"Thank you! And it may be unexpected for you, but it wasn't for me. I knew as soon as you said it that I'd have to do it. One thing you don't know about me is how I can't back down from a challenge, and I felt like you called me out last week. I had to prove that I could. I think that was why I was so adamant I didn't want to talk about it - because I knew my mind was already made up - it was just a matter of time before I came round, and why not do it sooner rather than later?"
"Absolutely. Wow, well done. How did it go?"
"It was really nice, I think. I mean, you can never be sure and there were quite a few people at the beginning who I could see weren't sure why I was getting up and talking instead of the usual people, but there were some really good questions afterwards, which made me think they must have taken it on board, on some level. I think more than anything people were surprised I was getting up there and talking about my thing. I've been here a while now and I don't think I've ever done that."
"That sounds like a really powerful experience - like the kind of thing that can change the way you see yourself."
"It has, actually. D'you know, looking back just a couple of weeks to when I was worried about being a teacher's pet and all of that stuff with Alan, I just feel like a totally different person now."
"Well, I was so caught up in the which side am I on stuff, but now I'm just like, well, I'll just be myself - I know I'm doing it for the right reasons so I can stand up for myself. But I'm not getting ahead of myself I mean it was just a tiny thing - the maps I made, but it does feel good to be able to say something and have people listen and respect you. It's good."
"It sounds it, and I can see even just in the way that you come across today - you seem more energetic and enthusiastic."
"Yeah, and it's about being a leader, not being a teacher. I think I might be able to make a go of this - you know, do it my way."
"What a brilliant place to start our final session! I just wanted to check in with you to tie up some of the loose ends we've left - some people prefer to package everything up neatly, some prefer to have a final session just like a normal one. And preference?"
"Actually, yes I have. I don't want to wrap things up - I do want to tell you about Clarissa, but I'd rather we just had a normal Bring a Child to Therapy 'cause I want to carry on doing this kind of thinking myself, in my own time. I've even found, you'll probably laugh, but I've found myself asking the kind of questions you ask to my TA - you know, letting her come to her own conclusions and waiting a bit instead of directing her in everything she does. She doesn't like it very much, but then I didn't at the beginning."
"Didn't you? I never noticed that."
"Well I'm good at keeping things hidden. I thought it was going to be a bit of a waste of time - I'm glad I stuck at it."
"Yes, me too." Phil paused. "So, then a normal session - we can come to whichever child it is you want to bring today in a moment, but you mentioned Clarissa?"
"Yes." Yasmin went on to describe a breakthrough - of sorts. "So I've not done anything different, and she's still the same way she was before, in terms of her writing and things, but I feel like we've got a real connection now. Like, when I used to look up she'd look away or start talking, but now when I scan the class when they're sat on the carpet I know she'll be looking at me. It probably sounds silly, but it means a lot to me."
"It doesn't sound silly at all. I don't think we ever quite got to the bottom of why her behaviour exercised you so much, and maybe we never will, but it sounds like you've gotten past that."
"Yes, I have. Her name certainly wouldn't spring to mind if you asked me now who I was troubled by!"
The rest of the session continued as normal, picking up on the quiet child Yasmin had bought the previous week - they elaborated on the different ways to understand why someone might choose to be quiet in class, and followed through on these ideas to possible changes Yasmin could make to her teaching style. Towards the end of the session Phil checked in with Yasmin to see if she wanted to do anything specific to mark the end of their work together. She declined, and they continued with their discussion right up until the last minute. At the end of the session Yasmin rose to leave and thanked Phil for sticking with her and pushing her when she needed it.
"Well thank you for being there to be pushed - not everyone is robust enough to be challenged like that, but I had a feeling from the start that you'd work better with a little challenge."
"Absolutely. Yeah, it's been good. Well, thanks again."
"All the best Yasmin."
"You too. Bye."