He’d been sent to my office . . . again. The look on his face clearly said that he fully expected to be in trouble . . . again. This time, however, a surprise awaited him. This time, my principal toolbox contained a new tool. You see I had just returned from an HCT class, so I was eager to work with him in a new way.
Instead of approaching the situation as a discipline issue, I sweetly said, “Have a seat and let’s talk.” He eyed me suspiciously, but complied. He knew I was up to something. His intuition was right on track.
I posed the question, “So what do you want to work on today?” His reply was laced with denial and blame. With his arms crossed, he was poised for battle, daring me to change his mind. I simply said, “Hmmm.” I let the word fill the air between us and I held a space for understanding, acceptance and love. I waited for him to break the silence and to accept my collaborative support. Now HCT could begin.
We worked through the HCT protocol sitting at my office table. He said that he always felt safest when his dog was with him, so we invited his dog to join us. Through HCT, this little guy learned that it’s not about blame. It’s about looking honestly at a situation and feeling safe enough to examine the feelings behind it before attempting to resolve it.
With HCT, we focused our energies on positive growth and learning, rather than on blame and consequences. In the olden days, principals and teachers were quick to assign consequences and punishments as a way to drive out the negative behavior. That pathway is flawed from the onset because it focuses all of the energy on the negative behavior and fails to search out new attitudes and beliefs.
Punishment tends to make angry students angrier and sets the adult up as the target for their negative energy. It harms relationships and guarantees that we will tangle another day. Using the HCT protocol, students learn to work through their feelings and issues in a safe and soothing way. They can find greater peace and empowerment to make the changes that are necessary to resolve the conflict situation. When they are heard, REALLY heard, their anger is diminished and they emerge with a renewed sense of self.
With HCT, I have been able to delve more deeply into the thoughts, experiences, feelings and motivations that are driving the behavior. This is especially useful in understanding students from different cultural backgrounds or students who have special needs. HCT helps students to embrace new attitudes and new ways of dealing with difficult situations that won’t lead them to the principal’s office.
At the end of our time together, a new boy had emerged. It was obvious on his face. I was truly stunned by the transformation and I told him so. He was intent on his analysis as we looked in the mirror together. After a few hushed moments, I introduced him to himself. With a lopsided grin, he said, “Yeah, that’s how it feels. Like I’m brand new.” I told him that the ‘new image’ of himself would last forever if he held tight to that intention. He could prompt himself to behave in new ways. What a delight it was to formally introduce him to his teacher and later, to his parents. He shared his newfound understandings of himself and explained to them how things would look differently from this point forward.
That school year ended without a single repeat discipline issue from this young man. I was prepared for the possibility of a follow up dialogue session the following fall, but things have been going so well it has not been necessary. HCT has not only enhanced his school experience, but mine as well! It is such a joy to interact with him in so many positive ways at lunchtime, in the hallways, and during recess. He is making and keeping friends. What a gift to our school!
As educators, we know that for change to be lasting, it must first be internalized. HCT provides the framework for the students to do the work. If you regularly work with children, yours or someone else’s, consider the impact you can have with HCT enhanced dialoguing skills. Your words to a child can be harmful or healing. You choose. On behalf of children everywhere, I hope you choose HCT to support your interactions.
- Debbi Wagner,
Eberwhite Elementary Principal
Ann Arbor Public Schools
Ann Arbor, Michigan