The psychological detective
About widening care
Closed today  
Tim has been at our school for three weeks. He streamed in in group eight. His parents are glad that he can be with us for a year. Two friends of his are in my class. At the previous school he had experienced a tough period. Tim has long, lank hair. It is hanging as a closed theatre in front of his eyes. He likes hard rock. His clothing is adapted to that music style. Tim’s motions are bad, we heard.  
His handwriting is unreadable. A lot had to ‘done’ about that. Fifteen days have passes and Tim has not even looked at me. I do not ask him to. I use it as a criterion (When is he going to do that?)
His handwriting is indeed unreadable. But I think it is irresponsible to just ‘do’ something about that. The children have gone home. His exercise-book lies open in front of me. I cannot react to his story, because I cannot decipher it (or decode?). I use the time to make an analysis. The form of letters seems nice. Flexibility is good. He uses the lower line well. I cannot read it, because it is much too close together. All words are sandwiched combinations of letters. With that thought in my mind I hear his asthmatic breathing. He does not take room there either. The image of his hair hiding his eyes give me the same thought.

The next morning after the circle all children are starting their contract work. I ask Tim to come to me. With his exercise-book in my hands I have looked for a quiet place. Tim is going to sit beside me with a hanging head. I tell Tim that I had a good look at his handwriting. His head is sinking lower. “I think”, I continue, “that the forms of your letters are looking good. You use the lower line excellently and also the movement is flexible.” Tim raises his head to a normal level of contact. “The only thing that makes it difficult for me to read it is the way in which the letters are pressed together. You do not take any space for each letter separately. I must think of your asthma. You do not take space for yourself in your lungs either.” It remains silent for five minutes. The other children must certainly have talked on but nothing of all these sounds have reached him.

Tim’s right hand is moving provocatively slowly towards his nose. With a careful movement he splits his hair into two. Both curtains he draws behind his ears. His theatre has opened today. “That is right,” Tim says very, very softly. “How do you get more air into your lungs?” I ask. “It is just like a balloon,” Tim says. I take a balloon from the discovery cupboard. “Look, like this,” he continues and he writes his name on the balloon. He blows up the balloon and for the first time he looks straight into my eyes. I feel like his balloon: Bigger because of his air. From that day onwards he blows up his balloon in the morning before he is going to write. And everything becomes bigger.
It is not about the result but about the interpretation of it.
Widening care is there in order to let children that can work independently, work independently.

Under-standing, getting to know, dis-covering, meeting
It is not a coincidence. Verbal forms have always followed the experience. Language is just the expression of the experienced. It is often only a weak derivative. How many emotions preceded a ‘hard day’. What is the (standard) answer to: ‘How are you?’ Are words not often the traitors of the socially desirable continuation just like photos give a poor impression of a fascinating trip?
Fortunately they are. Imagine that everybody you asked ‘How are you’ would feel called upon to reveal the stirrings of his soul. However, the verbal language is not a component of our communication that is to be ignored. We (and certainly children) ‘often put things literally’.

Nobody knows exactly how you must do it. Only if you know what happens and why you can take new interventions with confidence.
So you answer the how-question in the first place with the answer to the why-question an then with: ‘Do it!’
In the declaration of intention it is described as: one talks of care in a child if there is insufficient (or no) involvement and/or wellbeing in one or more developmental areas. The child is not or insufficiently developing.
If a teacher is not able with all her exertions to enhance the wellbeing and/or the involvement and colleagues are not able to make any improvements in this respect either, the Experience Oriented Education has a unique instrument: the reconstruction of experience. Research and consultation are aimed at ‘getting inside the child’. Together with another insight this must lead to different possibilities of intervention.
Reconstructions of experience
Reconstructing means rebuilding, composing again. You try to form an image of that which goes on inside the other person. You try to penetrate to the deeper meaning of behaviour. You ask questions as:

What could be the matter?
What is the experience of the situation as it occurs?
Which meanings can you give to it?
Why is the situation the way it occurs?
Which motives can underlie it?

In short: you take the role of the other and try to feel and understand what has come over the other, why does the other act the way he does. You try to imagine yourself in the point of view and the world of perception of the other person in the situation. You are looking for deeper, profound meanings and are reconstructing experiences. You formulate in hypotheses, in questions as tentative interpretation, which can be reviewed. We use this way of reconstructing in order to view the experience stream of the other. Of course it is also important to monitor well the wellbeing, the involvement and the competence in coherence.
The mind of the school
Teachers who make reconstructions together, develop insights which are unique for that group at that moment. You could call that the mind of the school (Laevers). With this they can understand the children better and they are able to justify their own (inter)actions. He who demands attention for a problem, is ‘fed’ and other team members can often translate it directly to their own context. Everybody gets the opportunity to look through other people’s glasses. It is never about opinions or ‘being right’ but it is about different points of view and interpretations. The riches is the nuance which the group can make.

One chooses which child is being discussed. It is pleasant that it is a child with which the teacher who puts it forward is (emotionally) involved himself. If all those situations may be discussed in all openness insights become clear very soon.


The aim is to give insight. It is not a political game. Do use the rule: What has been said, has been said. Whoever said it, ‘we have heard it’. It does not matter who says it. It is everybody’s. So no repetitions and do not link up with the previous speaker.
You can work in rounds. ’Every time a turn’. Of course you can also make it into an open form of discussion. It is more important that you stay in the right ‘phase’. (see: the phases) There are three phases (see: the phases) Take care that one person may watch over the process. It is not easy to be participant and watch over the process. It must be a pleasant conversation. Watching over that people talk ‘in the right phase’ is important.
Take care that participants have some time between every phase to put their own thoughts on paper. It is namely about diversity. Otherwise the participants often join together (analogies) and you only get more of the same or a conversation about only one subject.
You cannot formulate an exact minimum of maximum number of participants. However, you do need a number of interlocutors who express their ideas. If you have more than ten participants, not everybody gets a chance verbally. That need not be a problem.
A reconstruction lasts for at least an hour. Mark out the phase of clarification well. That may otherwise last already an hour. A good preparation can shorten that phase. Teams that reconstruct more often know beforehand how to collect more relevant information such as video shots, observations, data about home and tests.

Talking about children is often not sufficient to come to successful interventions. Teachers can reinforce each other in (negative) images they have about children. ‘Lazy’, ‘unruly’, ‘difficult’, ‘bad calculator’, ‘poorly gifted’, ‘ having ADHD’, ‘his brother was also…’ ‘Understanding’ each other’s images really is a first step to look at children from manifold perspectives.
If a teacher thinks a child is difficult he does not know anything about the child.
You only know that the teacher thinks the child difficult.
Let me see  
Involved or deceived  
I followed a training in communication. Fascinating but also difficult for me was dealing with silence. I proved to prefer quick fillings to an awaiting position. From that moment onwards I regularly experimented with ‘silence strategy’. A strategy in which you try to estimate if children need some more time for example to word things.  
The instruction for arithmetic has started. I have again imposed myself attention for silence. The children of group 6 have opened their books on page 32. There are some routes on a drawing. I ask them if they want to calculate how far it is from the pub via the village to the crossroads. The children have to combine indicators from different sides. Luuk looks up after about five seconds. The other children are pointing and are calculating visibly strained. Luuk is looking around. I have decided to keep waiting and watching. I notice that otherwise I would have absolutely made a remark. When after some time the children are starting to consult each other I ask who has the outcome. Five children are shouting together “forty kilometres”. “Yes”, Luuk says “ that is a four hours’ ride”. So he had not only made a quick calculation, but he had also looked at the assignment at the top of the page. There it said that it took one hour to cycle ten kilometres. Perhaps he would have made it clear to me if I had made a remark. But perhaps he had felt misunderstood. I shall become more careful in what I think to see and certainly in what I think what I have to say.
The phases
1) Clarifying (survey)
A) A teacher (the one who brings in the child) brings the child in. She tells where and how she gets stuck with the child. The story is told with interpretations. That means that everything that is said could have been recorded on a video camera. (Video images are often also extremely useful.) Literal statements are allowed. Of course data about wellbeing, involvement, competence and the basic needs can be put forward in this round.
B) He who brings in the child words the help question(s) from himself and/or from the child. (The ‘real’ help question often develops after or during the discussion.) The team members word their own questions.
C) Then the clarifying question can be asked by the other team members who make the image sharper. Open questions are most appropriate here because it gives him who brings them in the opportunity to indicate that which he thinks important to mention.
It is important that all relevant information is brought on the carpet. So also information from teachers who have known the child from other years and situations. Be alert that no negative interpretations are given (neither non-verbally). It is about the survey that you can give not a negative affirmation!

A fragment
Sam is a boy of six years old. His birth has gone normally. As a baby he had a lot of sleeping problems. He cried a lot and threw things from his bed. He is built heavily, because of which many think he is much older. He talks loudly. He is often alone. He does not look for other children in the playground. When he says goodbye to his mother in the morning he almost always cries for some time. When sudden changes are announced, he often starts screaming. During some periods he does not have an appetite. He often says: ‘I can do that better’. He often plays the popular boy.

Some statements are ‘hard’ for example his age and the fact that he threw things out of his bed. Others require an explanation: how often is ‘almost always’ and ‘often’? And the last remark about the ‘popular boy’ gives an image of what the teacher experiences (certainly with that intonation.) It is important to hear her allergy behind it.
2) Reconstruction (insight)

A teacher now writes down her own reconstructions. (“What does, feels, thinks.. this child?”)

From this phase onwards the one who brought in the child does not join the discussion anymore! She affirms nor denies what is being said. That would create the impression that some statements are better than others.
The others are going to reconstruct. That means that they can say as ‘psychological detectives’ how they think about the situation that has been put forward. No value judgements may be given. One can think and associate freely. There is no ‘right or wrong’. All insights can contribute to new interesting points of view.

He who brought in the pupil writes down all the reconstructions.

Take care that you do not give any suggestions in this phase, only (possible) insights.

A fragment
It could be that his body is hypersensitive to certain substances, because of which he threw things from his bed and that is why he developed a certain ‘prickliness’ towards materials and people. It could be that talks loudly because he hears badly. It could be that he does not sometimes have an appetite because he ‘cannot digest it’. It could be that he misses his uncle terribly and has become afraid of saying goodbye. It could be….

3) Interventions (prospect)

Every teacher words his possibilities of intervention in all peace.

Possible interventions are formulated by the participants. They do not talk about good or bad interventions. Every intervention can ever be of any use no matter how silly the intervention now may seem.

Do not give tips or advices in the sense of: “If I were you I would..” (You are not the other one!) Indicate the ‘possible possibilities’. The other one is well able to choose what suits him/her. Do not talk about impossibilities but about possibilities! That indicates a good direction. He who brings in the pupil writes down all interventions and considers later which and in which order he will use them. He who brings in the pupil has the last word and concludes the session his way. He says what he wants to say and from the following day he starts with the self-chosen interventions.

A fragment
Maybe you can: pay a home-visit and taste the atmosphere, to send him to a doctor to have his ears checked, use all your feelings to get into contact with him in a different way, mirror what he does, give him food counselling, let him work and play with kids, have him write or draw about his uncle, play a game with him and other children.

After many experiences it seems that children of which experience reconstructions have been made, are doing better. Teachers and children confirm this. It is striking that teachers often cannot indicate exactly which interventions were successful. But the fact that a few teachers have put themselves in a child’s situation has an effect on the following period which has a beneficial influence. The interest in that child, that teacher and their process makes that all participants like to see from that moment that heir investment will get a successful continuation. And that looks differently from before.
When you advise, you let hear things that you already know and the other one does not. When you reconstruct you share equally all insights that are available ‘here and now’.
  Sorry, ref
  The atmosphere at school is good. Generally the children play and work in a pleasant way. Of course excesses happen where you are needed as counsellor. I noticed that you as a teacher were often attributed a role also by the children. Children often address you in a special way. They tell their story in such a way that you can choose their side.
Because there are usually two parties you will become a referee with an impossible task. After we had got to the bottom of this phenomenon with a number of teachers we discussed a different strategy. When I am walking on the playground now I try to ‘choose position’. Preferably preventively I am looking for the conflict-sensitive situations. But also if there is already disagreement I try to stand in the ‘right place’. Being too close makes you a party as a teacher.
The children directly address you. Being too far away makes you a strange kind of voyeur. But being so close that it is safe for all parties without coming into play as a teacher, is ‘the right place’. It is striking that children do not address you then. I try to think for myself then what I would have said. It is striking that children always solve things differently. Sometimes even in a way which does not seem satisfactory. Nevertheless you see children go on somewhat later in a cheerful way.
I am at a distance from Kees and Sander who are opposite each other emotionally. A number of children are watching nervously. I have not seen what has happened. Sander says: “But you started. I only did it in return.” Kees answers: “That is not true. When I said I wanted to stop you pricked into my eyes.” Sander lets his head droop. “Yes” comes almost inaudibly from his throat. Kees looks at him for a moment and gives a small pat on his arm. The group fans out.
Perhaps Sander meant ‘yes’, perhaps ‘no, perhaps ‘sorry’ but in any case his body told how he felt. I could not have improved it and think for a moment of the times that I heard ‘yes – no’.
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