Suspended from School for Two Months: Let’s redefine this problem

by | Apr 28, 2022 | Blog | 5 comments

She had never been in a fight before. But as a result of her fighting, a fifteen-year-old we’ll call Crystal, managed to get herself suspended from school. And not just suspended for a week. Crystal’s suspension was for two months.

Enter Kelly Heinze, an eighth-grade teaching assistant at Crystal’s school. Kelly’s job was to tutor Crystal online during her 60 day banishment from school. I met Kelly as a student in my graduate class Principles of Creative Problem-Solving at SUNY Buffalo State this semester. In the course, students work on real problems that are important to them in their real life.

Kelly decided to apply what she was learning about Creative Problem-Solving to Crystal’s problem. Here is what she had to say:

I am currently tutoring a student online because she was suspended from school. I have been struggling to connect with her and I was worried she wasn’t learning anything from our sessions.

I initially thought the problem was that she was rebelling and didn’t want to do school work because she wasn’t actually in the school. What I was doing wasn’t helping the situation.

I brought my problem to our class with Dr. Firestien. Using Create Problem-Solving, I found the correct problem was more likely that she was struggling and didn’t want to ask for help. I also realized that it was me who was part of the problem. I needed to present the information differently and support her in what she needed.

The class helped me to generate ideas, and I implemented changes in my teaching approach. Just in a short three weeks, she was communicating with me, asking questions and answering them herself. She was getting work done quickly, doing it well, and her grades were going up. When all of this happened, she was able to petition to come back to school.

Without our class and Creative Problem-Solving, I don’t know if I would have solved my problem and helped her to get to where she is today.

Kelly did an amazing job of redefining the problem. It wasn’t that Crystal was a rebel and ignoring her school work, as she originally thought. Crystal was struggling, and sheepish to ask for the help she needed.

Sometimes what we think is the problem is not the problem at all.

Next time, when you have a tough problem to solve, don’t accept your first definition of the problem as the real problem. Step back from the problem, just like Kelly did, and look at the situation from a different perspective. You will be amazed at the new insights that you will get.

Kelly’s story and many others will be featured in my upcoming book, Solve the Real Problem, scheduled for release later this year.

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Through a series of structured learning experiences, you will learn to become deliberately creative and build your skills to lead innovation teams in your organization. You will be instructed by Dr. Roger Firestien who has presented programs on innovation to over 600 organizations around the world including: fortune 500 corporations, government agencies, universities, associations and religious institutions.


  1. Marta Ockuly

    Your blog should be required reading for all educators Roger! You do an excellent job of helping readers step back and imagine problems from varied perspectives. All of us are called to shake up ‘ordinary thinking’ by imagining widely diverse scenarios that stimulate insights hidden in plan sight. I’m looking forward to your new book as well!

    • John O'Bine

      Hi Dr. Firestien (Roger)!,

      This is John O’Bine. Do you remember me from your graduate studies class around a quarter of a century ago?
      Your work with, the “Flash” book inclusive, continues to indpire me. Such important contributions.

      I have been dawdling on creating a game-like achievement system on the side since then really. Remember our office meeting when zo showed you a dagram,, 15 versions later now, still no “roll-out I was a builder mainly. Now hopefully to this passion Roger.
      There is a non-profit group called:
      “COMMUNITY TOOL BOX” in Kansas that I think I’d like to apply both your and my own concepts (derivatives) to, if possible. Great cause.
      I think thus country is in a vast need for sharing such problem sorting
      Maybe yoor challenge solving tech don’t you?
      Maybe you can look this up and see if you have any thoughts to share Roger? I have a letter in to them about myself presently.
      Obviously it will be great to speak with you again as well.
      I was hoping to make CPSI, BEEN SO LONG?!
      Please call or write back when you’re able. I’m still in CT.
      Thanks for all you (still!) do Dr. F.! Can’t wait for your new book too. Congrat’s yet again Dr. Firestien!



      PS This (or these) above mentioned project(s) would be a great cause for Intern’s actually. Hopefully additional “reach” for your work as well.

  2. Amin G. Alhashim

    Great story! Thank you for sharing. I wonder what teaching approaches Kelly used with Crystal.

  3. J. Paul Everett

    Hi, Roger,

    Sure miss our being leaders together at the CPSI. For me, those days are gone (write me if you want to know why). Enjoyed the story and I’m wondering what the ‘wrong approach’ was and what became the right approach and how it was arrived at using CPS.

    Do you keep in contact with Jim Rough? He continues to implement his processes, many of which include CPS elements. Especially the group effort that leads to breakthrough solutions. One of the EU states uses it to resolve thorny issues.

    Hope your health is good. Mine is OK, as far as I know. But, we never know. A former colleague of mine was folding up his easel after a presentation on Read Right (an incredible method for enabling 98% of all students to read as fluently as they talk) and dropped dead from a massive brain aneurysm. Medical people said he was dead before he hit the floor..

    Wishing you every success with your book creation. That is HARD work. Anyone who doesn’t think so hasn’t done it.

  4. Dick Donovan

    Great article. Sometimes the solutions to the problems are hidden and need to come to light. Kudos to Kelly to seek those solutions.


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