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.