As an advisor to a school, what can you do when the teachers feel squeezed out?

Interim managers and consultants are often confronted with this question. I was invited to provide some energising views to a meeting of the Eduquality network in Amsterdam, on the 30th of May.

These education specialists are usually called in when there is trouble in a school. The team is stuck; a manager cannot cope and falls sick; there are problematic kids and a high dropout rate… Higher management, the governors or even the government want you to clean up the mess, with measurable results. Go ahead!

Where do you find the energy to operate in such a draining environment? It is not an easy task, and I have great respect for the dedication and enthusiasm I experienced whilst working with these professionals.

The invitation came from Professor Kees van der Wolf, one of the founders of the Eduquality network, and editor of The Dutch Vocational Education System: Can Something be Done About it? (Wolf, Huizinga 2011)<, which I had written a chapter for. I first met him years ago in an authors meeting for another book. Back then he told me that he had already been using my concept of Vital Space for some years, in his inspiration weeks for school leaders, in Italy. In 2009 I joined such a week myself. It was a beautiful experience indeed.


The difference between the >>Blue and Red Columns of inducing change<< was a good entry point to the discussions. Managers tend to think in terms of targets, structures and agreements (Blue), whilst energy is generated by connection, sharing ambitions and dreams (Red). Teachers aspire to make class meaningful for their pupils, but their experience is that conditions make it impossible to do so. Lack of recognition feeds their frustration.


We talked about the Circle of Coherence, the concept of Vital Space, and the two Triangles, of Change and Co-Creation (which until recently had been one), and questioned to what extent they could perform the role of the Free Actor.

We ended up with a discussion about anger. When does it paralyse, when does it aggravate the problem, and when can it be healing? When things become really difficult, how can you tell when you’re being constructive, and see challenge instead of perceived threat? (for further reading, see Mobilising Anger)

I think we all went home satisfied and energised.