Danny had been causing Ms P issues for a little while. We’d tried a lot of different interventions, but the time came to bring Danny C’s parents in for a meeting. We sat with him and his mum in a meeting room, and I went over the events that had led to the meeting. About halfway through she burst into tears:

I’m so sorry Mr Boxer. I’m so sorry Ms P. I don’t know why he is doing it. I’m so sorry.

I paused the meeting.

I’m really sorry this has made you upset. I’m going to take Danny outside for a quick word, and Ms P will stay in here with you. Be back in a sec.

I left with Danny.

Ok, Danny – did you see what just happened in there? Yeah? Be honest with me, how does it make you feel to see your mum crying like that? Don’t look away, answer me Danny. I’m not surprised you said that. You know some kids they wouldn’t care. They like messing around in school and they don’t care if their mum gets upset. But I know you aren’t like that, and I know that you care a lot, so I’m not surprised that you’re feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

Alright, this is what we are going to do. We’re going to go back in, and Ms P and I are going to leave. You’re going to apologise to your mum, give her a big hug and tell her you’re going to behave next lesson. You don’t need to apologise to me or Ms P, because we know that you’ll apologise to your mum and sort your behaviour. Ok?

I came back in with Danny.

Hi again Mrs C. I’ve just spoken to Danny outside, and Ms P and I are going to go now because Danny wants to talk to you by himself. Ms P will go to her lesson, and I’m going to stand outside and wait. When you’re both ready just come out, I’ll send Danny off to class and I’ll sign you out.

This was not an enjoyable experience. Nobody enjoys seeing other people breaking down in tears. But it worked, and Danny’s behaviour improved greatly. Not quite perfect, and not quite forever, but there was a big improvement.

It worked, and I knew it would work, because it had worked for me twenty years earlier. When I joined my secondary school as a year 7, I was extremely poorly behaved. The school had a points system – one point per misdemeanour – and within 6 weeks I had 38 points and was two points away from being excluded for three days. I vividly remember coming home one evening to see my mother in the kitchen in tears, having just had yet another phone call and warning letter from the school. From that moment till the end of the year, I didn’t pick up a single point.

***

Sophie was a really brilliant year 7, easily top of her mixed ability science class. At parents’ evening, about halfway through the year, she sat down with her dad – their first secondary parents’ evening.

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that Sophie’s doing really well. Working hard, doing well in tests, contributing in class. All the things we like to see. I imagine you’ve heard that a few times tonight already…ha, yeah. Well look, I’ll tell you the truth: all of that stuff is important, but I don’t really need to say it to you, it’s hardly news. I wanted to tell you about something else, that I actually think is more important and you probably don’t know about. In class, Sophie sits next to a student – I can’t really go into details because that wouldn’t be fair – but let’s just say he needs extra help, and I can’t always give it to him when I have 29 other students to worry about to. So Sophie sits next to him and is absolutely brilliant with him. When I’m talking to the class, she makes sure he’s paying attention. When he can’t find the right question in his booklet she finds it for him. When he’s struggling to understand something, she explains it back to him. It’s a real joy to see, because it shows how selfless and caring she is, and for me that’s incredibly important.

As I finished, Sophie’s dad burst into tears. He told me that of everything he had heard that night, this had been the most important to him. I told him he should be very proud of her, and I told Sophie to never forget this moment, and I hope she never does.