Written by Graham Perry

Graham Perry M.A. Cantab FCIArb Experienced Arbitration Lawyer | China & Chinese Business Affairs | Public Speaker/Lecturer

15 November 2023



Picking up where Episode 1 concluded,  the Head Teacher is faced with three options in deciding how to handle 14 year old Mavis’s apparent awkwardness in responding to questions from her form teacher about her family tree. Speak to the parents, or speak to the older brother, Tobias, or speak to Mavis To the Head, the topic is quite natural and innocent – after all, family trees are a regular subject for teachers to raise with their pupils. It is a teaching tool to promote knowledge and understanding within the Form but for Mavis the family tree seems to create some anxiety.

The Head decides to get involved believing it is within her area of responsibility. She can always refer back to the parents if there is a problem. The Head knows she could also raise the issue with Tobias, the 17 year older brother but again decides against a conversation with Tobias – there is time ahead for that initiative if that becomes necessary.

The Head acts. She uses a chance encounter with Mavis in the School Hall to have a quiet word. The Head has an informal style of leadership and often engages in one-on-one exchanges with pupils, and passing teachers, and pupils would not attach importance to seeing the Head talking with Mavis.

The Head quickly realises that there is a problem. She knows Mavis well and has a good Head-Pupil relationship. But Mavis, usually relaxed and at ease, is taut and mono-syllabic. The Head realises that she has a problem on her hands and changes tack. She asks Mavis to come to her Study after school hours – Mavis readily agrees.

The Head knows something is afoot. Mavis is clearly ill at ease responding to an innocent question about the family. The Head is experienced and is braced for almost anything. It could be matrimonial strife or rivalry with her brother or something quite personal. The Head knows to tread carefully. The artichoke image comes to mind as the Head makes progress by removing the leaves one-by-one. She reminds herself – ‘take your time, avoid direct questions, be gentle and encourage Mavis to speak.  Expect closed answers initially and few words.’

The Head explores the subject – tries to get an understanding of the dramatis personae. She encourages Mavis to talk about summer holidays, family pets, and neighbours. Mavis begins to loosen-up and voluntarily expands on her questions. The Head is pleased but she is aware that she needs to get closer to the issue – the family tree. The Head, herself a single child, volunteered recollections from her own upbringing. Her father died aged 53 and she was brought up in the main by her mother and a maiden Aunt.

The ploy worked. Mavis showed interest and began to ask questions. At this point, the Head listened intently hoping for a clue or a comment or an incident that would open the door to explaining Mavis’s tenseness about the Form Teacher’s quite innocent Family Tree question. The chance came when Mavis picked up on what appeared to be the Head’s own absence of cousins. This was a breakthrough moment.




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