Conflict heads out of the clouds
Linda Trapnell uses diagrams of clouds to solve difficulties by turning "you against me" into "us against the problem" thinking.
Mrs Trapnell, head of Alderman Pounder infant school in Chilwell, Nottingham, is a disciple of the Theory of Constraints, by US personal development guru Dr Eliyahu Goldratt.
Each side of an argument is represented by two clouds, one for needs and one for wants, which helps the participants to separate the desirable from the necessary. If things go as planned, an amicable outcome is represented by a final fluffy outline.
Recently Mrs Trapnell, an "absolute convert" to Dr Goldratt's musings, invited chief inspector of schools, Chris Woodhead to visit. He sat on a cloud, and managed to work out how he could have a party at McDonald's, despite his Mum saying it was too expensive.
"He seemed very taken by the whole idea", says Mrs Trapnell. "So much so I gave him a book by Dr Goldratt. He wrote back straight away saying he was looking forward to reading it."
Usually anyone wanting to learn the techniques would pay thousands of pounds to attend one of Dr Goldratt's six-day courses. However, the guru was so keen to test his techniques on children he taught Mrs Trapnell and her colleague, Kate Hyland, for free. The pair have since lectured senior executives of multi-national companies from all over the world. In September the LEA will fund them to train teachers across Nottinghamshire.
"It's not psychobabble," says Mrs Trapnell. "Most schools encourage children to be problem-solvers. But often they don't show them how. Children need to analyse problems, and we are giving them the framework to do it."
At the school, teachers use the theory in staff meetings and to teach the curriculum. In literacy the school's pragmatic five-year-olds concluded that if Mary and Joseph had bothered to book they wouldn't have been turned away from the inn, and if the Three Bears had fitted a burglar alarm Goldilocks would never have got in to steal the porridge. And Cinderella should have negotiated better terms and conditions with the Fairy Godmother.
Constraints theory permeates the school, with conflict clouds painted in corridors and the playground.
"They can work through any problem you like," says Mrs Trapnell. "Just don't always expect their answers to be logical in an adult way. Take a fight - 'I'm pulling his hair, but I haven't a problem with that, he has'."
With somewhat missionary zeal, she has sent David Blunkett some conflict clouds to work through - on class sizes and calculator bans.
"It's an interesting image isn't it?", she says. "Politicians sitting in a cloud working out logical policies."