Skip to main content
#
FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, March 01 2021

Getting to the truth

In the last Newsletter (The ‘Gas-Lighting’ Gambit – 22nd February 2021) we discussed how students can use the technique of lying to avoid facing the consequences of their behaviour.  Unfortunately, teachers will have to spend a significant proportion of their time solving school-yard crimes never mind the increase demands for investigations of disputes made on school executives.  Despite the protests of many parents, who insist that ‘their child would not lie to them’ it is a fact of life that kids will lie on occasion especially if they are trying to avoid trouble!

I recently came across an article in Scientific American by Roni Jacobson ‘How to Extract a Confession … Ethically’ and, I thought the process used by President Obama’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) which meets the standards of the American Psychological Association might be of interest.  These ‘standards’ were a result of the reports of torture in the Iraq War.  You are not being asked to investigate real crimes, that’s not your job but the techniques will help you solve the inevitable disputes.

Just a note of caution – if a real felony has been committed or you suspect one may have been perpetrated you must not investigate the crime, refer on to your departmental supervisors who may engage the professionals.  Any investigations you may try to make can contaminate the evidence that may later be required.

The following are the steps developed to get to the truth of the matter in an effective and still ethical way:

  1. Build Rapport

Think about the ‘good cop – bad cop’ scenario you see in all the movies and then eliminate the bad cop.  Develop an empathetic approach to the student you are questioning.  You want to build an atmosphere of cooperation as you approach the problem.  Explain why you are interviewing them using neutral non-verbal cues and a calm steady voice. 

 

This is the important step, not only to get to the truth but because you are genuinely concerned for the student.  The all-important relationship between you and the pupil can survive even after you establish their ‘guilt’.  Remember the child is not the behaviour, we want to find out what happened and if needed provide the consequences, this is how we teach responsibility so it is their actions that are being investigated not their worth.

 

 

  1. Fill in the Blank

Reduce their tension by asking some closed questions not necessarily related to the purpose of the meeting, this will get them used to answering.  Later, these ‘closed’, yes/no questions should be avoided when we are investigating these yes/no answers allow them to avoid addressing more complex issues.  Then lead into the interview by telling what you know about the situation in a manner that suggests you already know what happened.  As you go on with your narrative the guilty student will often start to add details or correct part of your story without realizing they are doing so.  These are usually as a way of defending themselves but by providing additional information they are establishing their presence at the incident.   

 

Don’t go ‘in for the kill’ when this starts to happen – you are building a case, be patient.  Research conducted in 2014 indicated that people who are interrogated using this method tended to underestimate how much they were telling the interrogator.

 

  1. Surprise Them

If a group of students are involved they know they are under suspicion and try to get their stories coordinated, they may even rehearse their answers ahead of time.  In the age of mobile phones, I have seen texts between students where their stories are ‘coordinated’.  Never interview all the students as a group but question them independently and keep them separated until you have finished your interviews.  This way they will be unsure if their partners in crime have stuck to their story.

 

However, under the pressure of the interview individuals must try to keep ‘the story’ intact while they struggle to remain calm and relaxed.  This is the time to ask them something unexpected, something out of the blue about the incident or suggest a different scenario.  This is when they often slip-up while they try to fit these ‘new facts’ into their fabricated story.  It will be impossible for all the students to fabricate the same explanation.

 

  1. Ask Them to Tell the Story Backwards

It might appear counter intuitive but students who are telling the truth will add more details as the retell their story, this is why surprises work so well.  Those students who are lying will try to stick rigidly to their story being careful not to make changes.  However, memories are never consistent, every time you recall an event your memories change this is how memory works.  This is why you should be suspicious if everyone’s story is exactly the same.

 

This technique of getting them to tell their story in reverse order exploits the difficulty liars have reconstructing their story from the back to the front.  Again, the HIG investigation found that liars produced twice as many details when telling their story in reverse order often contradicting their original story.

 

  1. Withhold Evidence Until the Crucial Moment

On some occasions the participants will immediately ‘spill their guts’, they will confess but these types of students will tell the truth eventually; they are not the difficult students we are talking about.  These more problematic children require a more skilled approach to finding the truth.

 

In a follow-up study following, the HIG report it was established that when people were confronted with evidence of their wrongdoing early in the interviewing process they either clammed up or became hostile.  This is why you never present all the evidence at the beginning.  If you do this the process of ‘gas-lighting’ becomes the go-to behaviour and you will have a much more difficult time getting to the truth.   But after a period of time, when you have established the conditions the release of evidence will often be accepted because they give up trying to sustain the lie.

 

There will be times when you ‘know’ what happened but you can’t prove it but at these times keep in touch with reality.  It’s more important that you are seen to be caring, trying to solve the problem in a fair-minded manner.  In fact, the victims will eventually understand this but more importantly the perpetrators will accept that you are fair and knowing they may have a small sense of victory you move on with your integrity intact and relationships in one piece.  You live to fight another day!

Posted by: AT 06:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 22 2021

The 'Gas-Lighting' Gambit

In recent months the term ‘gas-lighting’ has come back into use thanks to the behaviour of ex-president Trump.  His continual claims of a rigged election, and his ‘overwhelming victory’ has resulted in a fatal attack at the very heart of America’s democracy.  Despite repeated denials, the presentation of overwhelming evidence to the contrary and the failed courtroom appeals, numerous people have chosen to believe his lies and still refuse to accept that this whole outrageous event is based on a lie!  The question is how does this tactic of lying apply to dealing with dysfunctional students?

 

The purpose of these Newsletters is to help teachers deal with student’s dysfunctional and destructive behaviour.  The use of gas-lighting is not obvious but if you haven’t already experienced a version of this practice to avoid responsibility, sooner or later you will. 

 

The name ‘gas-lighting’ came from a 1938 play of Patrick Hamilton called Gas Light which told the story of a husband who manipulated his wife though lies and deception until she was convinced she was going mad.  This is a form of coercive, psychological manipulation to undermine another’s perception of truth allowing them to be deceived.  Kids often use this technique when they are caught doing something inappropriate and their ‘defence’ goes something like ‘No I didn’t’, ‘It wasn’t me’; even when you have personally witnessed their behaviour they will continue to deny it was them.  I remember working with conduct disordered adolescent students who were frequently in trouble with the police.  Their advice to each other was always the same - ‘just deny it, never own-up’ and unfortunately this often worked.

 

So, why does this tactic work?  First, they project an air of confidence, being certain about their story.  Then, when you protest they may attack you both personally implying you don’t know what you’re talking about or they will accuse you of picking on them.  They will stick to their story rarely conceding the validity of any evidence you present.  On those rare occasions they do concede they will acknowledge a part of your evidence but this is rarely decisive, it never alters the basis of their lie.  However, when they do this, they will use their concession as proof they are telling the truth – ‘see I’ll admit when I’m wrong’!  Their whole motivation is to get you to doubt your version of events!

 

This doubt is a natural response when we are challenged; it works because healthy adults understand that everyone sees the world through our own eyes.  We appreciate we all focus on different things in the environment so we must interpret events differently.  It is well known that, if you ask four different people to describe a road accident you will get four different stories, in fact if the stories are identical the statements will be suspected as being colluded. 

 

Not only do we perceive things differently we indorse what we see with our memories of similar events confirming our truth.  But these memories are as personal, just as what we perceive is personal, both sides of the perception of an event is highly influenced by our history.  You need to realise that everyone’s judgement about any event takes place in their brain and it is impossible to verify what you see any other way.  The result is we should have some doubt about our point of view and be prepared to change it when faced with evidence!  This is what mentally healthy people do.  This mature approach to life is exactly why ‘gas-lighting’ works!

 

The student’s use of this deceitful form of ‘gas-lighting’ is primarily to avoid the consequences of their behaviour.  If students realise you are vulnerable to self-doubt they will keep on using this tactic.  This continued doubting leads to a fall in your confidence you can become isolated, confused and depressed.  The other kids in your class can see what is going on and your status as leader in the room will be threatened.  You need to take control of the situation.

 

First of all, trust yourself, if you are reading this I am confident you are the sort of person that wants the best for all the kids, particularly those we focus on in our work, those abused and neglected kids who have never had a real chance until they get to a good school. Counter their monopoly on the conversation and control over what is the truth.  Be like a broken record (for those younger readers, a record is a plastic disc that has grooves and a needle that move around to produce music – a broken record gets caught in one track and repeats the line of music over and over until you stop the record) just keep repeating what you know and what is going to happen.  When they complain acknowledge their complaint, maybe say we will talk about that later and repeat what you know and what is going to happen.

 

One tip is to trust your emotions, even if you have good intentions and a clear understanding of what happened when the students attack you, you will feel threatened.  Take this as a sign that you need to put on your psychological boundaries (see Newsletters Boundary Considerations - 22nd October 2018 and Respecting Other’s Boundaries – 26th November 2018) to protect yourself.  Ask the ‘boundary questions’:

  • What is really going on?
  • Who is responsible?
  • What do you want to happen in the future?

Addressing these questions helps you keep grounded.

 

The ‘boundary questions’ will also make you confront the evidence and unless there is a very strong case stick with your beliefs.  You may be wrong on rare occasions but what you lose by making a mistake is not as significant as the loss of authority if you change just to avoid a difficult situation.  Another thing about evidence, it will never convince another when emotions run high – you will be wasting your time.  At these times the importance of your relationship is paramount because it will be this that will allow you both to move on.

 

Until recently, kids learned to use the technique of ‘gas-lighting’ from their parents.  They watch their mother or father lie to get their way and if it works of course they will do it.  Other kids turn to lying as a survival mechanism.  If their parents dish out severe punishments, physically or psychologically children will lie to protect themselves.  Unfortunately, lying has become part of our daily life almost celebrated in newspapers and television.  Why would we expect our children to respect truth when we see lack of consequences for poor behaviour on a daily basis.

 

 

This is why your work is so important, not only will you teach the importance of truth you will teach them to recognise ‘gas-lighting’ when that technique is used against them.

Posted by: AT 08:46 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 08 2021

Structure in a Crisis

It won’t take long in any teacher’s career before they have a student or a class that behaves in such a dysfunctional way it can be called a crisis.  For the unprepared, this is a time that will really test your character and, in some instances the resulting trauma can leave you and many of the students with long term psychological or even physical damage.

 

A crisis rarely, if ever is a single-time event there is a beginning, climax and an end.  The illustration below charts the progress of such an emergency.

 

It starts with a trigger, something that sets the event into motion.  It is not always easy to see what is the cause but on investigation there will be something.  The next phase is the escalation where things ‘heat-up’ until we reach a crisis that can be a single event or as illustrated come in waves.  Eventually things will calm down but everyone involved is left in need of repair.  So, what to do about this?  I was recently alerted to a procedure called the Haddon Matrix that deals with crisis management which provides a useful scaffold that can be applied. 

 

William Haddon was a graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health and in 1960 was the lead author of the book ‘Accident Research: Methods and Approaches and later became Supervisor of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  In 1970 was faced with the problem of reducing the number of traffic accidents in his state. He approached this multifaceted problem by organising all the statistics in a matrix that sequenced the data based on personal attributes, vector or agent attributes and environmental attributes; before, during and after an injury or death.   By utilizing this framework, one can then think about evaluating the relative importance of different factors and design interventions.

 

The Matrix has been originally organised along two dimensions, the first based on the sequence of an incident, pre-event, event and post event based against the factors that are likely to initiate an incident, things that will influence the event and finally what conditions shape the final outcome of the event.  When applied to the analysis of a classroom crisis the following elements must be considered:

  1. Pre-Event

What is it?

This is hard to really know.  Each of us come to any situation already in a state of expectations, this is natural.  However, for some students they can arrive with an already heightened level of emotions.  I would have confidence in that the real explosive events the students are highly charged and perceive a threat to their wellbeing.   This may or may not be observable but possible signs are the student may be emotional on arrival at school or after recess/lunch break. They can be restless or argumentative. Their body language indicates heightened levels of stress, tense muscles, tight fists etc.

What to do?

Early reassurance or distraction may prevent any escalation

  • Acknowledge their feelings and ask what’s wrong “I can see you’re angry, what’s up?”
  • Listen and let them get it off their chest
  • Discuss solutions where possible
  • Be supportive, calm and friendly
  • Respect their personal space
  • Encourage them saying you know they’ll do the right thing even though they’re upset.  “You were angry but I can see you’re working hard at calming yourself …. Good for you!”
  • Remind them of expected school rules
  • Direct them to an activity to engage their thoughts or discharge energy build-up.  For example get them to complete some school work you know they enjoy, carrying things for you, send them on a message to another teacher
  • Don’t react in the early stages to minor challenges such as dirty looks or a mumbled comment under the breath.

 

  1. Escalation

What is it?

They are preparing for the fight/flight/flee response and you can see evidence for this in their body language which reflects escalating stress:

  • Face – eyes narrow or wide, tight mouth, menacing look, red or paling skin, jaw or head thrust forward
  • Breathing becomes more rapid, shallower or deeper
  • Their behaviour changes, they become:
    • Body language becomes threatening – fists clenched, tapping feet or fingers, chest and shoulders puffing up, hands on hips
    • Louder, challenging, threatening, swearing, argumentative
    • Defiant, disobedient, use insulting comments (these can usually be about weight, age, parentage or sexuality of another student or the teacher)

What to do?

At this point avoid antagonising them:

  • Don’t stand too close or touch them
  • Model non-hostile body language, hands off hips, fists unclenched, no finger wagging
  • Remind them of previous success they have had in gaining self-control; acknowledge their strong emotions but show confidence
  • Consider physical activity e.g. a supervised run

 

  1. Crisis

What is it?

At this stage the child is incapable of rational thinking.  You will observe the following:

  • They may spit, push, kick, choke, head-butt, bite, pull hair, pinch, punch etc.
  • They may flee from room or grounds
  • They may use objects as weapons to smash, break or throw
  • The child has lost self-control and may harm self or others

What to do?

At this time there is not a lot you can do except keep everyone as safe as possible. 

  • In a firm, low voice, use their name and give a short clear instruction and repeat it several times if needed (broken record).  Keep tone and volume of voice consistent
  • At times you may need to stand back and let a tantrum run its course.  It may be necessary to remove other students/audience
  • Don’t attempt to intervene in a playground fight without back-up.  Say STOP and send for help
  • After outburst get child to time-out ASAP
  • Be aware of your own reactions, take some slow deep breaths.

 

  1. Recovery

What is it?

At this time everyone is calming down, returning to some states of equilibrium. This involves:

  • The student’s body chemistry is returning to normal
  • With the battle over the muscles become progressively more relaxed
  • Ritual behaviours become less frequent
  • It is important to note that the student is not yet at baseline and is vulnerable to re-escalation
  • Child should be in a quiet place with no audience

What to do?

Allow calming down time for the child and for yourself. It is a time when you can show concern and support.  You will be understandably upset but avoid anything that could be seen as being hostile don’t lecture, reprimand or even rescue the child.

 

  1. Post Crisis

What is it?

The level of exertion required during the crisis phase now exacts its toll.  The student may:

  • Go through a stage of emotional withdrawal, crying, exhaustion, fatigue, depression, muscles relax and they may slump forward
  • Be thirsty, hungry or need to urinate
  • Feel remorse/regret and worry about consequences

What to do?

This is the time to engage with the child using the following techniques:

  • Use open ended questions with a long wait time and LISTEN.  You don’t need to fill the silences
  • Discuss with the child what they could do differently next time.  Let the ideas come from the child … don’t give them the answers
  • Have the child be specific about what they will do next time, telling you how that will look and sound.  This helps them move towards change and growth and avoids “parrot responses”
  • Be sure you don’t reward the student for the outburst.  This is tempting by giving too much TLC, special activity, food afterwards but for some this is seen as positive feedback for the behaviour which is not appropriate!
  • Now is the time to talk about what happened but not why.  Stick with what you saw and heard and focus on how the child calmed down … what was helpful?

 

The advice given applies to the crisis as it unfolds but the point of Haddon’s Matrix is to plan for the possibility for that same or similar crisis to occur again.  In the first instance you should look after yourself:

  • Write a report stating who, when, where, what happened, injuries, follow-up ASAP.  This can be quite cathartic!  Date and sign it
  • Don’t take it personally.  The child has complex problems … it’s not about you
  • Look after yourself at home too … exercise, relaxation, music etc.
  • Revisit your crisis plan with a support person and make any necessary adjustments.

 

Then review what happened using a matrix to facilitate a plan for future events.  It is always good to devise your own way of making such accounts.  I would use something like the following:

 

 

 

What Happened

How I Responded

What to do Next Time

Trigger

 

 

 

 

Escalation

 

 

 

 

Crisis

 

 

 

 

Recovery

 

 

 

 

Post Crisis

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: AT 07:41 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 01 2021

Beliefs

In a previous Newsletter Challenging Beliefs – Not so Easy (see - 04/02/2017) we discussed the basic principle behind the formations of beliefs and why they are powerful.  In this essay we will revisit some of these concepts and why beliefs have such a powerful hold on behaviour.  Understanding the process of formation provides the processes and conditions that drive a behavioural change.

 

Beliefs are the internal maps of our environment we assemble from the moment we are born.  These maps are the memories of the connection between actions in and from the environment and the experienced impact on our self that followed those actions. 

 

All behaviour, when examined closely is designed to support our survival and later the ability to reproduce, this is the Selfish Gene Model proposed by Richard Dawkins.  In early childhood when our internal maps are being formed, it is the drive to survive that governs our behaviours.  These internal maps are memories of the best way to get our needs met in the environment in which we are raised.

 

For example, if we need to get the attention of a distracted, uncaring mother and after various trials we find the best, most reliable way to do this is to throw a tantrum then the memory of that behaviour will determine what we will do next time mum ignores us!  We expect to get attention with anger and when we do, this belief is reinforced.

 

Over time we develop a whole network of memories associated with various situations and the more these are reliable, the more they ‘work’, the more they become the truth; they become our fundamental view of the world.  This belief allows us to operate effectively to deal with incoming senses because they worked before.  The belief becomes a ‘permanent’ part of our memory and as well as assessing incoming evidence about the environment, it also allows us to ‘know things’ without reference to the environment.  As I sit here typing I ‘know’ my car is in the driveway, I know my kids are at work; I confidently know these things even though I have no real evidence.  This ‘knowing’ makes my life more efficient because in most cases my beliefs will match the unseen evidence.

 

The key point is that the belief has been developed in a specific environment.  Throughout these essays we assert the problem for children raised in abusive, neglectful environments is that when they move from that punishing environment into a different setting such as a classroom, the behaviour driven by their beliefs does not work.  Logic suggests that if one behaviour fails then you try a different one after all that’s how you formed your beliefs, but they are not formed that way, evidence will never overshadow beliefs.  This is especially so for memories (beliefs) formed in early childhood or when the child is feeling threatened!   The evidence is that when a child has established a set of beliefs, logic alone has little chance of successfully making a change, particularly when it suggests behaviours that go against their sense of self.  The difficulty when working with these children is for us to understand just how important and powerful their beliefs are and the difficulty in changing the resulting behaviours. 

 

Every one of us needs a sense of certainty when we make-a-decision.  Not making-a-decision can lead to either inactivity or procrastination or become reliant on others to tell you what to do.  Extreme indecision can lead to aboulomania a mental disorder where pathological indecisiveness leads to emotional anguish; indecision, or lack of ‘knowing.’  This ‘not knowing’ is also associated with obsessive compulsory disorder.  We need to sense we are right all the time.

 

I have an unexplained dislike for the term behaviour modification, it implies that through control you make someone act in a certain way.  I also have the same disquiet in regards to operant conditioning based on Skinner’s model of stimulus response/reward punishment model.  However, we are working with children who have developed behaviours through the ‘reward and punishment’ feedback from the environment in which they were raised so we can’t disregard this connection.  My thesis is that if you want these children to learn to behave in a way to get their needs met in the school environment we have to structure the feedback from their actions to build the connection between their behaviour and their desired consequences.  The feed-back will be either they get their needs met in the environment, a ‘reward’ or, if they do not get their needs met,  they are ‘punished’.  It is through their actions within a structured set of predictable consequences they are modifying their behaviour.

 

Feedback, whether positive or negative are only consequences of actions and are what happens when you act a certain way. Previous Newsletters (Consequences - 03/26/2018 and Consequences – Neither Punishment nor Reward - 04/02/2017) discuss consequences at depth and the case for establishing them is made in detail in these essays. 

 

Setting consequences is not easy, especially those that are not ‘natural’.  For example, if you go out in the rain without protection you will get wet, that’s a natural consequence.  Some consequences can be logical, for example if you are asked to pick up papers because you are caught littering, the connection between creating trash and removing that, is rational.  However, some consequences have to be imposed.  If a child hits a smaller one it would hardly be natural or logical for the child to hit back so society develops a set of ‘chosen’ consequences that follow such actions.  It is best if everyone agrees on the consequences but it is essential that they know what will happen!

 

If we are to build up the child’s sense of independence and the resulting sense of self-empowerment the consequences that are imposed as an outcome must not be influenced by what you want for the child but what the child sees as being significant, that is what they want and don’t want to have happen.

 

This is where structure and persistence are critical.  To develop a new set of beliefs for the child that will drive functional behaviour you have to present an environment that is so structured, so predictable that the evidence, the feedback resulting from behaviour that comes from that environment, will eventually create a set of beliefs that will overwhelm their existing belief structure.

 

It is important to remember that the belief structure constructed during early childhood was developed by being the best way they had of surviving in their physical and social environment.  It is really difficult for anyone to give up their beliefs just based on data.  Our reliance on beliefs is powerful and, in some cases regarded as a more reliable test of reality.  Recent events in America are testament to this phenomenon.  How often do we hear leadership pundits telling us to trust our intuition, use our ‘emotional intelligence’?  When we do this, we run the risk of choosing beliefs over evidence.  When that best-selling book by Daniel Goleman came out I was working with children with belief systems formed in abusive and neglectful environments.  I always thought that emotional stupidity was just as valid a subject!

 

The real secret is that the consequences are attached to the behaviour, not the child.  It will not surprise you to know that this is best done when there is a very supporting relationship between the teacher and the child. This ensures that the child understands it is their behaviour within the structure that controls the consequences not whether or not the teacher likes them.    This is how they develop a sense of self-empowerment because they develop the understanding that they control their behaviour and in doing that, they control the consequences good or bad that come their way.

Posted by: AT 05:45 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Thursday, January 28 2021

Challenging Prejudice in our Schools

In the current political climate there is no doubt that prejudice is driving the divide in our communities!  This should not be tolerated, especially in our multicultural public schools.  Teachers know that bigotry and intolerance is not a natural quality, our kids are not born with these characteristics, they learn them.  This Newsletter looks at prejudice, its origins, the traps we fall into and the hidden dangers we all face especially when teaching in schools whose culture is different than our own.

The basic feature of prejudice is a judgemental attitude towards others based on their ‘group’.  Usually, this is expressed as the ‘other’ belonging to a cohort we consider to be inferior.  Conversely but not as frequently, there are situations where we see those ‘others’ as being better than us.  The origin of this outlook, this ‘us and them’ mind-set is not inevitable, but it does have its beginnings in our evolutionary journey.  

 

Between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago there was an explosion in the development of the human brain.  This was the time our prefrontal lobes started to emerge allowing for an increased capacity for language, complex reasoning and forward planning.  These skills helped keep each tribal group bonded.   We became a social species, a development that required us to cultivate behaviours that kept the groups united.  

The primary benefit of this group cohesion was to provide safety against animals, collecting of food, etc. continued until we were relatively secure in nature then a new threat emerged and this was the danger from other, competing tribes.  During this phase of evolution groups developed the practice of ‘stealing’ food, land and sexual partners from neighbouring tribes.  Now it became a matter of us finding safety in our group and those ‘others’ were a dangerous threat to us all!  This enemy was now a genuine threat to our survival, so we quickly learned how identify who was ‘one of us’ and who ‘was not’, who was good and who was bad!

The emergent reliance on social cohesion resulted in neural alterations in the brain’s emerging limbic system.  The subsequent functions, such as the ability to interpret emotions in others, attachment, those social skills that allowed us to identify the motives of others supported our attempts to survive and thrive.  Successful cooperation led to an increase in the group’s productivity and social security.  The ability to belong in our group depended on our compliance to the social norms and these needed to be learned. 

 

This social association meant loyalty to our kinfolk which led to the rejection of other tribes. We learned to critically scrutinise others’ behaviours and reject any differences.  The cognitive mechanics of this acrimony began to form between the prefrontal cortex, our considering brain and our amygdala, the part of the limbic system that initiated a fear response to any identified threat.  When we detected difference in others ‘alarm bells’ sounded in our brains and we had to alleviate the resulting stress.  

Research has shown that when people are thinking in a prejudicial manner the amygdala lights-up, it is activated.  This associated effect was first observed in an experiment where white men in the US were shown a range of pictures of other faces.  Their amygdala was more active when pictures of black, Afro-Americans appeared indicating even unconscious racism; this was an involuntary response.  Further examination revealed the same anxious response has been shown when faces of other ethnic groups, aggressive women or even opposing team supporters; it is the instinctive reaction when we view someone we think as ‘other’.  

 

The broad result is disturbing in that we view others, including everyone that is like the ‘other’ as being different from us and possessing the same menacing threat.  For instance, if you as a white person see an aboriginal youth drunk in the streets, there is a tendency to think this is typical of all aboriginals.  However, if you see a white man of a similar age, and condition you are less likely to conclude that was typical of all whites, after all they are ‘one of us’!  We are quick to generalise about others, it is an unconscious reaction. 

 

This prejudice has an impact on health.  Whenever you feel discrimination towards another your stress levels become elevated because you see them as a threat and if it continues you can suffer all the ailments linked to excessive stress.  The effect on the health of those who are the subject of this social rejection based on ‘kind’ is even more damaging.  Rejection, a social assault results in the same parts of the brain ‘lighting up’ as happens when physically attacked!  The clue to why prejudice is not unavoidable lies in the interaction of the frontal lobes, the emergence of which facilitated this prejudice and the amygdala, our protection against attack.

 

So, it would seem that prejudice is a natural phenomenon and perhaps, in the first instance it provided an evolutionary advantage but this is no longer the case. 

 

On an individual basis the brain develops over time.  The amygdala is the first to appear being active from birth.  This dominates until about three when the hippocampus comes ‘on-line’ to give a reasoning to our environment.  It has been shown that the amygdala and hippocampus do not instinctively respond to differences in race, gender or class.  In fact, studies have shown that the most popular young children are those with a more diverse collection of friends.  Any observation of young children playing in a multicultural school ground more than confirms this lack of prejudice in very young children.

 

However, the same study showed that these successful students, to remain popular as they matured dropped this inclination towards social diversity.  This is a result of the pressure to belong to a peer group, so important to teens.  It is the same drive to belong that underpins prejudice on a macro scale but also constructs the need to discriminate in a micro sense.  This means, to belong to your clique at school you had to adopt their ‘virtues’ and reject the ‘imperfections’ of those in the out-group.  

This is the period of the evolving teenage brain.  From about age eleven the prefrontal lobes develop and part of this development is to over-ride the amygdala in all but the most dangerous situations.  You don’t have time to think about what to do if a car comes hurtling towards you.  The amygdala is there to initiate an almost instantaneous response and you jump out of the way.  However, if you see someone different coming towards you, in a dark alley at night you do have time for the frontal lobes to assess the danger.  The decision we make will depend on the memories, the things taught to us.  This confirms that prejudice is a learned phenomenon, acquired from our parent, our media and our schools; it is real and it is damaging!

The good news is we can unlearn prejudice.  We can ‘educate’ our frontal lobes by:

  • Teaching about prejudice, in our history lessons social sciences and just straight out teaching empathy
  • Exposing prejudicial behaviour – publicly ‘call it out’
  • Creating laws that outlaw prejudice that causes harm
  • Developing quota for positions of power. 

There have been attempts to do this and with great success.  France introduced laws twenty years ago that forced the membership of their parliament to be gender equal.  A follow-up study revealed that the effectiveness of that parliament had significantly improved.  There has been calls for such legislation in our society but this is resisted by obvious masculine prejudice!

The real driving factor for change is role models.  This is seen in all endeavours, the arts, music, sport and politics.  Perhaps, there has never been more powerful role models that challenge racism than Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama, heroes of our modern political landscape.  In our own nation the elevation of the football star Adam Goodes to Australian of the Year provides a similar symbol.  Their rise marks a turning point for racism but they also provided a target for those who cling to their antiquated prejudices.

I agree with cultural commentator Waleed Aly who made the telling point in regards to Adam Goodes, he made the ‘mistake’ of being not only better in the sport than others, including the white players, he was strong enough to stand-up to the racism and call it out!  The conclusion is we are tolerant of ‘the others’ as long as they don’t rise about their station, the homogenic prejudice to which we have assigned them!

 

The threat that is presented by these outstanding ‘others’ drives the racial backlash witnessed in the last days of the Trump Administration, these demonstrators such as the ‘Proud Boys’ were driven by the emotions of their brain that was responding to their ‘education’!

 

Why are we discussing this in our Newsletter?  Remember, our focus is on students who have developed dysfunctional behaviours as a result of their childhood environment.  The behaviour these children often display does not naturally encourage friendships with kids from successful families.  They almost inevitably become a target for prejudice within the mainstream, they are rejected.  However, these kids still have the powerful drive to belong and as a result are easily seduced into joining sinister alliances that reflect their qualities.  They are driven to behave that way because of their life long rejection.  The acceptance by their group means they now have the security of belonging.  To complete the extension of their acceptance they naturally develop a strong prejudice against anyone who challenges the values of this new group.  They become over represented in the associations that dismiss modern social values with claims of white supremacy and/or the rejection of refugees.  Within their group they finally fit in, adopting the culture of the gang and rejecting that part of society that turn their backs on them. 

 

If we want to eradicate this ugly side of modern society we should look at how or school system reflects our ‘values’.   While ever we support elite private schools, religious and public selective schools which all reinforce social prejudice, we are creating an exclusive culture that must view public, comprehensive schools, that serve the lowest socio-economic areas as being inferior.   We have the breeding ground of prejudice!  This damaging state of affairs reflects our prejudicial parliament who encourage this difference through their financial support.  Sadly, both major parties must take responsibility for this. 

Posted by: AT 08:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, January 26 2021

Starting Off on the Right Foot

At the beginning of each year it is time to ‘start again’ with new or new combinations of students.  It is time to establish the qualities of your classroom and I advocate these are:

  1. Define your Pedagogy

From the outset let the student know what they will learn in your classroom.  Even for those in early education there are ways to tell them what school is about and for those in their final years outline the curriculum they need to take on board and how they will be assessed.

 

  1. Explain the Classroom Structure

As you should be aware I advocate a well-defined discipline and welfare plan however the use of formal rules (see Newsletter Creating Structure 8th - December 2019) occurs to address existing problems.  I won’t make a rule for something that is not a problem – I won’t make a fuss over students who come with appropriate behaviour, it should be expected however, especially for those kids we focus on, those with dysfunctional behaviours rules are just a teaching aid.  One part of the structure is the establishment of the rituals of the classroom (see Rituals – 12th November 2018) things like being on time for class, lining up outside the room, whatever you want!  This initial structure reflects the next quality, expectations!

 

  1. Spell Out Your Expectations

My basic rule for the classes I taught and the schools I supervised was to act appropriately!  For most students, appropriate behaviour is understood but for some this has to be spelled out.  The best way to do this is through modelling.  If you want your students to be on time for class make sure you’re the first there, greet them at the door!  At least reinforce those behaviours you expect and extinguish those you don’t.

 

  1. Relationships

The teacher/student relationship is the most important feature of a quality classroom and that relies on how the students feel about each other and you their teacher.  Of course, the opposite applies.  It is important that you present yourself to the class as a caring teacher.  You can’t fake this but there has always been a belief that if you start in hard with the students they will comply and when they do you can relax.  If ‘starting hard’ means staying aloof and delivering consequences with gusto then you are not ‘hard’ you are lazy.  I will accept the notion of ‘starting hard’ in that you have to be vigilant of all the things you have to establish simultaneously.  Later, when expectations are understood and applied the ‘hard’ work will have paid off and the focus can be on the pedagogy of the classroom while you maintain the other arms of the complete learning environment.

 

These are the characteristics of a complete learning environment (see illustration below).  At the beginning of the year you need to focus on all the features to get them established but as you succeed then the only one that requires continual attention is the pedagogy, the content of the lessons!  The others continue on as a maintenance requirement – you have to continually service the total environment!

 

 

Of course, you hold the leadership role in this so you must apply the qualities of the complete learning environment.  Make sure you:

  1. Know you Lesson Content

Sometimes you will be asked to introduce material you are unsure of and that requires you to research to be prepared just as you need to understand the best way to present that material.  This is well covered in so many places in the education literature and this has never been the focus of our work.  That is not to imply we don’t think it is important – it is.  Our work is to help teachers successfully manage the other qualities so the focus for every lesson is on content!

 

  1. Understand How to Produce Structure

Be aware of the process of making rules to address disruptive behaviours.  This is covered in depth in a previous Newsletter (see Creating Structure 12th August 2019).  It is preferable that you have the students design the rules but if they are too young or too disengaged you need to impose the rule on them so be prepared to do this.

 

  1. Establish Your Expectations

Some school leaders expect all teachers to have the same expectations of the level of behaviour required of the students.  This assumes all the teachers are the same, have the same personality types.  If we require everyone to be the same then no teacher will be true to their own set of values.  There was a time when attention to ‘personality types’ was in vogue, principals and teachers attended workshops and were sorted into groups based on the degree of their particular qualities.  You were assigned a ‘type’ and told how to deal with those ‘other types’ and those ‘other types’ are the children.  The thing is, no type is ‘best’ for the individual students.  What is important is that you are true to your personality.  If you try to be a type of teacher that you’re not then you may succeed while things are going along smoothly however, when things go wrong and you get stressed you will revert back to your true self; this will confuse the students.  Remember, consistency is the key to establishing trust and trust is at the heart of the last and final characteristic!

  1. Build Relationships

This is covered above however there is a distinction, you are the teacher!  You are the adult in the room, we should be able to assume you are fully functional.  You are qualified, you’re the only one with a Degree in teaching.  And, you are responsible to ensure all the above are in place.  The thing is your relationship with every child in your class is critical but yours is a professional relationship and I believe this is the essential quality that every teacher should possess.

 

So, get ready for the next chapter in your brilliant career!

Posted by: AT 06:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 07 2020

Prejudice

There is no doubt that prejudice exists and it should not be tolerated.  This is especially true in our multicultural public schools.  Teachers being more mature, educated and socially aware should not suffer from prejudice however, that process of developing those ‘refined’ characteristics can lead to an unconscious form of intolerance.  This Newsletter looks at prejudice, its origins, the traps we fall into and the hidden dangers we all face especially when teaching in schools whose culture is different than our own.

The basic feature of prejudice is a judgemental attitude towards others based on their ‘group’.  Usually, this is expressed as the ‘other’ belonging to a cohort we consider inferior.  Conversely, there are situations where we see those ‘others’ as being better than us.  The origin of this disposition, this ‘us and them’ mind-set is a result of our evolution.  

Between 50,000 to 100,000 years ago there was an explosion in the development of the human brain.  This was the time our prefrontal lobes started to emerge allowing for an increased capacity for language, complex reasoning and forward planning.  This coincided with the time we became a social species a development that required us to cultivate behaviours that kept the groups bonded.  

The primary advantage of safety against animals, collection of food, etc. continued until we were relatively secure in nature then a new threat emerged and this was the danger from other tribes.  We developed the practice of taking food, land and sexual partners from neighbouring tribes.  It now became a matter of us being safe in our group and those ‘others’ were dangerous.  As this was now a genuine matter of survival we learned to quickly identify who was ‘one of us’ and who ‘was not’

The resulting social change caused cognitive alterations in the brain’s emerging limbic system.  The resultant functions such as the ability to interpret emotions in others, attachment, those social skills allowed us to survive and thrive.  This cooperation led to an increase in productivity and social security.  The ability to belong in our group depended on our compliance to the social norms.  This had another effect, this loyalty to the tribe resulted in the rejection of the other tribes. We learned to critically examine others’ behaviours and reject any differences.  The cognitive mechanics of this animosity began to form between the prefrontal cortex, our considering brain and our amygdala, the part of the limbic system that initiated a fear response to any identified threat.  When we saw the difference in others, alarm bells sounded in our brains and we had to deal with the results.  

Research has shown that when people think in a prejudice manner the amygdala lights-up, that is, it is activated.  This reaction was first observed when white men in the US were shown pictures of other faces.  Their amygdala was more active when shown pictures of black, Afro-Americans indicating even unconscious racism; this was an involuntary response.  However, the same anxious response has been shown when faces of other races, aggressive women or opposing team supporters; it is the instinctive reaction when we view someone we think is ‘other’.  

The broad result is that we view others as being different from us but those ‘others’ are all the same.  For instance, if you as a white person see an aboriginal youth drunk in the streets, there is a tendency to think this is typical of all aboriginals.  However, if you see a white man of a similar age and condition you are less likely to conclude that was typical of all whites, after all they are ‘one of us’!  We are quick to generalise about others, it is an unconscious reaction. 

This prejudice has an impact on health.  Whenever you feel discrimination towards another your stress levels become elevated because you see them as a threat and if it continues you can suffer all the ailments linked to excessive stress.  The effect on the health of those who are the subject of this social rejection based on ‘kind’ is even more damaging.  Rejection, a social assault results in the same parts of the brain ‘lighting up’ as happens when physically attacked!

So, it would seem that prejudice is a natural phenomenon and perhaps, in the first instance it was but this is not the case now.  The clue to why prejudice is not unavoidable lies in the interaction of the frontal lobes, the emergence of which facilitated this prejudice and the amygdala, our protection against attack.

On an individual basis the brain develops over time.  The amygdala is the first to appear being active from birth.  This dominates until about three when the hippocampus comes ‘on-line’ to give a reasoning to our environment.  It has been shown that the amygdala and hippocampus do not respond to differences in race, gender or class.  In fact, studies have shown that the most popular young children are those with a more diverse collection of friends.  Any observation of young children playing in a multicultural school ground more than confirms this lack of prejudice in very young children.

However, the same study showed that these successful students, to remain popular as they matured, dropped this inclination towards social diversity.  This is a result of the pressure to belong to a peer group, so important to teens.  It is the same drive to belong that underpins prejudice on a macro scale but also drives this need to discriminate in a micro sense.  This meant to belong to your clique at school you had to adopt their ‘virtues’ and reject the ‘imperfections’ of the out-group.  

This is the period of the evolving teenage brain.  From about age eleven the prefrontal lobes develop and part of this development is to over-ride the amygdala in all but the most dangerous situations.  You don’t have time to think about what to do if a car comes hurtling towards you.  The amygdala is there to initiate an almost instantaneous response and you jump out of the way.  However, if you see someone different coming towards you, in a dark alley, at night you do have time for the frontal lobes to assess the danger.  The decision we make will depend on the memories, the things taught to us.  This means prejudice is a learned phenomenon, acquired from our parent, our media and our schools; it is real and it is damaging!

The good news is we can unlearn prejudice.  We can ‘educate’ our frontal lobes by:

  • Teaching about prejudice, in our history lessons social sciences and just straight out teaching empathy
  • Exposing prejudicial behaviour – publicly ‘call it out’
  • Creating laws that outlaw prejudice that causes harm
  • Developing quota for positions of power.  There have been attempts to do this and with great success.  France introduced laws twenty years ago that forced the membership of their parliament to be gender equal.  A follow-up study revealed that the effectiveness of that parliament had significantly improved.  There has been calls for such legislation in our society but this is resisted by obvious masculine prejudice!

The real driving factor for change is role models.  This is seen in all endeavours, the arts, music, sport and politics.  Perhaps, there has never been more powerful role models that challenge racism than Nelson Mandela and Barrack Obama, heroes of our modern political landscape.  In our own nation the elevation of the football star Adam Goodes to Australian of the Year provides a similar symbol.  Their rise marks a turning point for racism but they also provided a target for those who cling to their antiquated prejudices.

In his last years playing football Adam Goodes was, in every game he played booed whenever he got the ball.  Some commentators said this was not racism, it was just that the crowd didn’t like the way he played and that other aboriginal players were not booed. A common reason given was that he ‘called out’ a young girl who described him as an ape.  The next day Goodes explained he did not blame the girl and she needed to be supported.  He called out the behaviour she had ‘learned’ from an adult. Despite this the apologists kept referring this as him attacking the girl!  

I agree with cultural commentator Waleed Aly who made the telling point, Adam Goodes made the mistake of being not only better in the sport than others, including the white players, he was strong enough to stand-up to the racism and call it out!  The conclusion is we are tolerant of ‘the others’ as long as they don’t rise about their station, the homogenic prejudice to which we have assigned them!

Why are we discussing this in our Newsletter?  Well we focus on students who have developed dysfunctional behaviours as a result of their childhood environment.  The behaviour these children often display does not naturally encourage friendships with kids from successful families.  They almost inevitably become a target for prejudice within the mainstream.  

However, these kids still have the powerful drive to belong and as a result are easily seduced into joining sinister alliances.  Exploited on the basis of their life long rejection.  They are finally convinced they now have the security of belonging.  To complete the extension of their acceptance they naturally develop a strong prejudice against anyone who challenges the values of this new group.  They become over represented in the associations that dismiss modern social values with claims of white supremacy and/or the rejection of refugees.  They finally fit in, adopting the culture of the gang and rejecting that part of society that turn their backs on them.  All too often this was their school!  

If we want to really support these kids all Australians should look at how their own values are reflected in the schools they support.  Elite private schools, religious and public selective schools all reinforce social prejudice.  They view the public, comprehensive school that serves the lowest socio-economic areas as being inferior.  This damaging state of affairs reflects our prejudicial parliament, sadly both major parties must take responsibility for this. 

As teachers, we have to check our own preferences in where we want to work being sure that a desire to teach in these needed schools does not expose your own belief that some kids are ‘better than’ and it follows, others are not.

Posted by: AT 07:10 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, November 30 2020

Communicating with Difficult Kids in Difficult Times

In a recent Newsletter Personal Action in the Time of Crisis (7th September 2020) I outlined actions that should be taken to navigate this difficult time.  In this Newsletter I want to focus more closely on the direct communication between the teacher and the student.  This is the personal point of connection and influences what happens next. 

In the first instance you need to check your own emotional state.  It takes a special talent to withstand the force of a child’s aggressive attack when they don’t get what they want.  You need to be aware you will be vulnerable so:

  • Check your own emotional condition.  You may already be stressed from the day to day demands of the classroom
  • Calm yourself down and check you have your boundaries in place

(see Newsletters Boundary Considerations - 22nd October 2018 and Respecting Other’s Boundaries - 26th November 2018 for detailed descriptions of boundaries)

You need to remember that you are the leader in the classroom, you are the only adult and you are qualified to do this work – everyone else is a child doing the best they can at this time.  You need to act professionally, that is you have to control the situation to ensure everyone is safe and you can get on with teaching. 

The child who is acting ‘out of control’ will not be waiting to hear what you have to say but you do need to be heard.  You need to get their attention in the appropriate manner, you need to portray authority.  In the first instance your posture will be important:

  • Hold yourself in an upright, confident position, hold your hands on a non-threatening but non-submissive manner. but contained in your space.  Don’t lean towards the student, that suggests aggression or away that indicates capitulation.
  • Hold a steady gaze on the student.   Don’t glare aggressively nor avoid eye contact which can be seen as a weakness) and be sensitive to cultural differences regarding eye contact.  Be guided by how they react.  When you are speaking you should maintain contact about 70% of the time.  This indicates that what you are saying is for them.  The same should happen if they do reply to your communication.  However, a good rule of thumb is about five seconds.

Once you have regained control (see Newsletters Dealing with the Exploding Kid – 7th September 2020 and The Crisis Response – 14th September 2020) you need inform the student:

  • Why their behaviour is an issue, this should relate to the needs of themselves and all others.
  • What are the consequences, on one scale the behaviour may violate the classroom rules and consequences should be clear however, the consequence might be more individualised, it may be that you need to explain how their behaviour impacts on other’s well-being.  This is a time to use:
    • ‘When you’ …  this is when you describe their behaviour
    • ‘I feel’ … tell them how their behaviour affects you and the other student
    • ‘Because’ … let them know why it has that affect

These steps are fitting if the student has regained some self-restraint.  If the situation is still unresolved and you have to get the message to the child then use:

  • ‘If you’ … describe the behaviour(s) that will get them into trouble
  • ‘I will’ … indicate the consequences that will definitely follow that behaviour

These are the steps that usually take place in the classroom and they should be taken with a 100% refusal to accept the inappropriate behaviour but most importantly a 100% acceptance of the value of the child.  However, you can be sure the child will find it difficult to make the same differentiation between what they did and how they think you feel about them and you don’t take their anger personally.  You need to take further steps to maintain the relationship.  It is a tactic to have them stay back at the end of the lesson.

It is essential you give them a chance to explain their behaviour.  You need to really listen to them, let them know you’re listening in a non-aggressive manner:

  • Let them tell their story without interruption.  Make sure you really understand the issue and that they know you do.  You can do this by making a summary of their main points and repeat this back to them.  If they disagree on your interpretation seek clarification of what them mean.  If possible, you need to reach an agreed understanding of the dispute.
  • Validate their emotions, you understand they are angry but explain that the anger may have triggered the behaviour it will not avert the consequence.
  • Take the complaint seriously.

You will get better at communicating at these difficult times if you follow these steps however, there are many mistakes you can avoid.  The following are some of the traps you can fall into:

  • Don’t interrupt them as they are explaining their behaviour, they will only start again
  • Don’t jump to conclusions, really listen to them.
  • Don’t make excuses for what you have done.  Your actions should deal exclusively with the behaviour.
  • Never use sarcasm or communicate from a position of ‘authority’, that is you are both equal in examining the situation but you do have different responsibilities.
  • Never fail to follow up if you have committed to do that.  If at the end of this conversation you agree about what will happen in the future make sure it does happen.  Your integrity is always being tested particularly in these cases.

 

Changes in behaviour for these kids takes time but it is these moments that combine to provide the pathway to a more successful way of behaving at school.

Posted by: AT 07:23 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, November 23 2020

Theory of Mind

This is the ability to understand the experiences, desires and intentions of yourself and others.  With theory of mind individuals can predict and interpret the behaviour of others and act in a way that can make use of this knowledge.

 

The development of theory of mind is a gradual process from birth and it is complex.  Prior to its emergence, in very early life there is little separation of the self.  It has long been held that the child believes that everyone knows everything they are experiencing.  However, there is no direct evidence of this, they don’t ‘know’ their mother shares their thoughts it’s just that they believe she does.  

 

However, the child does experience things on a personal level, the beginning of a sense of self.  Between five to seven months they experience fear and anxiety and this relates to ‘them’ being under threat.  This development of separation continues and between 15 and 24 months at which stage they can pass the ‘spot test’ a process that confirms the child knows it is them in the mirror.  This is achieved by putting a mark usually a dot of colour on their forehead, when they know it reflects themselves they will touch or try to remove the spot, they know it should not be theirs.  Prior to that age they don’t firmly see their reflection as being of themselves and don’t comprehend that the mark should not be there.  This test is extensively used to measure the same occurrence of theory of mind in animals.

 

The classic test is the false belief task.  This involves telling a child a story about two children, say Sally and Anne who put a toy in a basket. When Sally leaves the room, Ann hides the toy in a box. The child passes the test by reasoning that Sally will look for the toy in the basket when she returns.  However, a more telling confirmation of a child having a real sense of ToM is when they know they can tell a deliberate lie and/or keep a secret.  This is evidence that they can keep their thoughts and desires private and others have no access to these.

 

It is postulated that the acquisition of theory of mind is developed in stages and I suspect this is the same as other developmental stages such as the arrangement of hearing and sight all part of building a repertoire of activities that define the individual.  The particular stages dealing with theory of mind are:

  1. The understanding that someone might want something, they perceive other’s desires. This is why a two-year old is unable to share or take turns unless directed.
  2. Understanding people have different and diverse beliefs about the same situation.  Even adults, when asked to describe a scene, say an accident will have a different perspective.  It is a mature response to accept these differences but unless this ability is established people will refuse to see a different point of view.
  3. Accepting people have a different knowledge base, they may not comprehend or understand that something is ‘true’ even though you ‘know’ it is real.  The same conflicts outlined in stage 2 will also apply.
  4. Appreciate that people can have false beliefs about the world.  This. Of course, should include themselves.  How many wars are fought over the failure of populations to achieve to acquire this state of understanding. 
  5. People can hide emotions or may act one way while feeling another.  This is a sophisticated skill for a child.  They learn to do this as a protection for themselves and accept others may well be doing the same thing.

 

It is a waste of time expecting infants to share, consider others or take turns until they develop theory of mind and this happens through experience, modelling and shaping behaviour.

 

 Another concept that is an extension of theory of mind is mentalization.  This is more about the application of theory of mind and how behaviour is used to realize our needs, how the implicit self and the explicit other are entangled and that this relationship will guide actions.  Mentalization can be automatic, that is, actions are processed without delay, they are reflexive with little conscious effort.  Contrarily, decision making can be controlled, requiring effort with full awareness of the situations.

 

The optimal use of decision making occurs when there is an ability to mentalize one’s own state of mind as well as that of the ‘other’.  Imbalance results in a skewed assessment of the situation, that is if the individual has too much focus on self and is less consideration of the other, their actions are unbalanced and less effective.  The converse is equally true, too much consideration of the other will also result in less than optimal behaviour.

 

The emergence of theory of mind is linked to the health of the environment in which the child is raised, specifically their attachment to their caregivers.  The balance between the needs and perceptions the ‘self’ and that of the ‘other’ depends on the security of that attachment.  If the child develops a healthy understanding of the gap between their internal world and the outer world they can make effective life decisions.  However, if there is an insecurity in the attachment then there will be an imbalance with the child either giving too much consideration to their perception or conversely to the external situation.  Children whose early experience with caregivers includes abuse and/or extreme neglect will develop a severe imbalance that results in extremely dysfunctional behaviour.

 

Until they achieve theory of mind infants should be directed in their behaviour.  It’s appropriate to tell them to pack-up their toys, etc. and then thank them for doing so.  This is a joint experience between the carer and the child, an example of the child learning through modelling and experience.  Until they are unable to consider the other person’s emotional state, it is unreasonable to expect their respect. The presence of mirror neurons, a distinct type of neurons that allow an individual to copy whet they see.  If you poke your tongue out at a new born child there is every chance they will return that gesture. 

 

Not only do these neurons allow the child to copy they also interpret the intentions of what they witness.  The classic study is exposure to a dinner setting.  If the table is set in anticipation of the meal being served a particular set of neurons are excited.  However, if the conditions on the table indicate the meal has been finished and it is time to clean-up another set of neurons fire.  This underlies the importance of modelling desired behaviours.  If you want the child to clean-up then teach them to do it through modelling and the shared experience.

 

It must be emphasised that theory of mind in the first instance and then mentalization evolve in an environment and the specifications each individual takes as the foundation of their ToM and mentalised state will reflect that environment.  When a child moves from one environment to a contrasting one the familiar problems arise.  Theory of mind is really the emergence of self!

Posted by: AT 08:54 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, November 16 2020

Dealing with Touching and Restraint

Every teacher will one day be confronted with a student, or students whose behaviour is so uncontrolled it will pose a threat to themselves, others around them or the school equipment.  In some cases, physical intervention becomes the only response open to the teacher.  This professional obligation to keep everyone safe has always raised deep concerns for teachers.  These concerns are based on the fear of being accused of assaulting the child both physically and sexually.  The latter category, sexual assault is particularly problematic and is often cited as the reason for such a shortage of male teachers in the infant and primary aged schools.

 

Of course, this abuse does exist and is not to be tolerated on any level but the fear of a false or malicious allegation is difficult to defend and many teachers, especially males refuse to touch students for any reason.  This fear should not be taken lightly but there are times when it is appropriate to touch a student.  Remember it is not illegal to touch a pupil and there are occasions when physical contact, including reasonable force, with a pupil is proper and necessary.  Examples of where touching a pupil might be proper or necessary:

      • Holding the hand of the child at the front/back of the line when going to assembly or when walking together around the school;
      • When comforting a distressed pupil;
      • When a pupil is being congratulated or praised;
      • To demonstrate how to use a musical instrument;
      • To demonstrate exercises or techniques during PE lessons or sports coaching; and
      • To give first aid.

Physical Restraint
Physical restraint means the use of physical force to prevent, restrict or subdue movement of a student’s body or part of their body. Students are not free to move away when they are being physically restrained.  Physical restraint should only be used when it is immediately required to protect the safety of the student or any other person. In some limited circumstances, it may also be necessary to restrain a student from imminent dangerous behaviours by secluding them in an area where such action is immediately required to protect the safety of the student or any other person.

The use of restraint should only ever used as a ‘last resort’ intervention when all other techniques have failed or the situation is immediate and dangerous and is necessary to keep everyone safe.

Situations that may require physical intervention include:

  • students threatening other students or staff
  • students putting their own safety at risk
  • fights between students
  • students attempting to leave the school premises without authorisation and in circumstances that put their safety at risk
  • students attempting to leave the premises in a heightened state of anxiety, where they may be unable to recognise risks to their safety.

There needs to be a ‘age appropriate’ consideration to be applied.  Fights between late secondary age students may pose a very real danger for the teacher.  Every attempt should be made to defuse the altercation without direct physical intervention but the only course of action is to make sure other students are safe. 

Restraint should not be used as a routine behaviour management technique, to punish or discipline a student or to respond to:

  • a student’s refusal to comply with a direction, unless that refusal to comply creates an imminent risk to the safety of the student or another person
  • a student leaving the classroom/school without permission, unless that conduct causes an imminent risk to the safety of the student or another person
  • verbal threats of harm from a student, except where there is a reasonable belief that the threat will be immediately enacted
  • property destruction caused by the student unless that destruction is placing any person at immediate risk of harm

Types of physical restraint which must not be used include:

  • any restraint which covers the student's mouth or nose, and in any way restricts breathing
  • the application of pressure to a student's neck, chest, abdomen, joints or pressure points to cause pain or which involves the hyperextension of joints
  • holding a student's head forward, headlocks, choke holds
  • take-downs which allow students to free-fall to the ground whether or not in a prone or supine position or otherwise
  • wrestling holds (including 'full or half nelsons'), using a hog-tied position or straddling any part of a student's body
  • basket holds, bear hugs, 'therapeutic holding'

When applying physical restraint in the limited circumstances set out above, staff must:

  • use the minimum force required to avoid the dangerous behaviour or risk of harm
  • only restrain the student for the minimum duration required and stop restraining the student once the danger has passed
  • The decision about whether to use physical restraint or seclusion rests with the professional judgment of the staff member/s involved, who will need to take-into-account both their duty of care to their students, their right to protect themselves from harm and obligations under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.  

Staff should ensure the type of restraint used is consistent with a student’s individual needs and circumstances, including:

  • the age/size of the student
  • gender of the student
  • any impairment of the student e.g. physical, intellectual, neurological, behavioural, sensory (visual or hearing), or communication
  • any mental or psychological conditions of the student, including any experience of trauma
  • any other medical conditions of the student
  • the likely response of the student
  • the environment in which the restraint is taking place

At all times the staff should monitor the student for any indicators or distress. Staff should talk to the student throughout the incident, making it clear to the student why the physical restraint is being applied.  Staff should also calmly explain that the physical restraint will stop once it is no longer necessary to protect the student and/or others. 

The staff member(s) involved in the incident must immediately notify the principal of the incident.

A written record of the incident should be kept and should include:

  • the name of the student/s and staff member/s involved
  • date, time and location of the incident
  • names of witnesses (staff and other students)
  • what exactly happened, for example, a brief factual account
  • any action taken to de-escalate the situation
  • why physical intervention was used (if applicable)
  • the nature of any physical intervention used
  • how long the physical intervention lasted
  • names of witnesses (staff and other students)
  •  the student’s response and the outcome of the incident
  • any injuries or damage to property
  • immediate post incident actions, such as first aid or contact with emergency services
  • details of contact with the student’s parent/carer
  • details of any post-incident support provided or organised.

Staff Training

  • Schools need to take their own decisions about staff training. The headteacher should consider whether members of staff require any additional training to enable them to carry out their responsibilities and should consider the needs of the pupils when doing so.
  • Some local authorities provide advice and guidance to help schools to develop an appropriate training program.

Much of the content of this Newsletter has been taken from school systems across the western world in order to provide a common-sense approach to physical touching particularly restraint.  However, it is important that that all schools know the formal policies of the Departments who employ them.  These guidelines define the limits of the intervention and the responsibilities all members of the organisation.

Posted by: AT 08:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
 

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

Create a Website Australia | DIY Website Builder