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Monday, March 29 2021


At the heart of any community is the acceptance and tolerance of all members in that society.  Therefore, the best start we can give our emerging citizens is an educational setting where children from all experiences and socio-economic levels attend as equals.  This by definition is in a local comprehensive public school.  The failure to address the current calamity that is testing the federal government comes from the fact that 70% of the male Ministers in cabinet attended private schools and the Prime Minister went to an all-boys, selective school.  They were educated in an environment that lacked contact with children from circumstances of which they have no experience, they are raised in a mono-culture.


Mono-Cultures have long been known to have an adverse effect on the production of food.  Although the economic advantage is obvious, planting, harvesting and packaging are relatively uniform resulting in increased profit margins that benefit the few.  However, there is a cost to the health of the plants and the surrounding environment. 


The continual use of one type of species means there is a concentration of the nutrients extracted from the soil and this needs to be replaced by specific fertiliser that is sourced from another area.  Further, the practice of mono-culture farming leads to mutation of the plants with a reduction of resistance to any disease that is encountered.


The practice on mono-culture farming is perhaps more disturbing when we consider it’s practice in the farming of livestock.  Of course, there is the same economic rationality: specialisation leads to profit maximisation but like the species concentration in plants, animals suffer from lack of diversity.  Studies have shown that the use of a specific genetic strain in a bovine population leads to a decrease in the fertility of the herd, a reduction in the resistance to disease and a loss in vitality.


The extreme catastrophe of this in-breeding is seen in the world of dog shows.  Breeders have selected pairs of dogs that are closely match up with the view of getting a more exaggerated physical character that is admired, especially by the judges.  The most tragic case is in the breeding of the British Bulldog.  These poor dogs are now so disformed they live in continual discomfort struggling to breath, susceptible to disease and are depressed.  The deformity is so pronounced that bulldogs bred for showing can only give birth via caesarean section, their head is so large it won’t fit down the birth canal!


So, what is the point of this information?  I will argue that the lessons from the natural world do apply to our social world and this mono-culture approach to the nurturing of our children particularly with regards to schooling. 


Just like any biosphere the step-by-step brain development of any child depends on the environment in which it is raised.  We develop our behaviours by addressing the problems we confront in ways that satisfy our sense of belonging within that environment.  If I attend a ‘selective’ school of any kind I will be limited to the culture of that school.


It’s not hard to appreciate that, if I attend a wealthy boy’s school, one that has the best facilities, an ‘inbred’ culture that has evolved over many years I would develop the behaviours that reflect those values. 


The first public recognition of the toxic masculinity of these schools was seen on the ‘4 Corners’ 2020-episode exposure of the hyper-masculinity of the boys from St Kevin’s school in Melbourne.  Despite attempts to downplay this as a one-off incident, the activities of an ex- Kambala School student, Chanel Cantos has revealed otherwise.  Ms Cantos sent out a partition asking for girls that had experienced forms of sexual harassment and rape.  She was overwhelmed by the response with over 100 testimonies indicating that a significant number of boys from the Sydney elite schools had little or no respect for the girls.


I would argue that these boys had their ethics and character nurtured in a culture that lacked healthy exposure to girls in their formative years and as a result, they never developed the neural pathways that lead to a healthy respect for girls.


This is the most sensational example of the destructive effect mono-culture schools have on the boy’s social development.  Attending such a school encourages this sort of behaviour and so impressionable adolescents conform to the presenting social norms to belong.


However, this is not the only example.  Another issue is the presence of schools with a religious bias.  Around the middle of the last century I attended a public school.  I had heard about a nearby Catholic School but had no idea what that meant.  They were ‘different’ to me and as I found out later ‘they’ had the same opinion about us.  One weekend with my mates I came across a group of these ‘cathos’ and to all our surprise we were very much the same.  However, the identification of a group as being ‘other’ of the foundation of prejudice.  The student within that religious school will think of public schools as others and public-school kids think of, say Muslim kids as others.   The creation of ‘others’ has fuelled the major atrocities throughout history with an extreme example being the holocaust perpetrated in during the Second World War!


It is human nature to want to be better that ‘others’ and when children are separated on religious grounds it will be because the parents see their religious norms as being better that those outside that religion; this creation of a mono-culture at a school weakens the student’s ability to socially integrate with their whole society.  I expect there will be a strong protest about that statement but what else can happen! 


These same arguments can be easily applied to the creation of selective schools for ‘gifted’ students just as they can for ‘special schools’ for the ‘disabled’.  Whenever you create a school culture that identifies those outside that school as ‘others’, as being different you depreciate the social health of both the child that attends that school and the ‘other’ and that has huge life-long consequences.


So, why are these schools still in existence and growing?  Why do our governments continue to fund, at ever increasing levels these schools?  Well its not to get a better learning outcome!  In January, Trevor Cobbold of the Save our Schools organisation demonstrated that these elite schools do no better than the less wealthy public schools in the NAPLAN tests when socio-economic factors are included.  There is no logical answer for the existence of a type of school other than the comprehensive community public school where the whole complex human diversity resides and as the World Health Organisation concludes regarding nature, this exposure to diversity is the foundation of a healthy and strong society!  

Posted by: AT 10:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 22 2021

Supporting a Sense of Self

Whenever people talk about the qualities of successful people they always cite a healthy sense of ‘self’.  This is described in terms like positive self-esteem or self-confidence and there is no doubt that how we feel about our selves really does impact on our performance.  The same relationship holds for our students; if they feel confident they approach their lessons with a positive attitude.  But, what about those students in our classes who suffer low levels of self-esteem, those who has suffered abuse or neglect or those who come into the system with undiagnosed disabilities.  These kids are already at a disadvantage even before they start the lesson!

The emergence of our sense of self occurs in our childhood.  In the first three years there is a massive period of learning through trial and error and, because our cognitive memories do not take shape until the hippocampus becomes active all these memories are emotional.  This explains the degree our sense of self is based on emotions; we ‘feel’ confident.


At about the time a child reaches the age of eight their sense of self is reasonably stable.  At this time, we ‘know’ who we are and that ‘who’ is the aggregation of the emotional and cognitive memories.  However, as stated earlier this sense is highly skewed to our emotional sense.  It is my understanding that this emotional dominance over our sense of self is the reason cognitive interventions are limited in their success when dealing with those children who have suffered early childhood abuse.


For children who have suffered abuse or neglect, the consequence they received for their actions produce levels of fear and anxiety no matter what they tried to do to get their needs met.  Eventually they will either accept their inability to succeed or cease trying and disengage from their world.  This feeling of worthlessness and incompetence underpins what I refer to as toxic shame.  


Many, or most of these damaged kids suffer from this toxic shame, that is they expect to fail, they don’t make mistakes, they believe they are mistakes (see Newsletters Toxic Shame – 3rd July 2017 and Faulty Beliefs – 6th November 2019).  The challenge for the teacher is to refute this negative mindset by producing a classroom atmosphere where the lesson is no threat to their sense of ‘self’, eliminating the negative impact of their faulty beliefs!  By consistently presenting an environment that esteems the student their attitude will change but this is not a quick nor easy solution.  Remember, these beliefs have been formed over many years so it may take many years to make a change.  The teacher has an opportunity to make this happen.  


All beliefs are just memories that are formed in response to our needs and the environment in which we find ourselves.  The illustration below crudely explains how this process functions.


The student comes into class from home with a certain attitude, they might be feeling great after a big breakfast and positive encouragement from mum or they might be hungry leaving home early so they didn’t get hit by their angry father who was abusing their mother; this is how they come to the class, their ‘antecedent condition’.  The situation is the classroom and the lesson and this is where the teacher has some control.  The decision on whether or not to participate depends on how they feel about being in class, do they feel secure and accepted and how the teacher frames the lesson, is it interesting, do they think they can do it!


From then on, the process is much more difficult for the teacher to influence.  The student will decide on the action they take and the efforts they make to complete the task.  The quality of the results of their work may vary but how the teacher reacts to their effort provides the affective consequence of their actions and that feeds back into their memory, especially their emotional memory!  Knowing how this process works and using all your teaching skills you can build a positive sense about their efforts.  This acceptance of their attempts can change their sense of ‘self’!


We need to create an environment around building, or re-building their sense of ‘self’ in stages.  The first stage is to get a predictable connection between the child’s actions and the consequences.  The more we can make this a successful and importantly a pleasurable experience, that ‘experience’ will feedback into the emotional and cognitive memory bank, their sense of self, the second stage!  This takes some creative manipulation of the curriculum and lesson delivery.


There will obviously be times when their actions will be inappropriate and they should get a predictable, negative consequence.  It is at these times the feedback is delivered in a way that addresses the behaviour but respects the child.  If this approach is adopted eventually the child will understand that ‘they made a mistake’ but they’re NOT a mistake!


As always, the skills the teacher needs to have, other that their pedagogical knowledge is to be able to:

  • Have a structured and persistent discipline and welfare policy
  • Set understandable expectations for the behaviour and class work
  • Develop strong professional relationships with their students


The following Newsletters have detailed descriptions of these features:

  • Creating Structure - 12 August 2019
  • Structure - 15 June 2020
  • Be Persistently Consistent - 26 October 2020
  • Expectations - 17 February 2020
  • Relationships – They Know What You’re Thinking - 25 June 2018
  • Special Relationships - 10 February 2020


The road to recovery is incremental, as the student experiences success their memories will be changed, their sense of self will change and the student will attempt to take on situations they denied themselves previously.  They will say yes to opportunities and more notably they will say no to those who try to deny them what they need.

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Monday, March 15 2021


Authenticity, what is it and why is it important?  In our modern world to be true to yourself is almost considered the principle of living a good life.  But, modern examinations have brought into question the value of living such a life.  In this space we are concerned with your influence on your students and how does authenticity, being yourself play out in the classroom.


If you look at definitions of authenticity they may vary in detail but are generally about the ability to be genuine, acting in a way that is consistent and true to your beliefs.  This is important for the conclusions I will draw but the journey to that resolution will clarify what authenticity is for any leaders such as teachers and principals, not to mention political and bureaucratic leaders.


If you look for a description of the characteristics of an authentic person you would arrive at the following broad statements:

  • They are realistic about their contributions in any given situation
  • They accept their self and the independence of others
  • They take responsibility for their actions and readily admit to mistakes
  • They know what they are doing and why they are doing it


So far things are straight forward however, most research on authenticity and in fact consideration about our own authenticity is based in self-evaluation.  This means we appraise our level of agreement with the above characteristics based on our own beliefs and how our actions have influenced our emotional response. 


An example of this type of authenticity would be the President of the USA, Donald Trump.  I believe Trump would consider himself to be authentic, surprisingly many others must also see him as genuine but I would argue that for many others Trump is far from having the characteristics outlined above.  In fact, in my assessment he would fail on all counts.  I would consider him inauthentic and so we have to conclude your own authenticity is not based on your assessment but on that of others.  In the case of the president, his legitimacy depends on us not his own judgement.


This is when it gets troubling, people are not so simple, they will be driven to get their needs met and these needs will vary from situation to situation from time to time.  An appropriate action in one circumstance will be a misdemeanour in another but both could be considered authentic within that circumstance.


If we accept that, then a teacher who believes he/she must take charge of a class, adopt a command/control belief system into their decision making then when they ‘lay down the law’ to misbehaving students they are authentic.  Their connection between feeling good about how they have acted is a convincing confirmation of their authenticity but how do the students feel about this?


So, we come back to our original definition and authenticity is the ability to be genuine, acting in a way that is consistent and true to your beliefs however those ‘beliefs’ must be shared by the people we are dealing with.  In our case it is our students; do we all share a common set of principles that apply in our school/classroom? 


Throughout these Newsletters, remembering our objective is to assist teachers dealing with difficult students we have consistently repeated the mantra be consistent and persistent.  But, the thing is what are you to be consistent and persistent about?  Referring back to Trump, he is nothing if not persistent and consistent.  So, we have to have a shared set of principles on which we can act and the students can judge our authenticity.  These principles are:

  • Structure – the student and the teacher know what is most likely to happen when a student acts in a certain way.  We are talking about consequences for actions.  When we mention consequences, it is generally considered we are talking about the link between dysfunctional behaviour and negative consequences.  This is understandable when you consider the students we are targeting but just as important is to have the same predictable consequence when the students act in an appropriate way. 
  • Expectations – this is like structure but it is providing the conditions that build up the memories that allow the student to predict what will happen in the lesson.  This includes them knowing the ‘behaviour rules’ but also what the classroom is for.  What happened last lesson will allow them to imagine what will happen next lesson so it is important to build up a positive set of expectations for your class.
  • Relationships – this is invariably identified as the dominant characteristic in the evaluation of effective teaching.  There is so much to having a successful student teacher relationship but there are dangers if that relationship crosses professional boundaries.  However, the real expression of a successful relationship is the ability for the teacher to reject the inappropriate behaviour of the student while maintaining their mutual respect.


In a sense your authenticity is rapped-up in the sharing of beliefs between yourself and others and your consistency in acting in a manner that is directed by those beliefs.  When you do this, you will not only enjoy the pleasure of feeling authentic you will also have the benefit of your students sharing that sense of authenticity.  But, keep in mind you will make mistakes and if you accept these with good humour you will only enhance your humility and that is at the heart of authenticity.


A footnote: This newsletter refers to many previous blogs and so I have provided a bibliography.

  • Relationships                                                                           26th February 2018
  • Consequences – Neither Punishment nor Reward                2nd April 2018
  • Question About Controlling the Structure                             4th June 2018
  • Transference                                                                           14th August 2018
  • Trust – The Glue That Sustains Relationships                         3rd December 2018
  • Empathy                                                                                  18th February 2109
  • What’s the Chances                                                                13th May 2019
  • Relationships – They Know What You’re Thinking                 25th June 2018
  • Creating Structure                                                                  12th August 2019
Posted by: AT 08:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, March 08 2021


Whenever politicians who reflect the opinions of the press are faced with criticism of the education system, they immediately adopt the knee-jerk reaction and put an intense focus on numeracy and literacy.  In an already crowded curriculum this intensification requires cuts somewhere; the easy answer is in sports and the arts.  In our culture, sport is revered and does have physical benefits meaning it is the arts that face the chop!  This view degrades the arts, if examined closely they contribute massively to the economy and importantly to the psycho/social health of the nation.  This Newsletter will focus on one aspect of the arts, music.


There has long been an understanding that the study of music increases a child’s intellectual capacity.  However, even though studies from Harvard have not been able to confirm this hypothesis, they still acknowledge the benefits of musical studies.  Primarily, it promotes healthy development of the brain which leads to an increased efficiency of a child’s basic ability.


In a most simplistic descriptions of brain development, we learn to achieve desired outcomes.  Attempts at acting in a particular way initiates the connection between the brain’s neurons to direct the movement of the body (the only thing the brain can actually do is initiate movement).  The more the action is repeated the stronger becomes the neural pathway and as more and more behaviours are learned; we develop a network of pathways that can be accessed to help us navigate through life.  The governing maxim for neural development is ‘the more the neurons are fired together the more they are wired together’.  Therefore, the richer the networks the more resourceful the brain.


Learning a musical instrument is the great connector right across the brain; it not only recruits both sides but the ‘independent’ behaviours primarily regulated on a particular side, have to be synchronised to create music.  The benefit is that the neural pathways are not in a specific section of the brain as is the case for some behaviours they are across the whole brain especially in the:

  • Occipital lobe - for reading and interpreting rhythm
  • Parietal lobe – integrates incoming senses
  • Temporal lobe – processes sound
  • Frontal lobe – integrates incoming senses
  • Anterior corpus collosum – coordination across the brain

The synchronisation is not only across the cerebrum but incorporates the lower levels of the brain.  When the rhythm matches that of the brain’s alpha waves it creates a sense of calm. 


The cerebrum has areas that specifically oversee specific tasks and it is in the cerebrum that new learning takes place; this is the most important cognitive consideration for schools.  The synchronised necessity to create music forces the expansion of potential cognitive connections and that influences our intellectual performance.   These benefits are reinforced through practice, the consolidation of the networks and increased connectivity!


The benefits for the students have been demonstrated over the years and are numerous.  The increased formation of networks and the connectivity across the brain through the unique demands required to produce music result in:

  • Improved short and long-term memory
  • Better results in cognitive tests
  • Increased ability to focus on a task
  • Improved gross motor skills
  • Enhanced physical and psychological health
  • More effective language development

The result is the students have better learning outcomes, healthier sense of self and they approach their lessons with more confidence.


The power and importance of music is bluntly illustrated in an examination of dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease, afflictions that devastates the brain.  There is some belief that music, like all enhanced cognitive activity helps delay the onset of these ailments but there is no dispute about the importance of music as a lifeline for these patients.  It is the procedural and explicit memories that are first lost, things like events, knowledge and reasoning but the memories of music remain.


The value of music in calming an individual’s levels of distress has been demonstrated by David Akomo from Weber State University.  His team confirmed the value of Shamic drumming by reducing their levels of anxiety when dealing with Vietnam Veterans who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The use of rhythm is an integral part of all music and dance therapy to deal with all forms of mental disturbance. 


Music is undoubtedly important to us as a species, all cultures practice it and there is a common predicable structure that has a soothing effect.  There is evidence of it being performed for over 30,000 years with artefacts such as percussion instruments, bone flutes and jaw harps being found in archaeological digs.  It really is a primitive but deep form of communication that not only conveys the message, it assigns a level of importance through the emotional content of that message.  Historically it has been used in most cultures as a healing process or an appeal to some god. 


Music has always been a cohesive element in any community.  It is used in all ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and the like and it brings special meanings for couples and individuals; music moves us all.  Why this is so is unclear but it is probably due to the beat. Humans prefer the repeated regular sound – it is hard not to link this back to a heart beat a not unimportant sound!  In music this beat can come through different rhythms such as 4/4, 2/4, or 3/4 but it is in these divisions of eight both for the pitch and rhythm!  


Education systems are, or should be always looking for ways to improve the learning outcomes for their students and it is no surprise that Finland, that country that is always held up as an exemplary model has made music compulsory for students throughout their whole school career.


But, what about those students, who have suffered early childhood abuse or neglect we are most interested in helping?  Oliver Sacks said it best; ‘music evokes emotions and emotions bring with it memory … it brings back the feeling of life where nothing else can’.  He was referring to dementia at the time but I contend it equally applies to those kids who have their feeling of life ripped out of them.  It provides a structure and predictability, two pillars to help these kids regain control of their lives.  Music will help them gain the benefits outlined above without the threat of their emotions being publicly examined.  Music, and dance is used as a tool for therapeutic interventions.  Perhaps the rhythm of the music mimics the soothing rocking of a mother who was there just to make them feel alright!

Posted by: AT 06:19 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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!

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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





















Post Crisis






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


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


John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


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.

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