Skip to main content
#
FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, September 16 2019

Sense of Self

Much is written about the importance of our sense of self, previously we discussed the concept of a toxic sense of self (see Toxic Shame 7 March 2017).  This is the sense children who are raised in an abusive or neglectful environment believe about themselves.  They believe that it is they who are ‘wrong’, that they don’t make mistakes they are mistakes.

Because our sense of self is the greatest regulator of success, that is, how we perceive ourselves will determine what we will do, much of our work is focused on changing this faulty self-belief.  The only way we can achieve this is by re-producing the mechanism that created the false sense of self.  This is the real work of the teacher, to produce an environment that provides the conditions that develop the memories that produces a positive sense of self in the students.

The illustration below crudely explains this process.

I used the term ‘crudely’ as the process of matching behaviour with desired consequences and subsequently producing the neurological structure to reproduce these behaviours is extremely complex.  However, this description will help explain the formation of our sense of self which really only consists of memories.  Of these it is the kind of emotional memories formed in early childhood that dominate this personal sense.

The process follows this sequence, initially we have a drive that is linked to a state of homeostatic disequilibrium, that is we feel disturbed and feel impelled to change this situation. In the first instances we try an ‘action’ and evaluate the outcome relative to the need, that is the consequence.  In the model it is from the situation that moves to the action (at this initial stage the decision is not used) that results in a consequence. If this works and we regain a sense of calm, when the same situation occurs the process to regain a sense of calm will again be activated.  If the same action gets the same desired result this is strengthened and as the process is repeated eventually this will be the behaviour learned to deal with this situation.

In the mean-time every time we run through this sequence we are provided with feedback (see the broken lines from consequence to ‘memories’) and this feedback constructs a bank of emotional and cognitive memories.  This memory bank is our sense of self.  The formation of this sense of self produces the section in the model to include decision-making.

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.

Eventually the child’s hippocampus, the more cognitive section of the limbic system becomes active and the memories developed here are also included in the decision making.  These memories have an impression that is attached to some ‘reason’ the connection between action and consequence was established.  This contrasts to the emotional memories that are powerful but with no conscious ability to make that action/consequence link.

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.  But, as stated earlier this sense is highly skewed to the emotional memories.  It is my understanding that this emotional dominance of 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 produced 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, cease trying and disengage from their world.  This feeling of worthlessness and incompetence underpins that toxic shame.   

The final broken lines in the model illustrates the compounding issue of the toxic sense of self.  It establishes that our memories, our sense of self is with us all the time.  In the model this is the antecedent condition we bring to any new situation that will influence our approach even before we get to the decision-making stage.  How this manifests, in class is that these students refuse to even to contemplate engaging in behaviours to get their needs met because any such action will displease others and they will re-experience their ‘abuse’.  They just don’t get involved and this disengagement is common in our classrooms!

To be successful a therapeutic intervention needs to encourage the retrieving of a positive sense of self.  This requires an examination of their internal world, to recognize and acknowledge the myriad of faulty feelings and beliefs.  This necessitates access to a qualified mental health professional.  However, as teachers we are faced with a significant number of these children on a daily basis and we are not qualified to deal with them in such a manner.  So, what can we do?

Referring back to the model, we need to manipulate that sense of self environment re-building it 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!

Another important contribution for these children is to teach them how the brain operates and how all behaviour has a purpose, it is designed to get something.  Part of this training is to discuss the fact that any behaviour can have a range of consequences.  The sign of maturity, what we want them to achieve is that you must choose the behaviour that is most likely to get the consequence you want but, if this doesn’t happen this time it is still the behaviour they should choose.  It is the one that has the best chance of success, it’s their ‘best bet’!

It is also important to understand that if you choose a behaviour that may have one possible negative consequence that you don’t want then you can’t do that behaviour.  If the chances are slim and you take a chance and that disastrous consequence does follow then you must take responsibility and not blame others.

The road to recovery is cyclic, 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.

Posted by: AT 01:15 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 09 2019

Recovery Time

We have established that the children who have been raised in an abusive and/or neglectful environment have verified brain damage and the theme of our work is to provide rehabilitation through changing their Renvironment.  Predominantly this is focused on schools but these principled interventions work even better if they are applied around the clock which can occur in special settings such as juvenile detention centres.

However, one of the frustrations for teachers or supervisors is the length of time it takes for any real change to occur.  There are two things to consider about this; the first is the extended time interval required for real neurological change to be entrenched that drive new behaviours, the second is the difficulty in changing deep held beliefs.  The focus of this Newsletter is on the first of these problems, the impediment of time!  

Changing the neurological organisation of the brain in any permanent sense requires the extinguishing of the existing circuits and the construction of a replacement path.  This is known as plasticity.  This plasticity varies throughout the brain, from the brain stem, through the limbic system and on to the cerebrum.  Behaviours learned in the brain stem are extremely non-plastic, that is they are very hard to change.  This makes sense as those behaviours are designed to support our physical wellbeing, such as breathing, blood pressure, balance, etc. that are vital for our survival and this resistance to change protects us.

Those social/emotional lessons that are stored in the limbic system are also hard to change.  This is where our affective memories are stored and these are the organisation of our sense of self.  We develop our sense of self in the early years and the behaviours that accompany this have been learned because they have provided the ‘best way’ to survive in the environment in which they are learned.  It is in this area our beliefs are maintained and, although arguably easier to change than those maintaining our physical security, they are also ‘hard-wired’ making change a time-consuming event.

The importance of both the physical and socio-emotional functions are important to our survival and so it makes sense to protect them from change; this is why they are so locked into the brain circuitry.

The part of the brain that remains relatively plastic, that is reasonably easy to change is the cerebrum and cerebral cortex, mostly in the frontal area associated with reasoning, planning and problem solving.  Those other areas of the cerebrum are associated with the development of fundamental skills that complement our survival mechanisms, things such as vision, speech, etc. are also developed in the early years and most likely share the non-plasticity of the lower levels of the brain.  These are:

  • Parietal Lobe- associated with movement, orientation, recognition, perception of stimuli
  • Occipital Lobe- associated with visual processing
  • Temporal Lobe- associated with perception and recognition of auditory stimuli, memory, and speech

There is not the behavioural need to change these although there is a case for mediation for students who did not receive the appropriate level of stimulation in the developing years.

 Although I have seen no research that would describe the level of plasticity in these areas a clue to the difficulty is in the problems faced by children who have been born with cataracts that have not been removed before about eight months.  Up until this time the conditions in the occipital lobe are extremely plastic, this is referred to as its ‘window of opportunity’ when the brain’s neurons are surrounded with supporting materials, principally myeline the material that sustains and enhances the circuit. After that time has passed the myeline that has not been used along with the unemployed neurons are removed in a process called pruning.  This makes the circuit even more efficient and long-lasting it also makes the behaviour controlled by the neural path non-plastic.

The difficulty faced by many teachers who work with these children is that their day to day teaching focuses on those frontal areas, associated with reasoning, planning and problem solving, the stuff of the curriculum.  We see how relatively quickly children can learn new material.  We are also exposed to a range of intervention programs, almost exclusively based in the cognitive behaviour therapy model to help children deal with their dysfunctional behaviour.  We make the mistake of assuming the pace children learn say history or mathematics should be the same pace they learn to change their behaviour!

The real rate of change that can be expected from the deep-seated brain damage from abuse or neglect is best understood when it is compared to brain damage that is a result of a physical trauma, say a motor vehicle accident.  People and families that work with such casualties expect the road to recovery to be slow and very difficult for the patient.  Although this process can be frustrating usually the victim and their support are very committed to make the effort to get better, or to recover as much functionality as they can.

Rehabilitation is basically placing the patient in an environment that will stimulate the behaviour that is required to function in that environment.  For example, if the individual needs to learn to walk again they will work through a process where the legs are exposed to conditions that demand a ‘walking’ response that will encourage new pathways to form.  This can take months even years to recover even if only partially.  The thing is the community knows the ethics of providing this support and the economic value of the intervention.  The thing is, these victims did not deliberately choose to have their disability and their prospects of having a ‘successful’ life is hindered by their injury.

It takes a rare individual to take the same view of a teenager whose dysfunctional behaviour is expressed in a violent outburst in their classroom or sits in the back of the classroom completely disengaged in learning.  It takes an even exceptional political/bureaucratic system that would provide the same level of support for this victim of an acquired brain injury.  It is easy to feel compassion for the victim of a motor vehicle accident who may well have lost their ability to dampen their behaviour, become compulsive.  It is much harder to have that same compassion for a ‘compulsive’ child when we have no evidence of the ‘accident’ they suffered by being born into the wrong family!

The thing is, these kids can be helped, we have the same ethical responsibility to take up this challenge.  Despite the obvious decency of taking on the task there is a measured economic advantage for the community if we do.  There is the access to such an amount of untapped human resources and the reduction in the financial burden of providing institutional interventions, such as detentions centres, courts, etc. that attempt to control these behaviours.

For teachers, there needs to be proper training in the techniques of providing the correct therapeutic environment and the encouragement to ‘stay the distance’ through the long period of recovery.  It will be worth it!

Posted by: AT 08:49 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 02 2019

Looking After Yourself

Working with children with severe behaviours is extremely challenging.  The personal demands you will experience working with these difficult children are not to be underestimated; they are extremely stressful.  In one of my books (see resources) I discussed the concept of toxic resilience.  The idea is that to be successful in a highly demanding vocation you need top be resilient.  Working with difficult students over time certainly qualifies as being a demanding job; it demands a high level of resilience.  But, this resilience comes at a cost. The ability to keep fronting up to these children places you in a situation that has a high likelihood of producing constant elevated stress.  This constant exposure has a significant negative impact on an individual’s personal health, a situation that is understated and largely unrecognized.

Resilience has been defined as the ability to display constant competence under high levels of stress and produce quality outcomes despite demanding conditions. This definition is now accepted for every age group.  This has long been held as a strength especially in education.  It has allowed us to keep going long after others would have given-up.  This is a quality required when dealing with these kids.  One of the prerequisites for success is to hang in with them long after they had expected you to give-up.

In earlier Newsletters (The Intricacy of Stress, June 19th 2017 and Anxiety 24th July 2017) we have discussed the biological consequences of elevated levels of stress particularly when those levels are maintained over a period of time.  You must be aware that you are working in such an environment.

The following is just a brief outline of symptoms, causes and recovery techniques that you can use as some sort of guide to self-care around maintaining a healthy level of resilience in this very difficult job.  

In the Newsletter we have discussed the healthy stress cycle, arousal with its flight/fight/freeze response, the discharge of the released energy and a return to rest.  We have also discussed what happens if, before we return to our baseline homeostasis, we are again provoked to a level that produces another cycle and the cycle is incomplete.  The level of confined stress is magnified.  This build-up is gradual and, unless you are vigilant you will not realise you are becoming burned-out, a not so nice way of saying you are dangerously stressed.  If this is happening you may notice changes to your physical and emotional wellbeing as well as changes in your behaviour.  These are:

  • Physical
    • Poor sleep
    • Feeling very tired or exhausted all the time
    • Headaches
    • Changes in sleep patterns
    • Changes in eating habits
    • Low immunity, catch everything that is going about
  • Emotional
    • Feel like nothing matters
    • Work is either extremely boring and worthless or it is overwhelming and you can’t cope
    • Feel like a failure, you feel helpless or detached
    • Your level of motivation has dropped
    • You become cynical and start to criticize everything
  • Behavioural
    • Become withdrawn
    • Isolate yourself
    • Procrastinate

Avoid responsibilities by missing, either taking excess sick leave or other forms of leave

Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkley was renowned for her work around occupational burnout.  She has described five causes for burnout and these are:

1. Work Overload – People have too much work to do in their day or, they don’t have enough time to complete the work they are given or, they are not supplied with the resources to complete their work.  In any modern public school all three conditions are the norm.

2. No Autonomy – When we are given a responsibility but not given the authority to make decisions about how that task should be done or the freedom to plan the work we become disempowered.  This leads to frustration that can build to resentment.

3. Under Valued – As teachers we are always looking to provide our students with positive feedback when they complete a task.  We understand that this sort of response helps them become motivated to carry on.  Somehow this simple technique is ignored when we are dealing with our colleague or those we supervise.  When we fail to provide positive feedback or some type of reward we feel under-valued or disrespected.

A particular problem you will face if you ‘specialise’ in dealing with these damaged kids is that the mainstream educational community has no real time for these children other than mouthed clichés when they make the headlines in the media.  This discounting from the leadership send a message to colleagues that don’t work in this area that somehow your work is not important.  This can be quite disappointing.

4. Not Supported in the Workplace – This leads on from the latter part of the previous point.  However, when you are working with these very difficult kids there will be time, more than is usual when the students will have to be removed from their class.  This is where the teacher requires the support of the rest of the school.  These students must be removed for everyone’s safety, including their own but they must be supervised.  There is nothing more demoralising than sending a student out and having them return almost immediately with little or no intervention being delivered.

5. Fairness – This is another point hat is underpinned by the understanding that you will be working with difficult kids.  Shallow educators equate teaching quality with the attainment of high grades in their classrooms.  This insult is carried on by the community and the media.  There is little understanding of the difficult work you do on top of the delivery of curriculum which is the task of those teachers working in ‘selective’ environments.  Everyone deserves respect especially those who work without minor extrinsic rewards.

6. The ‘Meaning’ of your Work – This is the final part of the causes that make working with these difficult kids a dangerous place to take on.  You should not expect your colleagues or your supervisors to understand the value, not to mention the difficulty of the work you do.  I worked for ten years as a principal of a special school for adolescents with severe behaviours in a very needing area in South-West Sydney.  During that time, I had four supervisors all of whom were wonderful people but I know they had no idea and little interest in what we were doing at the school.  This is where you need to believe in your understanding of the work you do and if possible, create alliances with contemporaries from nearby areas.  These days you can contact similar colleagues ‘on-line’ one advantage of the digital world. 

When discussing recovery let’s use the same three categories, physical, emotional and behaviour.  In reality, these are really just the reverse of those things we have identified as the causes of stress.

  • Physical – Lots of the things that have used to deal with your elevated stress have affected your health.  It’s doing almost the opposite that will help you recapture your physical health.  There are some simple things you can do:
    • Get regular exercise. This doesn’t have to be excessive and really it needs to be ‘age appropriate’.  Don’t develop an obsession with exercise, that is a symptom of activities addiction, that is exercising so you avoid the issue that is causing the stress.  It might be jogging or walking the dog, anything that gets you out and about.  Joining in a team activity would tick two of these boxes.
    • Try meditation, follow the guidelines outlined for the students, they will be the same.  It is also a good idea to take meditation or yoga classes to get out and meet others.
    • Avoid drugs, this goes without saying.  It is part of our western culture to reach for a drink when we are over worked and the thought of a stiff drink at the end of the week is tempting.  Like all things, in moderation is a good guide.
  • Emotional – When you are ‘burned-out’ you really do not feel good about yourself and you tend to isolate from others.  Some simple ideas are:
    • Reach out to those who are close to you.  Your first though is probably they don’t want to hear about your problems but in most cases, you would be wrong.  People are flattered when you seek them out.  The very act of choosing to speak to them communicates that you trust them and value them.  They will be supportive.
    • Socialise both in your work and in the community.  At work you are with people you probably would not choose to mix with unless you had to.  But, you are with them during your working day and by trying to get to know them the consequential interactions are much more pleasant.  Don’t be afraid to initiate the contact.
    • Get your work into perspective especially when working with challenging kids.  The modern demands on teachers is on outcomes and we can get swept up in the idiocy of this approach to education.  All teachers know that learning outcomes depend on a range of factors with the teacher being one.  Assess your value with the effort you put into your work.
  • Behavioural – ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’  How often have we heard this cliché but for the most part it is true?  These are some things to do:
    • High achievers are reluctant to say no to any request but there are times when you should say just that.  You have to maintain a proper life – work balance and that requires you to limit the demands placed on you.  Get into the habit of leaving your work at work.  I understand this has always been impossible for teachers, it still is but in dealing with that work you do take home make sure you make a timetable that includes an appropriate of non-work activities.
    • Think about how you work and how you could improve the efficiency and/or effectiveness of your efforts.  This may include delegation of some activities that really could be done by others.  I had a process where, if I though some demand was trivial I would put it into a designated file and wait to see if the person who sent the directive followed-up their request (this is common practice for most teachers and principals).  If the demand was repeated then I would complete the task.  Of course, you need to know those things that must be done!
    • Plan; this can be an overall strategy for the school year or term but if so you need to break this down into smaller goals such as what you want to achieve in the next month, or whatever you choose but it is great to have a lesson plan that includes what you need to do.  When you have a plan, it takes away a lot of your stress.

The message is, look after yourself!  There is a statement made in every life-saving course I have been to and that is, never jump into a river to save a child if you can’t swim.  It is equally true that you can’t help damaged kids get better if you become ill yourself.  

Posted by: AT 08:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 26 2019

"Do or Do Not." -Yoda

The Star Wars franchise continues with the release of the latest edition.  Star Wars is a modern version of old myths, and because of this, it is an easy trap to fall for some of the glib statements that have become truisms.  The famous ‘Do. or do not. There is no try". Comes from the wisest of characters when he chastises the young Luke Skywalker for giving up.

There are three similar truisms that persist in modern education circles.  Teachers, bureaucrats and for that matter politicians are drawn to the proverbial wisdom of their concepts, and they are promoted as the secrets of success.    These are:

1. Meritocracy – This is the idea that success in life depends on an individual’s talent, ability and the effort they are prepared to make to achieve your goals.  Modern democracies promote this idea that anyone can reach the top of any enterprise as long as they have the raw ability and put in the effort.  This concept is in direct contrast to aristocracy where success in life was closely linked to the status and titles of your family and relationships.

2. Grit – Grit is a lot like meritocracy in that it has effort at its core but unlike the former Grit discounts the value of innate ability.  Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth who pointed out that success was more reliant then intelligence first defined grit when it came to predicting success.  She showed that if an individual perseverance, hardiness, resilience, and self-control they would succeed.

3. Delayed Gratification – This is the third member of the trilogy of the lessons of successful.  This concept exploded onto the world through the work of Walter Mischel in 1972.  His famous experiment demonstrated that children with the ability to pass up eating a marsh mellow immediately for the promise of an additional one would be successful later in life.  In follow-up studies, he showed that those children who could resist the temptation of immediately eating the marsh mellow had better long-term success in their academic achievement, social competence and a feeling of assurance and self-worth.

There is no doubt there is a lot of truth and wisdom in all of these concepts, but there is just as much deception especially for those children that experience failure at school.  The three principles outlined have at their core the principle that success depends on the individual and in this lies the attraction and the expectation.  But for so many kids that have only experienced failure, adherence to these principles draws the inevitable conclusion that any failure they experience will be their fault.

A closer examination of these three maxims reveals their limitations.  For example:

1. Meritocracy – this concept relies on the structural equality of our population.  It assumes we all have the same quality of parenting; same socioeconomic life-style attend the same schools, etc.  Of course, this is not a reflection of the real world.  Communities are structurally inequitable; this is reflected in the quality of the resources in their schools; children in very disadvantaged socioeconomic areas have limited opportunities.  There are other structural disadvantages that are based on gender, sexuality and race not to mention those children who have been subjected to abuse and neglect.

2. Grit – I have a nagging feeling that I could have won an Olympic Gold Medal if I had just tried harder.  Those who know me and my sporting prowess understand that this is such an idiotic concept.  I just don't have the talent to become the best in the world at any sport nor am I likely to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.  Even if I did have the talent does that mean I have to spend all my time pursuing just one goal?  And finally there is nothing wrong changing your goals, in fact, it is probably quite healthy to diversify your interests.

3. Delayed Gratification – Celeste Kidd of the University of Rochester challenged this concept.  High in her findings was the amount of trust the children had in the adult making the deal.  For many children who lived in chaotic homes would find the guaranteed consumption of a marsh mellow now at least give some pay-off.  In their lives, the offer of a double serving in the future was too much of a risk.  They are in fact making a rational decision.  Their decisions confirm the significant connection between the ability to delay the intake and the family's socioeconomic status.  Finally the ability to delay gratification lies in the child's Prefrontal lobes to over rule the drive of the hedonistic limbic system, particularly the amygdala.  Children with a history of abuse and/or neglect have a considerable disadvantage in this as for these kids the prefrontal lobes ate reduced, and the amygdala is enlarged, so they are not even on the same playing field.

So what are we to do?  There is an obvious benefit for children to show determination, believe in their ability to succeed and put off spending time on Face Book instead of trying to understand some mathematical concept.  We all want our kids to have these qualities.  But we must be careful to differentiate these qualities from the worth of each child.  When they fail, they fail at something – for now.  When kids with a history of disappointment do fail, we must ensure that this does not reinforce their distorted sense of self.  They got their answer wrong this time but they are not wrong!

Yoda was not right, there is trying and sometimes as much as we try we will not succeed.  But there is nobility in the exercise and humility in the acceptance we are not at all perfect.

Posted by: AT 09:26 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 19 2019

Student Stress

One ‘truism’ we hear constantly is that change is inevitable, and I accept this however, if you take this on face value you are ignoring two points that must be considered.  These are, change is not always for the best and the second point is that change evokes stress.  In contemporary years, society’s expectations of schools have never been more intense.  The issues facing schools are the increasing emphasis on schools’ accountability through close evaluation of its performance based on external testing, particularly the NAPLAN test in an environment where external departmental support is being reduced. 

Coupled with thi, is the emphasis placed on students to succeed in a narrow range of all the skills they will need to acquire.  Literacy and numeracy are just two elements in a child’s education but the whole worth of our efforts is based on these factors that are at the heart of the NAPLAN test.  Not only does this put pressure on the teachers but I am well aware the students are also pressured. 

Further, when the media focuses on a social problem there is a perceived assumption that schools need to ‘solve’ the problem.  At the end of my career I remember listening to the radio going home from school where the ‘problem’ of our unfit youth was being discussed.  The majority of the calls taken by the presenter reinforce the view that it was the ‘school’s fault’. Of course, I was silently defending our school, silently making the case that was not our fault!

Then I realised I was acting in the adversarial manner so typical of our modern society.  It is obvious the people listening are also prone to take one side or the other.  I understand that many parents agree with the position ‘it’s the school’s fault’.  This conflict breaks down the community spirit and invariably leads to tension and stress conditions both for the parents and the teachers.  This situation is not conducive to collaborative solutions to help our kids. 

Of course, things are not perfect and today’s students can do better.  It is also true that schools are part of our community and do have a part to play.  I am aware that:

  • Some parents do feel anxious in regards to what is happening with their child at school 
  • Some students are over-anxious about their schooling
  • Teachers are becoming more and more stressed 

I know good schools always want you to contact them when you are concerned, they know they are far from being perfect and will make mistakes.  But sometimes children do not divulge the whole story when they talk about what has happened at school but it’s the only version the parents hear. 

To help parents (when I refer to parents, I include all other primary care providers including guardians) get a clearer picture of what is really happening and more importantly, help you minimise the stress you, the parents and the child may be experiencing I have outlined some steps you might take that could help you get a better idea of what is really going on at school and how to help them develop personal skills and resilience.  I have summarised below some information you may share with parents:

1. Sharing too much

When your child comes home from school with tales about being bullied either by ‘mean’ girls, ‘aggressive’ boys or ‘insensitive’ teachers, keep in mind that your children feed off your emotions and can get more distraught when they see you distressed.  Try to keep our own anxiety in check while sympathising with theirs.  You should be the emotional rock; the person who understands and supports your child.  Then get the facts and if need be you should contact the school.

2. Advocating too hard

We all want to stand up for our children, but our eagerness to advocate can sometimes actually raise everyone’s anxiety levels.  If your child shares a school problem with you, your first instinct is often to march into the school and try to resolve it. This tells your children that you don’t have faith in us or in your child to fix their problems. Your first priority should be to help them find a solution they can implement without your help, every time.  Again, if it is serious contact us.

3. Compensating for weaknesses

It is truly an unusual child who is great at everything.  So it follows that generally there will be areas at school in which they struggle.  We want our kids to have healthy self-confidence and instead of focusing on and compensating for weaknesses, remind them to play to their strengths. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self-efficacy and confidence.

4. Overplaying strengths

Linked closely with the previous point is the risk that too much positive affirmation can easily turn to pressure. Compliment children when they excel, but don’t make their excellence a reason you love them or to expect even more from them.

5. Having great values

Sometimes children make poor choices and I know they fret about their family finding out – it can seem like a fate worse than death.  Let your children know that while values are important, you understand the realities and temptations they face.  Disapprove of the behaviour but never of them.  Don’t create a culture where your children are too anxious to come to you and admit they messed up.

6. Hiding your troubles

If your family is struggling financially or fighting with each other, don’t make the mistake of thinking your children are better off not knowing.  They are very good at sensing problems and if they suspect something and if don’t know the whole story they can blow it out of all proportion.  Should we pile our own troubles on our child’s shoulders - no, but it doesn’t hurt to be honest about what your concerns are and more importantly what you’re doing about it.  By sharing what makes us anxious and how we deal with it we’re modelling practical ways to resolve anxiety.

At the end of 2016 year I conducted my last Year 12 Graduation assembly.  At that ceremony I saw the whole school community at its best.  The students made the school proud as one after the other presented themselves as the mature and dignified young men and women who I could see will make great members of their community.   The staff could rightly feel a sense of achievement looking at these young graduands and knowing what they have achieved.  Most inspiring for me was the number of parents and friends who joined the celebration.  All the struggles, disputes of the previous years were over but it was through these times the young children learned to become these great young adults.  Never lose sight of this achievement that is repeated year after year in all our schools.

Posted by: AT 06:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 12 2019

Creating Structure

There will be times in your teaching career where you will have to deal with an extremely disruptive class.  The students may have such a low sense of respect for the school, for you and unfortunately, for themselves they don’t worry about the impact their behaviour is having.  The question for the teacher is ‘where to start’?  There are so many inappropriate behaviours it appears to be overwhelming.  Too often we just start to ‘fix everything’ and that becomes impossible so this Newsletter will provide a structured approach to taming this class.

The illustration below shows a range of problems faced in the class.  Instead of trying to deal with all of them, choosing one concentrates the teacher’s efforts.   This doesn’t mean you accept the other behaviours, you do what you have been doing but by making a real, extra effort on one you can make a difference.

 

 Now you have chosen the issue you want to address take the following steps to solve this problem.  You do this by creating classroom rules.  Before we start just a reminder that it is most effective if you include the class in this process but if they are not willing to engage you can implement this by yourself or if you can with colleagues.  The process follows these steps:

1. Identify the Real Problem

Because you think ‘it’s annoying’ is not a reason you will get support  from the class.  You have to identify what really is the problem with talking and you need to acknowledge there are times you want your student to talk but at the right time for the right reason.  Remember this is ‘inappropriate talking’ that we are concerned with.  The class will soon identify, with your help plenty of reasons this is hurting their learning.  These include things like ‘no one else can hear the teacher’, ‘it’s rude to talk when others are trying to listen’, ‘it interrupts others who are trying to concentrate’ etc.  Eventually you will get to the real problem hopefully that the class agrees with or at least they are told why inappropriate talking hurts their learning. 

The final purpose might be as follows:

  • Talking when someone else is, stops that person being heard and stops learning. Talking too loud distracts others from learning both here and in other classes

Then write this down as the problem we are going to solve, put it on display - Inappropriate Talking Stops Learning.

2. Brainstorm Possible Solutions

Once you have identified the problem get the class, including yourself to brainstorm possible consequences.  Stick to brainstorming ‘rules’ that is don’t discuss them as they are suggested just get them down.  One exception to this is when they come up with ridiculous but funny ideas.  If such a proposal gets a laugh then you can bet more will follow.  Allow one, sometimes these are gems but stop it there.

A Typical List might be:

Sent from class – Yelled at – Given a warning – Given the cane

Write lines – Given homework – Cut out their tongue

Clean-up the playground – Kept in to make up time

Sent to principal – Made to stand in the corner – Shift seats

3. Yes/ No the Solutions

Now, for the first time you discuss each consequence using the following criteria:

  • Is it a consequence or is it a punishment?  The difference has been explained in a previous Newsletter but briefly, a consequence is understood to be a result of that action not just something the teacher made-up to upset the student!
  • Is the consequence appropriate for the level of the behaviour?  You might find that students are often too severe in their idea of what is required, Keep these realistic.
  • Can the consequence be realistically applied?  It’s no use putting in place a consequence that is against the rules of the school or department.  For instance you can’t keep students in after school without a lot of parental permission.
  • Do the students accept this as a fair outcome for that behaviour?  It must be seen to be fair for all concerned.

Then place a Y beside those that meet the criteria and N against those that fail to pass the fairness test.

The following could be the result of this process.

Sent from class Y – Yelled at N – Given a warning Y – Given the cane N

Write lines N – Given homework N – Cut out their tongue N

Clean-up the playground N – Kept in to make up time Y

Sent to principal Y – Made to stand in the corner N – Shift seats Y

When you have completed this process eliminate the N’s.

4. Rank the Consequences

Now you go through the consequences left and rank them from the most severe (1) to the least severe.  The final list might be:

Sent to principal                          (1)

Sent from class                            (2)

Shift seats                                     (3)

Keep in to make up time            (4)

Apologies to the class                 (5)

Given a warning                          (6)

5. Implementation

Here you must decide if you want to have one consequence or devise a cascade from the least severe on to the most.  If the mild level consequence does not stop the behaviour the next most punitive one is applied and so on until the student is sent to the principal!  When you have decided on the ‘rule’ then write it down and display it somewhere in the classroom so the students are reminded of the new set of conditions in the class.

6. Evaluate

After the rule has been in place for a reasonable amount of time it is wise to evaluate how effective it has been in dealing with the disruptive behaviour.  Wait a while to do this evaluation because quite often when you introduce a rule the students who are most likely to cause problems will test to see if you are serious.  This is where our ‘golden rule’ for behaviour management comes in.  Always be consistent and persistent, if you are not the students will not think you a sincere!  But if, after a time there is no change, and you have been vigilant then you can repeat the steps coming up with a new set of consequences.  If the class has not really been changed by the rule you put in maybe it is time for you to set the rule without them.  Just make sure they know what is going to happen.

If the behaviour has changed then slowly let it fade away, the class has accepted a new standard.  Then you can work on another of the problems you identified.

Remember there are some behaviours that are dangerous our just too severe to go through this process and are not up for negotiation!  These you must deal with.  But for most dysfunctional behaviour this approach will allow you to take ‘control’ or more realistically have the students take control of their actions.  A pay-off is that when you get on top of a few of the behaviours most classes come to understand that you can make things change and you are in charge of providing a safe learning environment for them.  When you gain such a reputation life becomes better in other classes so it is well worth the effort!

Posted by: AT 07:24 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, August 05 2019

Levels

The use of ‘levels’ systems is a popular form of behaviour control and management in institutions that deal with children who struggle with their conduct. When used correctly, it can be an effective tool to improve children’s behaviour. When used incorrectly, levels systems can be in themselves a cruel form of abuse. It can be particularly hurtful for children who have no experience of appropriate behaviour.

Inappropriate Behaviour

The definition of inappropriate behaviour is difficult. The appropriateness of any action is related to the person or persons who are exposed to the behaviour. Therefore, any judgement of a student’s conduct depends on the group in which their behaviour is displayed.  Group members will experience the inappropriateness of behaviour when they feel it is offensive or threatening. In reality, they will know this because their physical and/or psychological boundaries will have been violated.

To be offended or not, presents as two discrete sets of behaviour; you are either offended or not offended; you cannot be partially offended. This is not to say the magnitude of the affecting behaviour is not on a gradient. Obviously, levels of offence can range from mild disapproval through to sheer terror. However, when working with dysfunctional children; trying to teach them about offensive behaviour by tolerating any such behaviour will confuse the child.

Children who habitually demonstrate dysfunctional behaviour need to learn appropriate conduct.  Learning can only be through trial and error, and if they are to assume a state in which their habit is to act appropriately, there will be a time when they have to think about how to behave. To pass through this phase of behaviour modification requires both the child, and the arbitrator, to be in a calm state. When stressed, they will revert to their existing habitual reactions to any situation. In a group setting, the arbitrator must be aware of his or her own activities as well as the actions of all other members of the group. This does not excuse inappropriate behaviour, but it provides a major complication in the process of changing behaviour.

The following issues arise for levels systems:

  • Others define what is offensive.
  • When more than one person is in control of behaviour arbitration, the definition of appropriate can vary.
  • Individual arbitrators’ boundaries are not constant; on one day they will tolerate behaviour (because they are in a good mood), and on the next day they will punish that same behaviour
  • Workers are tempted to tolerate mild misbehaviour either because they take the patronizing view that it is the best they can do or the worker fears any outburst from the child if they impose a sanction.
  • The environment must promote a feeling of calm acceptance of the child.

Levels systems can be a productive tool in the task of changing behaviour. However, to successfully implement a program requires a thorough understanding of:

  • the complexity of the program
  • the dangers of misuse
  • every child’s need to be accepted into a calm, supportive environment

There are various methods to create a ‘scoring’ method to track a child’s behaviour across any school day.  When you are working with severe disturbed children it is prudent to divide the period of time they achieve a positive ‘score’ into small chunks, say ten-minute blocks.  These can be accumulated across a day and then across an extended period of time.  This design will depend on the children.  However, the scores should always be on display and you should never take away any points the child has earned.  This is extremely unfair for those kids who struggle to initially achieve even the tiniest improvement and is no more than a form of punishment, something they have a lot of experience about and there is no more certain way to have these kids opt out of this process.

For a successful levels program to be put implemented the following conditions must be in place:

  • Feedback should indicate the level of success the child has achieved as a proportional number (a percentage).
  • Students must continually reach this mark to progress. They must be allowed to move up and down until they can unconsciously behave in an appropriate manner.
  • The goal should not be 100 per cent success, as human error is constant and should not be ignored.
  • The environment must be consistent and persistent.
  • Implementation should be done in calm, non-threatening manner (100 per cent acceptance of the child and 100 per cent rejection of inappropriate behaviour).

The over-riding principle of a level system is solely to provide feedback to the child in regards to how they are behaving within the functional definitions of the classroom.  One of the great failings occurs when teachers and schools use their ‘Levels System’ as a form of punishment or reward.  This is extremely counter-productive as any resulting changes that are driven by that external motivation will not become integrated in the child’s habitual behaviour.  In a future Newsletter I will discuss the failings of the use of rewards and/or punishment as a motivation of behavioural change.

Posted by: AT 01:52 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 29 2019

The Tribal Teacher

The focus of our work is with those children who have been subjected to abuse and/ or neglect at an early age and develop a toxic sense of their worth and learn a range of dysfunctional behaviours.  These have been learned through either abuse of their sense of self, exclusion or neglect from the only ‘tribe’ they have ever experienced - their family.  Louis Cozolino, the American psychologist has been at the forefront of this approach in assisting children with a history of abuse.  He has provided a detailed review of what he calls the tribal classroom in his book ‘Attachment-Based Teaching - Creating a Tribal Classroom’ (see Newsletter of 1st August 2018 – The Tribal Classroom). 

Unfortunately, or some would declare ‘fortunately’ this approach has morphed into a formal program that has provided a step by step approach to develop creating a ‘tribal classroom’.  We have seen this ‘trademarking’ of many a ‘good idea’ repeated over and over again in behaviour modification programs; take the positive psychology movement that has spawned ‘Positive Behaviour Interventions and Support’ (PBIS), the once valued ‘Reality Therapy/Choice Theory’, ‘Assertive Discipline’; the list goes on.  These are all underpinned by a deal of common sense but as soon as you ‘formalise’ it you lose the ability to cater for the diversity of our children.  

However, the point is, we can help these kids by providing group activities that promote the opportunities for all students to develop secure attachments to the group and from that within the classroom.  The students we focus on will find this difficult at first but by providing a few group-rules their anxiety can be reduced and they can develop what Cololino describes as a social synapse.  The formal program outlines these as:

  • Attentive Listening
  • Showing appreciation of everyone’s contribution
  • Each student having the right to participate, or not
  • There is a sense of mutual respect

In this Newsletter I want to focus on the teacher’s role in this approach.  I am not going to indulge into restating all the great information that is available including the ‘quality teaching’ model – another systematization of common sense but as the ‘parent’ of the tribal class.

At the top of every good parenting inventory is the importance of being a good role model.  Children are so busy watching what you do they can’t hear what you are saying.  They will become the person you are so it is important to ‘be the person’ you want them to be. 

It goes beyond just modelling, as ‘parent’ you are the leader of the group and what the students want more than anything else is a consistent, predictable environment where they can learn, through trial and correction how to successfully navigate through life with a sense of self-control.

There is an age ‘gradient’ in this approach.  When they are very young they are unable to really make meaningful choices, they don’t have enough knowledge and so you have to present them with situational scenarios where they learn the fundamental skills.  This necessitates a more ‘authoritarian’ approach but this must be balanced with complete fairness in a nurturing environment. 

Someone has to be in-charge and that person is you!  As they get older, this authoritarian approach by the teacher changes to become one of a ‘constructionist’ where the responsibility for student behaviour is placed firmly on their shoulders.  In my experience this is a rare achievement, most school leavers still have a fair bit of ‘improving’ to do but by the time they are about to exit school we would hope they are all at least predominantly responsible.

They need to experience the negative consequences when they choose the ‘wrong’ behaviour in an effort to get their needs met but these should be delivered with the emphasis on the behaviour not the child.  In your dealings with the students, at any age the following is a good guide to achieving this:

  • Encouragement should outweigh praise.  The latter can become destructive in their teens.
  • Consequences should always replace punishments.  Punishment never works in the long run (see Newsletter 2nd April 2018 – Consequences – Neither Punishment not Reward) punishment teaches the kids what not to do.  Their attention is focused on not being caught misbehaving.  The result is the students will behave when the teacher is present, but when they are away, the kids will revert to their habitual behaviours.  They will not have embraced the desired behaviour.
  • Co-operation should always dominate obedience, this is age sensitive. For instance, more and more we see young children defying their parents when it comes to them ‘getting their way’.  I watch my grandchildren using a whole range of behaviour to change their parent’s decisions after they have said ‘no’!  There are times when ‘because I said so’ is probably the right thing to do; these children are not able to understand the long-term consequences of eating the junk food they crave!

However, eventually we want our children to be independent, communal obedience is a feature of political dictatorships and social cooperation is the mark of a healthy society. 

Finally, here are some ‘parent tips’ to help you engage with your class:

  • Be involved with their life – find out about their interests, where they have lived, understand their history at an appropriate level.  We don’t have the right to understand the details of their ‘intimate’ life but when the student knows you are interested they are more likely to form the relationship that will help them engage in your lessons.

How often have I helped a relationship with a ‘troubled’ student just by finding out which sporting team or ‘rock star’ he/she follows.  When I know this, I take every opportunity to ‘bump into them’ in the playground an engage in some good-fun banter.

  • Always get to the classroom before the students and as they arrive greet them with their name and, if appropriate give them a ‘high five’, ‘fist pump’ or just shake hands; do this with a smile.  This is one of the most powerful things you can do, it sends the message that you want to be there.  Contrast this with the effect teachers, who arrive late and then criticise the students for not ‘waiting quietly in line’!  What message is that behaviour sending to the class?
  • Tell them things about your life.  Some teachers balk at this; I suspect they feel their life is none of the student’s business.  On an intimate scale they are right, your personal life is your business but if you accept the importance of a relationship you have to participate.  Telling them stories about your childhood, as lame as these may feel to you is very powerful.  It humanises you.
  • Finish the lesson with a story – in primary schools this can be a serial, despite the benefits of engaging them in literacy the ‘right’ story teaches them about life and at least you send them home looking forward to the next day!  It is hypothesised that this is a primitive need, a throw-back to the times when tribes finished their days sitting around a campfire exchanging stories.

This Newsletter has focused on a teacher’s approach to the tribal classroom and is not to be considered part of the extensive literature being bombarded into schools and an ever-increasing rate.  I believe that relationships are at the core of all successful educational experiences.  Further, they exist in the lower areas of our brain, the limbic system and as such are much more difficult to access and to change. 

This modern approach to teacher training focuses on cognitive contributions which are quick and easy to implement for educated adults (teachers) but:

  • They are not appropriate for the young developing mind which requires ‘lessons’ for their emotional and social education
  • These cognitive lessons ‘disappear’ when the students’ stress levels are raised and they start behaving based on their emotional and social beliefs.

When all is said and done the teacher/student relationship is the most important feature of quality education and that boils down to how each participant feel about each other.

Posted by: AT 11:12 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 22 2019

Debriefing

Teaching very difficult students is extremely stressful.  Although there will be incidents that are exceedingly traumatic, it is the day to day grind of working with these kids and that build-up of stress that will destroy your health.  At these times you will build-up an excess of physical and emotional energy.  Unless you do discharge this energy, it remains ‘locked’ in your physiology.  Debriefing is the process of discharging that energy, especially the emotional element.

Much of the literature on debriefing refers to the process of providing a service for those who have been exposed to a traumatic event.  This Newsletter is more about you having the means to deal with your own emotional load within a school or other specialist setting.  For ‘extreme’ traumatic events you need specialist support to deal with the victims.

On an individual level, the self-delivered debriefing process is very much following the steps outlined above in the recovery section.  These are the physical, emotional and behavioural activities itemised in this section.  This ‘self-help’ is predominantly the use of physical practices such as going to a gym, jogging, swimming anything that gets you to use up that energy that had been activated at the time you were stressed. 

One technique I have used that is effective to immediately release the physical excess present after a very stressful incident is to go to a private place in the school, with a towel and out of the sight of others, twist the towel as hard as I could, I would talk to it, get all my frustrations out on that piece of material.  The feeling of release was significant. 

I have seen others use the action of punching a special bag or other inert object to achieve this result.  There are mixed opinions about using this approach.  There is some evidence it doesn’t relieve the emotional component caused by the aggravation, the participants remain angry towards the object of their frustration. 

There is also the idea that punching, as a solution for a problem could be generalised.  Punching another may have a short-term pay-off but there is a chance that the practice of punching an inert bag could unconsciously evolve into punching the object that caused the stress!  Some would argue that it is the repetitive movement of the punching that reproduces a type of soothing, this repetition has seen in the rhythmic technique in swimming also seen as a productive approach to elevated stress levels.

The self-help approach may not be as effective in dealing with the psychological load as would working with others.  It may well be that you can get support from a colleague when you are under elevated stress levels.  This could be a friend or co-worker who you trust.  It is best, but not vital if this support person works in the same field.  They will understand the problems you face and their validation carries a lot of weight.  You both know what is really going on.

The use of your own intimate partner, wife, parent or even one of your children is not so clear cut.  To provide an effective environment for a victim the support person must remain partially detached from the concerns raised in this issue.  It is hard for your intimate other not to feel an emotional connection, it is the nature of the relationship!  However, they will be your greatest support and not sharing is shutting them out, this is not advisable for a meaningful relationship. 

This is a real difficult issue; the best debriefing really is from someone who can remain detached from your emotions but compassionate about how you would feel because they really understand what it is like to be in that situation.

Therefore, try to develop a network of supporters who you can use and who will use you when they are needed.  Personal contact is preferable but the use of technology such as Skype is a good substitute.  Avoid social media, the things you say at this time will be sensitive and not for public consumption or for your record!

The last thing I will mention is debriefing for those establishments that deal with difficult kids as a group.  These are vital in maintaining a healthy team culture, they allow the psychological wounds that occur throughout each day but these sessions are not for those occasional times when the level of personal damage is significant, either for the students or a staff member.  This is the cool down time, the time for the physical body to recover is complete.

In the work place there will be times when the outburst has created issues that challenge the practices of the organisation.  These may involve the potential of future discipline action or legal concerns.  This does not imply there is no need for debriefing but at these times the management should provide professional, independent counselling.  However, for the day to day situations a less formal, but no less important debriefing practice there is a benefit of having the ‘team’ debrief itself!

There are some rules to be followed if you are setting-up a formal debriefing session at the end of each working shift.  These are fairly obvious:

  • Begin Simply – Even if you know there has been a fairly difficult situation the staff has dealt with don’t go straight into discussing that.  By generally discussing the day that issue will emerge when the ‘time is right’.  This relies on a level of trust that must exist!  In fact, without trust debriefing can become an additional stressor!
  • Equal Rights – Although we don’t have equal rights in our places of work we do have equity at a personal level.  No one individual’s needs are more important than any others.   Debriefing is not about allocating blame or setting future agendas it is solely about dealing with the emotional discomfort of the day.
  • There are no ‘power plays’ – We will never repair everyone’s emotional state if there is an obvious difference in how each member of the team is valued; any imbalance of power will not allow long term issues to be addressed effectively.
  • No Secrets – Too often people fail to tell exactly how they feel.  On the one hand it may be because they don’t trust everyone at the meeting or they may feel that others can’t handle their feelings.  Often the stress is because there has been a conflict between staff members.  It is these that must be addressed; if not they can destroy the whole program.  There are no records of these meetings and any comments are to stay within the group.  If, as a result of the discussion the group agree that some things need to change then everyone is involved in the decision and those outside of the team should not be privy to the discussions that led to that policy change.
  • The Environment – Conduct the debriefing in a pleasant environment.  Make sure everyone is comfortable and there are no distractions.  Avoid everyone having a cup of coffee or tea as enjoyable as that may seem, debriefing is a formal part of the day.
  • Punctuality – always start and finish at a set time.  On most days you will feel the atmosphere lighten and, in my experience, when the debriefing is accomplished the groups will soon be laughing about the day.  Be aware that in all stressful occupations the humour has a very dark quality; this should be expected and although may sometime appear to be disrespectful, you have to remember these are the people who front up every day and do there best for the kids.  Their actions define the respect they have for the students! 

If, on the other hand the mood within debriefing remains tense still finish at the designated time.  The issue will still need to be addressed but by waiting for the next opportunity allows time for all to reflect on the situation.  The main thing is not to carry on discussions with colleagues about the issue outside the confines of the debriefing process.  To do so would be very destructive.

Debriefing is an important practice to maintain the health of any organisation that deals with highly demanding work.  In a perfect world this would be a formal part of every working day however, in today’s busy world there seems to be no time for taking care of others.  This is a travesty, taking time to debrief is the best long-term investment any organisation can make!

Posted by: AT 07:57 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, July 01 2019

Addiction - It's the Seeking not the Consumption.

In a recent Newsletter (Addiction 3rd June 2019) I discussed the ‘addictive’ forms of behaviour that teachers deal with, particularly the people addiction.  This newsletter takes a more formal look at addiction and the role it plays in behaviour.

Most work, understandably focuses on fear as being the fundamental source of stress.  This is reasonable as it is the easiest to observe, we have no problem linking traumatic events with elevated levels of stress; fear is still seen as the most significant emotion.  Compounding this is the fact that in animal studies it is relatively straightforward to put a ‘lab rat’ in a situation that evokes panic and study their reactions.

However, the underpinning premise of our model of behaviour is that the task of the young brain is to have us survive.  The drive to protect us from outside threats is only one half of the equation, to survive we need to ‘consume’ things, food, water oxygen, love, etc.  When these are denied to us our anxiety levels quickly elevate and the resulting stress has just as a profound effect on our wellbeing as does the threat of attack.

This is the seeking phase of our strategy to survive.  It is the search for things that maintain a level of satisfaction, that is when we are in homeostatic disequilibrium and we need something to make up the deficit we ‘consume’ and return to equilibrium.  This consumption gives us pleasure.

Just like the protection cycle, this seeking sequence is driven by an an electro/chemical response in this case the chemicals are predominantly dopamine and serotonin. These have two separate functions; the serotonin signals the return to equilibrium with the feeling of pleasure; the dopamine fuels the drive to seek what is required to produce the conditions of satisfaction.  Unlike the fear related chemicals, these substances are sought for the feelings they produce regardless of an individual’s state of physical comfort.  The ‘high’ they produce is the focus of drug addiction.

In the case of satisfaction, the leading drug is in the opioid family, things like opium or heroine.  But, it is in the seeking phase, where dopamine is the driver we find the methamphetamine are used, the ‘speed’ and ‘ice’.

Dopamine is not the reward but creates the desperate longing that doesn’t actually feel good in itself but by focusing the attention on a goal it brings a powerful feeling of purpose to the individual.  It injects them with a level of energy that is intense, they feel alive.  For children with a history of abuse or neglect for them, this feeling of having a purpose is extremely satisfying.  They come to crave that feeling of seeking much more than the satisfaction the seeking is designed to satiate.

This critique of the electro/chemical response illustrates the power of the seeking system and how easy it can become a major factor in the driving of dysfunctional behaviour.  We are concerned with the behaviour in the classroom, the tantrums, the anger, the violence when kids don’t get their way.  It’s prudent to remember that, as with the protective dysfunctional behaviours the tactics they use did work when they were being ‘learned’ but in a different environment they fail to achieve their goal.

The diagram below clarifies how the increase in stress manifests into the outrageous behaviours often witnessed in schools.

 

Although the elevation of stress levels is the same as the response to the fear of the current environment the expression is different.  This may best be demonstrated by a child’s need to be attached.  In the first instance it maybe that the child is rejected by a significant other, perhaps a parent.  Their earliest reaction will be to try behaviours that have worked in the past to be noticed but when these don’t work the resulting psychological pain is immense.  The seeking cycle is when a child selects someone who they want in their ‘world’ and when this other person rejects the child’s advances the dopamine cycle gets ignited and as this grows the behaviour becomes more dysfunctional.

At school the problem surrounding the dysfunctional seeking behaviours can be difficult.  In recent years the emergence of children who have become over-indulged in early childhood (see Newsletter 22nd May 2017 – Education the over-indulged and Narcissistic Child’) has resulted in a growth in this form of dysfunctional expression of behaviour, the spoilt brat’s behaviour.

These children begin with wanting something, perhaps a piece of equipment, to be picked in a team or to belong to a group of friends.  When they are first denied access to what they want they become aroused and the dopamine is released, this feeds their seeking behaviour and unless they get what they want eventually they will ‘lose control’ over their behaviour.

For the teacher, how to deal with this form of student behaviour is the same as other destructive student behaviours.  Keep the classroom calm, teach appropriate boundaries and develop a professional relationship with that student so they get the time to create a sense of self that allows them to survive in their world.  

 

Posted by: AT 07:38 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