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Monday, November 27 2017

Common Mistakes Teachers Make

Teaching kids is hard enough without making life more difficult through our own blunders.  This newsletter highlights some of the everyday mistakes made in the classroom.  By eliminating these you can make your life a lot easier.  The following are some of the most commonplace errors seen in the average classroom.

Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, especially when you are extremely busy or struggling to gain control of the class, it’s easy to do one of the following:

  1. Attack the Student on a Personal Level - You can call them ‘stupid’ or say things like ‘your just like your brother/sister’, ‘what else could I expect from you’! Comments like these destroy the relationship so necessary for effective teaching.
  2. Intimidate the Student – Teachers do have a position of power in the classroom not only through their status but just because they are the adult in the room.  This use of intimidation is usually a result of the teacher losing their temper and ‘lashing out’ at the student.  Actions like this not only destroy the relationship but also expose lack of self-control, a personal ‘weakness’.
  3. Poor Use of Non-Verbal Cues – Be aware that over 90% of the emotional content of any communication is conveyed through your body language, facial expression and tone of voice.  It won’t matter what message you vocalize the students will feel the way it is delivered.  In the extreme cases teachers are reduced to conducting themselves in a passive aggressive manner that does nothing for the student or the teacher.
  4. Show Impatience – It’s sometimes so hard to be patient, especially after you have given the instruction to the class and you ‘know’ the student has been listening.  And nine times out of ten you would be right.  But what good does an outburst do?  Those students who were not listening still need to hear the instruction and remember when you were at Uni. or in a T&D lecture how your mind wandered.  It is impossible for an adult to concentrate 100% of the time and this is more so for subjects that are not exciting for you.  So treat the frustration as an opportunity to practice compassion.  Also there will be some students who just didn’t understand the instruction and your displeasure will be a source of shame for them.
  5. Talk Too Much/Too Little – This is a bit like hitting the ‘goldilocks’ level of communication.  In my experience teachers are more likely to talk too much, unfortunately we all like the sound of our own voice and enjoy the limelight.  But once the student has ‘got the message’ the extra talk will turn them off.  It is less likely but does happen that the teacher talks too little and the message they think they are delivering fails to get through to the student.
  6. Not Listening – No one likes to be ignored and that includes the children.  If you are going to claim to run a fair classroom then everyone deserves the respect of being heard.  When you don’t listen not only do you belittle the student you may also miss out on some vital piece of information that can make all the difference to your lesson.
  7. Ignoring Conflict – One bit of advice, that I think is very hard to get right is ignoring any situation that you should deal with.  I know in my time I have ‘not heard’ a comment because I know the student has said something not expecting me to hear it so I don’t.  Working with very dysfunctional students I have been known to say ‘I’m sorry, I’m a bit deaf and I need to know exactly what you said then.  I don’t want to give you the consequence of what I thought you said’.  It’s amazing how often the comment ‘repeated’ isn’t really in its original form.  But this ‘ignoring’ is about me changing the focus of the behaviour.  However, when it is a conflict within the classroom then your responsibility to ensure a safe and secure environment must always be a priority.
  8. Not Modeling the Behaviour You Want – The way you conduct yourself is at the heart of developing a classroom culture.  Dress professionally; there is such a thing as a teacher’s uniform, neat, clean and tidy.  Make your workspace organized and efficient.  Notes on the IWB or computer screen should be neat and spelling correct.  Some inexperienced teachers like to appear to be ‘cool’ (is that still the term) but they are not kids, they are paid professional teachers and should model that professionalism so the students can develop behaviours that will empower them to one day present as being ‘professional’.

These are just some of the mistakes that can be made and I know at one time or another I have made them all.  Remember we are not perfect but we can strive for perfection.  The kids are worth it!

Posted by: AT 09:44 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, November 20 2017

Education for the Future

At a recent retired principal's luncheon, I listened to the guest presenter discuss the outlook of the economy and how schools need to prepare their students for that future.  In particular, the impact computerised production and artificial intelligence will have on work practices will be at the heart of this new revolution.  The claim was made that by 2050 only 10% of the population would be in employment.

The focus of the presentation was on how would we deliver the skills required for our students to participate in this new world of work?  His view was that we would need a range of skills such as critical thinking, collaboration and the usual assembly of abilities that signify the position that we just don't know.

Nonetheless, education systems have not been slow to consider the future and with regular announcements we are informed about what we should be teaching!  Recently this has included coding, and then we must continue to emphasize STEM, next week who knows maybe we need to concentrate on numeracy and literacy?  Recently the CSIRO presented a paper in the Conversation estimated that 40% of current jobs would be taken over by robots.  But they also announced that the most significant skill set needed in the future would be in communications and people skills.

There has always been a sense of doom when new technologies emerge, and in the past, the occupations lost to technology have been replaced by other jobs.  The difference this time is the computers have moved from the ‘production line’ and they now dominate many of the service industries.  Where a predictable environment exists AI will become the most efficient and cheapest choice for industry.  Even professions such as accountancy and the law are under enormous threat.  One frightening statistic that confirms this trend is that since 2000 only 0.5% of American workers are employed in industries that have emerged (The Economist June 2017).

While I was digesting the prediction that only 10% of the population would have work I could not help considering ‘what about the 90% unemployed’.  And further, I wondered about the wisdom of providing this expected economic/production focused curriculum to the 100% so that we get the 10%?

I make the following points:

  • If the employment level is going to be 10%, the unemployment level will be 90%
  • It will be very likely that the ‘best and brightest’ will gain that employment and these will in a sense ‘self-select’ for those positions
  • That leaves the vast majority with ‘nothing to do.'

John Maynard Keynes, the great economist, pointed out in 1933; that the focus on the economy and solving that problem is not addressing the long-term permanent problem of the human race and that is to live a purposeful life.  What he meant was the economy had become the purpose not the servant of society.  I fear that modern education has also become the servant of the economy and those who are surplus to requirement are discarded.  If you look at the unemployed of today, you see just how much we care about the surplus!

I have been working on my next book that focuses on the most damaged children, the ones who are most likely to be in this unemployed category, and in the process of doing this I have had to consider what kind of education I would like to develop.  At the heart of my deliberations is the aim of developing a sense that they can take their proper place in society.

I have come to the following four characteristics I believe underpin a fulfilling life and would be the underpinning tenets of the curriculum.  These are:

A Sense of Self – We all need to have a sense of worth, value, and importance.  This affirmation is not always 'a given' across the population, and in the event of massive unemployment, a positive sense of worth will be extremely hard to maintain especially if the only focus our curriculum is on preparing everyone for work!

The other component of a strong sense of self is how we relate to the community.  It is important that we feel positive about ourselves, but it is critical that we have the sense that our companions also value us.  These days I would contend the levels of unemployed youth and the social issues they face and create, are an indication of the future unless we prepare our children for their future reality.

Relatedness – As we are social beings we need to live in a society that we can contribute to and receive support.  This requires the skills to cooperate, to share and to support each other.  There will also be a challenge in regards to the sharing of resources, and so ethics will be required.  We won't survive with a competitive approach.

Aspirations – A sense of purpose is also vital for a healthy lifestyle.  We need something to get up for every morning.  For the vast majority, our vocation has been that purpose, and when our work matches our aspirations, we have a fulfilling life.   If we assume that there are no work prospects we need to develop a sense of purpose in our students.

Autonomy – Finally we need to have a sense of control over our lives.  This sense of independence allows us to participate in society from a position of individuality so important for our ability to participate in the democratic process.   I would contend that the current worldwide disenchantment with the political process is that individuals have no real sense of control or meaningful contribution.

I remember a past leader of the High-Performance Unit who claimed that if the solution is not simple, it is wrong.  This statement is an overused platitude I find most disturbing.  I have always thought that simple answers are appealing to simple minds.

The 'simple' answer our current education leaders make is to react to the latest ‘idea,'.   This results our leaders lurching from one ‘new idea' to the next and always to prepare the students for work.  I return to the point Keynes made; this complete focus on the economy blinds us to any alternate view.  What if we just enjoyed and shared the wealth AI provided, what if we could pursue more humanistic endeavours, what if we became satisfied with what we have?

John Lennon ‘imagined a world’ that could be achievable with a change in focus.

Maybe we will have to let go of competition and growth and ‘live our lives in peace’!

Posted by: AT 11:07 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, November 13 2017

Effective Behaviour Management

Schools have always had an obligation and a need to provide efficient behaviour management programs.  I’m old enough to have experienced the range of techniques that have been tried to get kids to behave.  In the mid 1900’s I had first ‘hand’ experience of corporal punishment.  The boys were caned on a regular basis if they did not conform to the rules of the school.  In my early teaching days the cane still was the weapon of choice for some male teachers but this barbaric approach was on the way out and eventually banned.

This didn’t solve the problem of misbehaviour and so we saw the development of a range of ad hoc programs introduced, all promising a solution.  These included, ‘Assertive Discipline’, ‘Reality/Choice Theory’, ‘Restoration’ and the current liberator ‘School Wide Positive Behaviour System’ (SWPBS) which is in reality a corporate introduction of the ‘Positive Behavioural Interventions and Supports’ (PBIS) that is based on positive psychology.

Each of the system has flaws and the predictable ‘failure’ of all these programs is that they:

  • Fail to deal with the severe end of behaviour issues schools face
  • Impose a system that struggles to adapt to the various contexts that are a function of schools
  • Are generally reflective of a middle class population

I have sat in on senior executive training where the popular comment ‘unless the solution is simple it is incorrect’ was bandied about as if saying so makes it so.  This maybe fine when you are dealing with the world of physics where observations of phenomena are consistent, always the same.  That is every time we drop a ball in the classroom it falls at an exact speed.  This consistency has allowed the reductionist approach to problem solving to drive the scientific revolution of the last century.

The failure of this reductionist approach to dealing with the biological world, the world of behaviour where even if you can reduce the causes of behaviour down to fundamental features they will never be put together to rebuild that same person.  The environment influences the growth of any biological system including behaviour.   

So to produce an effective behaviour management program at the school level it is necessary to accommodate the ‘top-down’ requirements of the Department with the ‘bottom-up’ needs of the school community, their unique environments each of which requires different responses for the social context.

The top-down issues are related to the formal requirements imposed on the school.  These are articulated in the new departmental documents that deal with behaviour.  They will include the obligation to provide a safe working environment and to provide support for students with disabilities.  These are not negotiable. 

But it is the bottom-up influences, the unique features of the school that is the ingredient that will determine the success or failure of any behaviour management program.  This is where the teachers and the students have a real investment in the practice.

There are a few things that are essential and these are:

Children have to be taught limits – it is naïve to believe kids are born as little angels.  Apart from my grand children they can be naughty and perhaps they should be so.  They are looking for boundaries and it is strong boundaries that make a good behaviour plan.  Kids know what to expect when they behave in a certain way.

Children need to be able to predict – our ability to ‘guess’ what will happen if we choose to act in a certain manner gives them a sense of power; they develop a sense of ownership over their lives.

Children need a strong parent figure – students soon understand and appreciate a teacher who will set strong boundaries and impose them while respecting that child’s intrinsic worth.  Too often young teachers try to be popular and fail to discipline the kids.  These teachers soon lose the respect of their class.

I believe when it comes to dealing with discipline there is an unsaid ‘self’ always preceding that word.  We should focus on teaching self-discipline to our kids and that requires a great deal of self-discipline by the teachers and the school.  Its not easy but teaching self-discipline to a child is probably the most valuable lesson they will get at school.

Posted by: AT 09:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, November 06 2017

Physical Damage from Early Childhood Abuse

In the previous Newsletter I reviewed the cause of trauma, this included the ‘shattered expectations,' ‘human vulnerability' and ‘the capacity for evil.'  In that paper, I explained that infants and preschool-aged kids had not developed the cognitive ability to understand these concepts, but they are traumatized through their separation from security.  It is this fear that generates the high levels of stress that fashions the neurological framework of the child.

The intricacy of stress was described in a previous Newsletter, 19th June 2017 (see the ‘Blog') but in this work, we are only considering the reaction to very high levels of stress that are the result of the response to the very existence of the child.   

The body’s response to threat makes sense when we consider the primary function is to survive, the other drive, to reproduce is not a consideration of the infant.  So the response of the brain, the decision-making centre of our bodies, makes optimal decisions for the conditions that we are facing.  The following conclusion I have drawn is this flight/fight response is purely instinctive because a young infant is unable to either flight or fight so the activation of the automatic nervous system would be of little practical use.

The infants do however have the ability to respond in the third of the ‘3F's' (the first two are flight and fight) and that is to freeze.  They dissociate. It was a fashion in the past that when children were crying in bed, they were attention seeking and the advice was to ignore them, they would eventually stop.  There is some truth in this 'attention seeking' behaviour if the practice has been rewarded, but there are times when the baby is highly stressed, and when they do stop crying they have ‘given-up' on life.

However, when the threat occurs, the brain is awash with a chemical cocktail to prepare a fight/flight response.  At the time the incoming stimulus quickly goes through the receptors, through the thalamus, the ‘clearing house’ of the stimulus on to the amygdala.  The amygdala perceives the stimulus as representing a real, immediate threat and a sequence of events takes place to prepare the body—first to 'flight,' and if that is not an available option, to 'fight.' 

This movement to fight/flight involves a series of synaptic signals that release a cocktail of chemicals that in turn dramatically change the physiological status of the body. This response is known as the general adaptive syndrome. The body is prepared to deal with the identified threat.

It is the importance of the amygdala in this process that results in its ‘abnormal' development.  Because the function of the amygdala is important, it becomes more enlarged so it can better deal with future threats.  The enhancement of the amygdala along with the resulting propensity to initiate the fight/flight response has a paradoxical effect.  When these kids grow-up they become hypersensitive to a stimulus that resembles a threat.  As a result, when they are in a situation that may look like a threat their amygdala is activated before they can make a considered judgment about the potential danger.

The second area of brain development that is affected by the conditions of elevated threat is in the ‘higher order' areas of the brain, the hippocampus, and the frontal lobes.

In the usual ‘general adaptive syndrome' process, when the threat is over the brain returns to rest.  Within the complex chemical activity that achieves this is cortisol that washes across the brain.  Unfortunately, if the threat is not ‘turned off' or the process is too frequent the constant presence of cortisol has a corrosive impact on the brain.

The hippocampus is reduced in size by as much as 12% and the frontal lobes as much as 20%.  There are other parts of the brain such as the cerebellum that are also damaged, but it is the changes in the hippocampus and frontal lobes that cause trouble for the children in the future.  It is in these areas that we develop the ability to make rational decisions and capacity to delay gratification.  The hippocampus and the frontal lobes are at the cognitive heart of our success.

So children who have been abused are subjected to real physical brain damage, and that damage is handicapping the very processes that are needed if we are to help them overcome the dysfunctional behaviour that results from their history of abuse.  They are more sensitive to stress and therefore more likely to react in their ineffective, habitual manner and are less equipped to make calm decisions required to avoid that dysfunctional habit.

Posted by: AT 11:27 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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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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