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Monday, December 18 2017

Anger – Temporary Madness?

Years ago I produced a program that helped children deal with their anger, and it was interesting to look back at that work about this idea of ‘madness' and how my studies have influenced my thinking on this subject.

I understand that when we are angry, we lose access to our rational, cognitive brain.  Anger describes a stress response to the clash between your expectations and the environment, and this stress take us into the fight, flight, freeze realm particularly that of the fight.  It is the unrealistic expectations that are at the heart of this ‘mad’ response that dominate the high levels of anger we see from those students who have been the subject of early abuse or neglect.

These kids can have very distorted expectations that are underpinned by their faulty belief.  For them, if things are to be fair, they must be perfect.  These kids project their anger externally and blame their environment.  This externalization is a classic response from those who carry large doses of toxic shame.

The other end of this scale comes for kids who have low personal expectations.  Because they expect to fail, their frustration turns in on their sense of self; their anger is driven by the expectations of their internal environment.  They get very angry with themselves.

The modern setting for the expression of anger for school kids is on social media.  ‘In my day' that is in the ‘olden days’, anger was dealt with in the playground.  Rarely a lunchtime went by without a fight of some kind.  These were almost but not exclusively between boys, and the occasional girl's fight was a cause of much excitement.  This gender bias reflects the reality that boys act out with their frustrations and girls internalize.

Since those 'bad old days,' the schoolyard has become a much more peaceful place or at least we have become better at stopping this violence.  But now it seems it is the girls’ turn to act on their anger through social media.  This difference between physical and psychological abuse makes me think about that proverb – sticks and stones can break my bones, but names will never hurt me.  Not true; all attacks, physical or psychological will hurt all but those with the personal power to withstand either form of attack.

I understand that the motives behind the nasty comments found in the many social comments are complicated and are dealt with elsewhere in our blog but this Newsletter aims to provide advice on how to deal with the anger comments can raise

Too often the advice given is to just ignore them.  It is difficult to overlook nasty comments designed to hurt or insult your sense of self.  Teachers at every level are subjected to such comments from upset children and more increasingly irate parents.  This growing phenomenon is becoming a real work/health issue in the profession and one that does not seem to be going away.  So what to do?

My fallback position when being ‘attacked' always has to examine my boundaries.  These simple sets are:

  1. Remain as calm as you can be.  Always remember that as your stress levels raise, your ability to think declines when you are stressed, and anger management is a cognitive exercise.
  2. Ask yourself ‘what is really going on here'?  In the program, I devised I referred to this as asking if the anger was justified or unjustified.  What I now do is ask:
    • What is really going on?
    • Who is responsible?
  3. If the answer is that I'm responsible, then I must take action to address the conditions that have resulted in the other person being ‘justifiably' angry with me.  If the answer is the other person is responsible and my anger is ‘justified’ then things become much more cerebral.
  4. I now need to ask myself – ‘what do I want to have happen in the long run’?  Any long-range thinking requires a calm mind.  The more we descend into the fight/flight way of thinking the shorter the time horizon becomes.  These actions are designed for instant realization.
  5. When you have worked out what you need to do then implement your plan.

The very last step is to ‘let go' of your anger.  This 'letting go' is not as simple as putting your feelings aside.  Whenever you do become angry, your body prepares for a physical response – fight or flight.  That energy includes a lot of physiological tension, and if you leave this unexpressed, it will have a detrimental effect on your health.  So after you have dealt with the cerebral garbage you need to discharge this ‘energy', this physical garbage.  If you are lucky enough you can involve yourself in some sporting activity such as take a run or play a game of tennis but at school, the opportunities are not so available.

I have found that something as simple as screwing a towel or a jumper up as tight as I can and focusing my energy on that exercise helps enormously.  I sometimes indulge in a bit of unprofessional quietly whispering unprofessional profanities.  Not cool but sometimes this helps.

Above all, be charitable in how you feel about the others in this situation.  When you forgive you are giving that gift to yourself.  It is a bonus if the other person also accepts your kind offer.

Posted by: AT 07:58 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 11 2017

Boredom

‘This is boring’ - a comment most teachers are subjected to during any given day.  Comments like this frustrate young, enthusiastic teachers; of course, the kids don't think this is a problem, often it's just a ‘knee-jerk' reaction in the face of a new topic, but we would do well to examine this perpetual statement.  It is hard to under-estimate the difficulty in making something like solving simultaneous equations exciting and stimulating to a class of thirty or so average students on a hot summer afternoon.  This is what we are instructed to do, and despite our best efforts, some kids are bored!

The acclaimed major cause of boredom is the response from being forced to do something you do not want to do but are required to do.  This is often the case in class especially with such a prescriptive curriculum designed by those who love their subject and see no reason for anything about excitement.  In these instances teachers find ways to make those simultaneous equations at least interesting, this is what we do best.

The cause of boredom is a lack of focus on the issue at hand.  This lack of attention can have many reasons but all are linked to the student's perception of the situation they find themselves in.  On those rare occasions when the opportunity to get their needs and wants are present by the environment presented, boredom is the last thing on the student's mind.  But for children, especially teenagers, the chances of the lesson that is being presented aligning with their current interest, is fairly remote.  Students’ appetites and imaginations rarely match the environmental conditions of the classroom.  They find the schoolroom dull and tedious, it lacks stimulation and is stopping them from doing what they want to do! 

But there is more that can drive boredom and teachers should consider this response more carefully.  In some cases the claim the lesson is ‘boring’ might cover the real message that the lesson is too challenging!  Some kids have such a sense of being ‘failures’ it becomes a better option to be bored than expose themselves to their false reality – they believe it’s better to be bored than dumb!  This faulty belief is explained below.

For most kids, this lack of stimulation within the environment drives them to find alternate things to occupy their mind.  How they do this is telling for the teacher.

In our modern age, the availability of screen access is a dangerous answer to boredom.  Teachers are spending increasing amounts of time fighting against the easy escape into the smart phone.  Whether it is the social media or the availability of YouTube, kids have easy access to messages that are enclosed in highly designed, attractive ‘environments’.  The content of these messages are not the primary attraction for the child; the fun environment is.  However, it is the message that remains after the ‘excitement' dims.  Media manipulation of all levels of society thrives on boredom and the ease this ‘boredom’ can be instantly eliminated is seductive and can lead to a type of soft addiction.

Despite the difficulty, teachers are experts at manipulating the classroom environment and can make it at least attractive enough for most to get through the lesson content.  This is at the heart of our professional skill set.  However, those ‘difficult’ students who reside in all classes provide us with a degree of wisdom that goes beyond the presentation of a slick, stimulating and inviting lesson.

To get back to the issue raised above.  The most difficult kids to motivate, those these Newsletters focus on, are the ones with a history of abuse/neglect.  Their issues go beyond a lack of stimulation; they find the challenges of the classroom environment threatening and the goals of the lessons unobtainable.  What may appear to be the apathetic response, this apparent boredom hides their fear of attempting the work.  They ‘know’ they will fail and each time they do there is further reinforcement of their toxic sense of themselves.  They are better served to hide in a dispirited cocoon of boredom.

As pointed out it is the perceived lack of stimulation in the environment that causes boredom but I would expand this to take very much into account the child’s expectations of that environment.  If a student perceives that at the heart of the lesson the outcome is inevitable exposure of their sense of persistent failure, they will refuse to attempt the work despite the teacher’s best efforts.  Better not to try than to demonstrate incompetence.

A final point about boredom; the experience does not have to be unproductive.  In some cases, the feeling of boredom can drive the student to find alternative way of dealing with their environment.  This can lead to some creative outcomes for the student.  This is especially so for students who are confident with the presenting conditions and can move beyond what they see as easy and therefore ‘boring’.

In other cases the boredom, if we don’t divert our attention elsewhere forces us to reflect on the bigger pictures of life, even daydreams are attempts to imagine an alternate future.  Of course, it's hard for teachers to understand when these times are of value but the message is not to be too worried about the student's complaints about being bored.

I have often argued that teaching is as much an art as a science and perceived or ‘reported’ boredom can provide real feedback about how your lesson is going and an understanding that nothing is as simple as it appears!

Great teachers are never bored!

Posted by: AT 09:22 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 04 2017

What’s in a Name?

 

 

In a recent article, Stop Labeling People who Commit Crimes ‘Criminals’, Kimberly Brownlee from the University of Warwick in Coventry examines the impact labeling has on criminals.  Her thesis, describing the person involved with the same terms as the act they committed has ramifications for our work particularly with those difficult students we refer to as ‘dysfunctional,' ‘disobedient,' ‘naughty,' etc.  So how do we ‘describe’ the perpetrators of misbehaviour?

 

As you will have gathered by now, I am a great believer in consequences for actions, and when we commit a crime, there must be some form of sanction for the person involved.  Understandably but unfortunately the tendency is to personalize the action; that is, the thoughtless act has been committed by a thoughtless person!  How often do you hear someone describe a kid as stupid when they really have done a stupid action.  The label defines the child; a child who has been told they are stupid will believe they are stupid!  The impact of this labeling has significance for dealing with tough kids.

 

As far as the student goes there are at least two issues here.  The first is that as I've said, they will believe they are that label.  In a recent Newsletter (3rd July 2017) I discussed toxic shame, the belief that you have not made a mistake, you are a mistake.  These are children who come from a history of abuse or neglect, those who have a shattered sense of self-worth.  Whenever these children hear a teacher call them stupid, it is a confirmation of their belief system.

 

This toxic shame is such a debilitating condition because in their heart of hearts they believe they are always condemned to fail and never see themselves as having a chance to be anything other than ‘stupid' or ‘dysfunctional,' etc.

 

So how do we deal with this problem?  As pointed out above a major part of dealing with dysfunctional students is to teach them that actions do have consequences.  Far too many consequences are either not delivered, or the treatment they receive is in no way related to their behaviour.  This absence of structure is particularly true for children who suffer abuse.  These kids have no sense of personal control; life does things to them rather than they interact with life.  So teaching them about actions and consequences is a form of empowerment.

 

I often hear well-meaning teachers advocating punishment for children who misbehave.  I have a few issues with punishment, teachers who like to ‘punish' are ‘committed the assumption of  ‘authority'; they arbitrate and distribute the punishment.  The problem is this is an expression of power over the child.  They believe they can ‘make them behave.'  And more often than not the behaviour that must be addressed is at least annoying and as much as the teacher tries to conceal feelings of frustration and anger, the expression of hostility towards that child will damage their relationship.

 

Another problem with punishment is that the responsibility of the behaviour rests with that authority figure.  The child is excluded, in a sense excused from responsibility and will never ‘learn’ about their accountability.  There is no developed connection between the act and responsibility.  The child acted irresponsibly because they are irresponsible and can’t do anything about that.

 

This process reinforces the idea of the student becoming the behaviour!

 

It is in the delivery of the consequences that holds the key to helping address the burden of toxic shame. 

 

Effective consequences are based on the logical outcome of the behaviour.  For example, if a student litters the playground then an effective consequences is for them to clean up the playground.  Of course, this is not as simple as it sounds, what is a student hits another student?  It may be ‘logical' to hit them but not ethical or even effective.  In these cases, the consequence is a chosen response to the behaviour, and it is important that the child knows in advance what will happen if they behave in anti-social ways.

 

If the student understands the connection is just between the action and the consequence, then they can come to understand that the responsibility for the consequence rests with them and if they change their actions the consequences will change.  This is a time when the teacher can suggest other ways to behave and strengthen their relationship.

 

Everyone makes mistakes, and as teachers, when we make mistakes one of the best gifts you can give your class is to identify that you made a mistake.  There have been times when I have blurted out something like ‘you stupid thing, ' but eventually, I understood and quickly followed up with something like ‘now I have made a stupid mistake – we both know you are far from stupid but what you just did was not smart.'  Surprisingly this always seemed to work, but it’s better to prevent it happening in the first place.

 

The most important message a teacher can deliver to all students and especially those who suffer from toxic shame is that they are not their behaviour.  They really are precious, special and unique!

 

 
 
Posted by: AT 12:27 am   |  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.

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