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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, February 26 2018


At the time of writing this Newsletter, we are at the end of the Winter Olympics one of our biggest sports carnivals.  It is here the champions; the winners are acknowledged.  These are the athletes that outshone all others on that day.  But we know the performance given at that moment is the culmination of years and years of practice and rehearsal.  So too is a child's response to any stressful situation.  How they act is not based on the presenting conditions but on a belief system that has been built-up during their ‘training.'

Success at the Olympics has rightly or wrongly become very important to nations, and we have seen the great lengths they will go to support those competitors who are a chance to win gold.  All across the world, Nations have programs such as our Institute of Sport who search for every advantage.  New research has identified a significant finding that supports what good teachers have always known and that the relationship between the coach and the athlete is one of the critical factors that will allow one winner to emerge given the competitors are in all other ways equally gifted.  The pursuit of excellence of behaviour does not have the same appeal.  However, for teachers who deal with the most troubled students, the drive for success is just as powerful and for the student how effective that teacher is, will have a life-long benefit that goes well beyond the gold medal race!

According to findings presented in November 2015 at the World Class Performance Conference in London, super-elites, the winners felt that their coaches fully satisfied their emotional needs by acting as friends, mentors and unwavering supporters—in addition to providing superb technical support. High-performing athletes who did not ‘medal’ did not feel that way.  "This turns on its head a long-held view that we must simply pair the best technical and tactical coaches to our best athletes to achieve ultimate performance," says Matthew Barlow, a postdoctoral researcher in sports psychology at Bangor University in Wales, who led the study.

Effective teachers know that relationships are the key factor in providing the best opportunity for children to develop into the mature, self-reliant and responsible young men and women.  To achieve this, I believe that teachers and parents need to build what is referred to as ‘relationship intelligence.'  Before I discuss relationship intelligence, it may be prudent to describe what relationship intelligent isn't.

One thing children need to develop for them to face life's inevitable trials and tribulations are resilience; that is the ability to continue after the set-backs and failures we all face.  Resilience is best nurtured when we allow our students to face-up to rejection and failure while we support them as being worthy individuals.  It is hard for us all not to ‘make things right’ when we see our children distressed or when they have got themselves into trouble.  But if we solve their problems for them, we deny them the very conditions to develop resilience.  By just ‘being there’ for them when they are facing relatively small setbacks and not ‘fixing’ things allows them to build their capacity to live through the inevitable setbacks they will face as an adult when they are on their own.  This exposure to life’s challenges is of course on a graduating scale; it is ‘age-appropriate’.  At school we expect our senior students to be much more independent than our juniors.

So what is relationship intelligence? The following is a list of what I think helps make a good relationships work:

  • Consistency, students get a sense of security and control if they can trust that they will know what happens when they make a mistake
  • Mutual trust and respect – this is paramount in building positive relationships
  • Understanding and meeting students’ needs
  • Taking the time to communicate and this does not only mean talking to them but actively listen to what they have to say
  • Maintaining consistently high standards in your behaviour
  • Responding to and nurturing a child’s passions or talents
  • Not taking setbacks personally
  • Showing vulnerability – show that you are not perfect and accept the consequences of your mistakes

In my past life, I have had the privilege of coaching elite athletes who have represented Australia in football, and I have also had the honour to teach our most damaged of students.  In both instances the goal was the same, to be the best they could be.  Being the best we can be as teachers is in making an intelligent contribution to the personal development of all the children in our care.  Support children of all ages, while they are growing to be the best they can be is our task.  Our kids will make mistakes, but they will never be mistakes.

Posted by: AT 09:30 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 19 2018

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder

Last week we witnessed another massacre of 17 American school children being gunned down by Nicholas Cruz an ex-student of the school.  Early reports point to Cruz as being a ‘disturbed’ student who was in constant trouble while at school and had since dropped out.  Now experts are suggesting that this boy suffers from a disorder called foetal alcohol syndrome.

Foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) is permanent brain damage that is a result of the mother consuming alcohol during pregnancy.  The amount of damage is related to the amounts of alcohol, when it was consumed and the genetic disposition of the mother.  As a result the severity of the damage is across a spectrum FASD ranging from mild to severe.

The speculation regarding the probability of Nicholas Cruz suffering from this disorder is most likely underpinned by the appearance of his face.  Children who have this condition are generally short, have low body weight but the clinching factor is their small head with a low nasal bridge, small eyes and a thin upper lip.

Coincidental to this tragedy is the release of a study from Western Australia on children in detention.  This study has just been published in the BMJ Open and reported in The Conversation (14th February 2018).  The study pointed out that 90% of all children in custody suffered a mental illness but of these inmates one in three had FASD, a distinct form of disability.  Unlike the other common disorders in the population that become incarcerated, FASD is not a developmental condition but a brain based condition, that is the brain is damaged on a continuum that is related to the environment in which the foetus matured.  It is critical to understand that FASD cannot be cured; it is permanent brain damage.  The best we can do is assist these children manage their impediment.

The frequency of FASD in the population is in dispute.  One strong factor for this uncertainty is the reluctance of the medical profession to make this diagnosis.  Doctors are aware that such a finding places the blame squarely on the mother and condemns them to a life of guilt.  However, in the latest Journal of American Medical Association they found that one in twenty children suffered from FASD; they had suspected the number to be more like one in one hundred.  They still suspect this figure underestimates the prevalence of the disorder.

In Australia using various data from states and territories, the estimations are of 0.01 to 1.7 per 1,000 births but when examining the indigenous population this rises to 0.15 to 4.70 per 1,000 births.  One study has found very high rates of FASD in some remote communities with the number of cases diagnosed at 120 per 1000 for children born between 2002 and 2003.  These figures are debatable because of the poor registration of this disease but for any school there is a high possibility that these students are present and provide a unique challenge.  For schools in remote regions with a high indigenous population the challenge is immense.

The behaviour manifestation of FASD is directly related to the cognitive impediments and parallels the dysfunctional behaviour of other types of brain damage.  In particular there is a loss of the functions in the prefrontal cortex, the so-called executive part of the brain.  This results in a lack of impulse control, poor decision-making and inept socialization.  Other areas of brain damage impair memory and language acquisition and low attention spans.

Just like the disorder the level of dysfunctional behaviour will be expressed on a continuum.  Some children may appear to act like the class clown, they may be just naughty or lazy or they may appear to be totally out of control and impossible to manage.  No matter how ‘bad’ their behaviour is it is important to keep in mind that these kids struggle to remember what is expected of them, to understand the presenting social context and make any decision other than that dictated by their impulsive nature.

All this information is of little help in managing these students in your classroom other than to give an understanding of the challenges both teacher and student face.  And, as in most cases the availability of system support for these difficult students is dubious if not non-existent.  So what is the practical advice?

A review of the available therapeutic interventions shows that the best chance for these kids is to be born in a stable loving home, not a likely prospect.  What is apparent is the longer they do live in a caring, non-violent environment the more they can have a substantial life.

So it is important that the teacher provides a stable, predictable environment with strong positive relationships.  This requires strong professional boundaries (see Newsletter - Teaching Practical Boundaries 31st July 2017) that allow you to stay calm and make a professional decision around the behaviour of these children.  As always the other students’ rights must be equally dealt with.  This requires a very structured and predictable set of expectations.  This will, in many cases mean some sort of time out for the student (See Newsletter - Time Out – 17 July 2017.)

Because these students will never recover from their disability there is a strong case to introduce an independent behaviour program (See Newsletter – Independent Behaviour Programs – Contracting for Behaviour Gains - 23rd August 2017.)  That is the student and the class understands that consequences for the FASD student are different.  This difference must be explained to the class but not the reasons for them.  In my experience, when kids are included in the purpose for this practice they become very comfortable providing they are protected from any impact of the inappropriate behaviour.

In 2002 Malbin reported on the incarceration of FASD sufferers in the Journal of Law Enforcement.  He came to the conclusion that catering to the strengths helps in the care of these sufferers.  From this work it can be assumed that music, be that singing, composing or learning an instrument seemed effective; this helped with their emotional stability.   Studying very concrete activities helped.  Predictable subjects such as spelling, mathematics allow them to enjoy success building a more positive outlook to school.  The more ‘grey’ area such as literature is a struggle but story telling or if they can independently read this provides a non-threatening access to literary skills.

Finally physical activities are useful as long as they are non-threatening and very importantly have no level of interpersonal contact.  Not only are FASD kids impulsive and likely to retaliate without thinking they are also 50% more likely to display inappropriate sexual expression and that includes touching.

Kids with FASD provide an extreme challenge to schools.  Not only is their little or no support it remains a fact that these kids are not responsible for their brain damage and it is hard to hold them responsible unless we, society gives them the special support they need to become responsible.  It is possible that in Florida we have seen the devastating outcomes that can occur if we turn a blind eye to these kids.

Posted by: AT 10:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 12 2018

Creating Purpose

In 2011 the then President Ban Ki-moon commissioned a ‘World Happiness Report.'  To construct such a report many factors predicted to have a causal relationship for happiness were measured.  Amongst such traits were economic equity, life expectancy, the freedom to make choices, etc. a sense of purpose stood out as a most significant factor.  It was found that people, who had a good sense of purpose, live longer, have better relationships, sleep better and had a more positive sense of wellbeing.  Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War, best described the importance of having a purpose.  He observed that those prisoners who had something meaningful to live for outlasted those who just gave up.

Modern research identifies having a purpose as being a significant indicator of both physical and psychological health.  As Carol Ryff of the University of Wisconsin observes if the concept of purpose were not so vague or ephemeral it would be a top public health priority, but it remains an idea that is ‘unscientific.'

So what is ‘the purpose of life?’

As Ryff observes the concept of purpose is hard to define.  The current, fallback position of logging on to the Internet to ‘Google' the answer for this question is of little help.  Of course, there are thousands of sites with their ‘explanations’, the majority providing a particular brand of religion as the reason we exist.  Other sites give their equally vague explanations, but the thing they all have in common is that it is something to live for, something that makes life worthwhile.

In historical times questions over the purpose of life were probably left to those comfortable enough to have the time to wonder.  Most people were busy surviving however even in the most primitive cultures there is a consistent longing for the presence of an afterlife, an organization that gave purpose to the day-to-day struggle to survive.

If we go back to the fundamentals of human drives, our primary purpose, I believe is the need to survive and the need to reproduce.  In a vast majority of the developed world, we have by-in-large come to the situation that these essentials are under control.  I have argued in other places that this essential satisfaction of the primary drives has given rise to our tertiary needs; that is to understand our self and our place in the environment.  I think that it is at this level our hazy graving of purpose is founded.

In these advantaged communities purpose is linked to the vague ‘pursuit of happiness’ and this quest takes two forms.  The first is of a hedonic nature; that is choosing to behave in a way that leads to pleasure or the accumulation of ‘rewards' - things that make us feel good.  The second way to create a drive is to behave in a way that is of service to others.  This selflessness gives a purpose beyond our self and strengthens our connection with community.

Both approaches provide the sense of happiness but with the advent of new methods of investigating what happens at a genetic level, it has been shown that the second approach, the service to others initiates an increase in the levels of activity in the area of the ventral striatum, a part of the brain that is linked to our reward system.  Further, this feeling of wellbeing has an impact on the limbic system and people giving of their time to others, soothes the fight or flight response to challenging threats.  There is a drop in the levels of cortisol present in these people that are not replicated in those who pursue hedonic activities.

For the teacher, the challenge to make schoolwork purposeful is difficult enough for those children who come from a history of nurture and security.  They have in their belief systems a past rich in positive memories, they have no reason to expect their future to be other than more of the same and so if we link this belief into the present lesson we will get engagement.  These kids will be open to adaptation and adjustment to any new experience.  If the lesson provides knowledge that better informs their understanding, they can modify their future goals.

However, our focus is on those children who have come from a background of neglect and abuse.  They have a memory bank full of rejection, physical and psychological cruelty and a well-developed sense of toxic shame (see Newsletter 3rd July 2017).  Any consideration of their future, like those of their healthy classmates, is more of the same but their ‘same' provides nothing to look forward to.  As all teachers of these students appreciates they are quite understandably fatalistic of their plight and will see no hope presented in the lesson UNLESS we can change this sense of their self and nurture a purpose in them.

Like all efforts to help these kids there are no quick fixes, and we must be prepared to provide the time, the consistency and build a relationship of trust.  On top of these fundamentals, we can offer projects that are designed to almost ensure successful completion with a small personal investment from the child.  These damaged kids more than most can identify any false patronization, so they have to make an effort.

If possible identify something, they may value.  It might be a football club, an interest in fast cars, fashion; it doesn't matter as long as the project you choose involves them investing some energy.

Taking a lesson from the strength of providing a service to others as a personal motivator, the teacher can fabricate situations that allow these kids to perform acts of kindness to others.  Things like visiting a retirement village or a pre-school.  In my experience, all but the most damaged of children thrive in these environments, and the contribution to the formation of a more 'positive' belief system is exceptional.

As stated at the outset, the definition of ‘purpose' is hard to pin down yet the importance is unquestionable.  I contend that developing a definite sense of purpose in these damaged kids is a gift a teacher can give that will make a lifelong difference.

Posted by: AT 09:34 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, February 05 2018

Boredom Mark 2

This article is a follow-up to Newsletter 11th of December

Most parents greet their kids at the end of the school day with the proverbial question ‘how was school today,' and the notorious answer is ‘boring.'  Of course, we know that is not the truth, the school day is full of formal and informal learning activities.  However, because each day is much like the last, there is an appearance of sameness that leads to a sense of monotony.  This lack of excitement or novelty leads to the child’s explanation of boredom!  Parents and insecure teachers who worry about the child being bored fail to understand the need for boredom in developing a self-contained and independent sense of self in the child.

The word boredom first appeared in Charles Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ and since that time has come to describe the human condition of feeling we have nothing to do in an uninteresting environment.  That is, we lack external stimulation.  In our classrooms, teachers are experts in the manipulation of their student's external environment to make the subject of the lesson something they desire.  This manipulation of the learning environment is at the core of their practice.

It is not too much of a claim to declare today’s kids, or for that matter kids across the developed world, are the most bored citizens in our history.  Since automation has reduced our need to work hard for the resources to satisfy our fundamental physical needs such as food and shelter, we have had a lot of ‘spare time.'  In fact, since prehistoric humans began to cook, the efficiency of eating is the reason our cognitive development progressed at a rate faster than other species.  The result was we had time to think, we still do but now instead of introspective thinking our time has been exploited by the supply of easily accessible entertainment with its pervasive advertisements that use our natural insecurity and expertly construct a desire for the consumption of prescribed external stimulation.  Watch any ad-break on commercial television, and you will soon be told of all the things you need to have to be happy, successful and desirable.  Of course, most of us can't have all these characteristics but with every passing twelve minutes we a given a new set of promises.

If we do gain some wealth, we will have the money to seek pleasure through new experiences or visiting new places that promise excitement and thrilling adventures.  We can pursue a hedonistic lifestyle but continually toiling on this treadmill eventually the dulling effect of ‘too much’ of a good thing produces a state of boredom.

It is the reliance on the external world to meet our needs that causes this inevitable boredom; so the solution is to develop our internal world.  We only find peace and contentment, the reverse of boredom, from inside ourselves. Exposing children to boredom can force a child to access their inner world, and this plays a most crucial role in the development of their inner strength and resilience.  Kids should be bored on occasion.

I watch my grandchildren with their addiction to their iPads, continual viewing the latest offerings from one of the many streaming services available.  Their elder siblings are continually on their smartphone texting, posting on one of the many social networks.  Their parents may have developed a corresponding addiction to their email account or Twitter, along with the malignant FaceBook. Like all addiction, these electronic channels are accessed continuously to avoid being bored.

Walk through the streets of any modern city, and you will see people ignoring the wonders, not to mention the dangers of their natural environment transfixed to a small rectangle that radiates exciting messages.  Today one of the significant modern causes of road accidents is that drivers are choosing to watch their smartphone over concentrating on the dangerous world speeding past.  Our addiction has become a real traffic hazard.

This devotion to the electronic environment has to be managed better, and one of the most important things a parent can do is not to use the convenience of the television, the iPad; the computer games to entertain their children when they complain they have nothing to do.  Let them be bored.  It is these early years they will learn to go into their internal world, to develop imaginary friends, create ‘games' to entertain themselves.  Later they can avoid being bored by using their imagination to make-up games with their friends.  The need for structure in all sports will involve the formation of rules that teach the skills of negotiation and fairness.  This use of their imagination leads them to acquire the people skills that are so important for their participation in their communities.

Kids who are exposed to periods of boredom become inventive, self-contained, understand that a full life requires some personal investment of their energy.  This development of a strong sense of independence is a slow process that requires patience on our parts, but the long-term outcomes are well worth it.

So don't worry too much if your children are bored.  Leaving them to solve this problem through their own devices builds their inner strength that develops their resilience.  Another benefit is that life does regularly provide unusual and unexpected situations and when these inevitable, exciting occasions do arrive, they will be truly enjoyed.

Posted by: AT 10:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

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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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