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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, November 25 2019

The Social Teacher

This is the third in this series of Newsletters on the needs and drives of students and how this relates to their learning.  By now you should be conscious of the destructive power of rejection which is particularly potent for developing children.  This is when they are forming their sense of self.

Your acceptance is also critical when it comes to learning new work.  We all find it stressful when we are confronted with problems for which we have no answer.  Kids find this as well, especially those who have no self-confidence.  When they will feel supported they are more likely to approach that new work.

 

The illustration above shows the connection.  If there is no relationship between the teacher and the student the student must face the lesson alone with only their existing memories to help them.  As this is a stressful situation the child is doubly disadvantaged because the increased emotional arousal makes cognitive thinking all the more difficult.  This is a dysfunctional situation.

However, if the teacher and the student have a supportive relationship then the student goes to the new work supported and importantly feeling protected and safe.  These are the conditions for future learning.

For children with a healthy sense of self, this connection is important especially in the early years.  If you have children, you probably got sick of hearing just how much Ms Smith knows more than you.  Infants need to have that strong bond.

 

As they mature and develop their own sense of self the relationship becomes progressively less important and by the time they reach their senior years and into tertiary studies the teacher’s ability to facilitate the information to be learnt is more important than the relationship. The graphic above illustrates this point.

In the primary school the relationship needs to be strong as indicated by the line between the teacher and student.  In secondary the relationship becomes a little less important and the need to connect socially with their peers becomes more important (see Newsletters Tribal Teacher, 29 July 2019 and Tribal Classroom, 1 August 2018).  The teacher needs to expand the feeling of connectedness beyond being more directly involved with the student.  By the time students reach their senior secondary years and into their post school learning even this relational situation becomes less important.  They are more focused on the establishment of intimate relationship and in most cases, if the go to university they may well be in a class on over 100 students and never talk to their teachers, in fact I believe most don’t even attend and watch an online versions of the lecture.

However, for those children who have been raised to develop a toxic sense of their ‘self’ the strength of the relationship remains essential throughout their schooling.

Almost without exception, when you ask any of your friends they will have had at least one teacher that they really connected with, that inspired them.  Conversely, if you think about your own schooling there will be teachers who made no connection and even made you loath their lessons.  For me, it was Smithy (real name) who inspired me and an un-mentionable maths teacher who is at the heart of my fear of mathematics!   

You have to understand that every day you can be either of those teachers depending on how you relate to them.  If you are reading this, I’m pretty sure I know what type you are but it is worth reminding ourselves that this is a profession and you are obliged to build a positive relationship with all your students particularly those whose behaviour towards you initiates a natural repugnance.  These are the children, and by now we know why they behave that way that need you to accept them.  Ironically, although they are hard to like, they remain suspicious of any attempt they perceive to be kindness, if you hang in with a genuine effort they are the ones who crave attention the most and the ones who thrive when someone believes in them.

You need to be that teacher who, to paraphrase Barack Obama has got the heart, the empathy, to recognise what it’s like to be a young teenage mum, have been traumatised in early childhood, to have seen parents fight, part or die.  You will have all these kids and more in your class and you have the most precious gift, you can be that teacher who allows them to move into a healthy life.  What a privilege.

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Monday, November 18 2019

Secondary Drives

In the previous Newsletter I outlined the concept that underpins all behaviour, the drive to survive and reproduce.  Of these the most important for teachers is the part connected with the limbic system and they are particularly concerned with the formation of relationships; these are our ‘social behaviours’.  The importance of this is directly linked to the foundational concepts.  Once we began to live in groups our very survival, not to mention our opportunities to reproduce relied on our being accepted.

The contrary position to acceptance is rejection and for humans, rejection is as life threatening as being attacked by an outside force.  In recent studies it has been demonstrated that the same areas of the brain are engaged when we are rejected as do when we are being attacked.  A further demonstration of the power of rejection is the concept of suicide.  To take one’s own life flies in the face of our premise that all behaviour is to survive; how could we deliberately kill the very thing that carries our genes?

The answer is that the psychological pain to live in the face of rejection seems to be so overwhelming the individual chooses to end that pain and achieves this by ending their life.  Suicide provides a significant example of the power of drives to get us back to a state of homeostatic equilibrium.

The process of developing behaviours that support our membership into our group starts from birth; the child’s successful bonding with the mother is critical for long-term psychological health.  The sensitive period is identified from six months to three years but I would argue it starts at conception and the object of attachment is clarified through the early childhood experiences.

Attachment is a well-researched topic for child development but for the sake of this work we take the position that when attachment is secure, that is the child has positively bonded with at least the primary caregiver and feels psychologically and physically safe in their care they are in equilibrium. 

However, some children are not provided with such a safe environment and experience some uncertainty about the availability of the primary caregiver.  There are many models that describe these less than protected connections - these include insecure or anxious attachment.  Despite the physical ‘closeness’ these inadequate efforts of parenting will have a significant impact on the creation of the child’s belief systems.

Humans are herd animals and rely on other members of the community to improve their chances of survival and eventually reproduction.  As with attachment this connectedness is critical for ensuing survival.  So how we learn to acquire these skills happens in our childhood.  When we ‘grow-up’ we will experience the intensity of feelings we experienced as a child when things go wrong, these are emotional memories.  If we are abandoned we become extremely stressed and we will evoke the behaviours learned as a child. 

The intensity of the connectedness an individual has with another varies.  The caregiver has the closest connection and this means the caregiver can provide the highest amount of support.  This also means that withdrawal of the support will expose the individual to feelings of abandonment producing a large amount of stress.  This intimate, powerful attachment does not remain exclusively with the parent.  Eventually the drive to reproduce will see a replacement primary partner.  This significant relationship has the potential to meet the person’s drives but there is a significant risk of distress if this relationship fails.

Eventually the child will need a sense of belonging to more than their immediate family and this reaching out is the first step to a graduated association with the world.  The next stage of development in relational skills is called affiliation which happens first with extended family, say siblings and cousins and on to kids at pre-school and school.  The friendships develop with children having ‘best friends’ that may last for a life time but more usually last until a new ‘best friend’ arrives.  The child has to learn the rules of these relationships with parents or teachers initially showing them the first steps and then these ‘rules’ are learned through play.

One of the regrettable phenomena of modern life is the intensification of organised play.  Kids are taught how to do things ‘properly’ and adults adjudicate play.  Kids miss the opportunity to learn the real rules of association.  These are complex social interactions, behaviours we must master if we are to successfully integrate with the world.  We need to not only deal with close friends but we also have to associate with others on a continuum that ends with strangers.  We learn these skills by trial and error not just by parental instruction – parents only have their set of rules, these may or may not match those of the rest of their community.

The need to integrate ourselves with others on an increasing level of intimacy provides us with a good deal of feedback on our sense of ourselves. The ability of a person to move between various members of the community in a confident and comfortable manner indicates a strong sense of self-worth. People who have difficulty dealing with others will find the stress that comes from their inability to integrate in a satisfactory manner very troubling.

In contemporary education systems there has been a move away from disorganised play and a rejection of significant social content in curriculum.  The growing focus on the ‘basics’ reduces the opportunity for those children who were raised in families whose behaviours led to mainstream rejection to learn to re-attach with their peers.

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Monday, November 11 2019

 

This is the start of a series of Newsletters that focus on how children who have experienced abusive and/or neglectful childhoods, those children who are the focus of our work develop dysfunctional behaviours.  Recently we examined our sense of self in two Newsletters. This prompted the impetus to go back to discuss basic human needs and drives.  This examination will take the form of a series of essays that build towards a finished model.

Let’s start with the fundamental drives for all species, the drive to keep our particular gene profile alive.  This is based on the work of Richard Dawkins who expanded Darwin’s model of survival of the fittest.  Dawkins postulated that in its basic form, our bodies are just vehicles to maintain the survival of our particular genome.  This was the foundation of our drive to survive, keep supporting our genes and to reproduce, ensuring that if, and when we die our genes will have been passed on to another host!

The fundamental purpose for our existence is to survive and reproduce!  Of course, it is not that simple.  All of us are driven to behave in lots of unique and complex ways however, if you look at any behaviour, the result of being ‘driven’ it can be traced back to these two instincts.  Of course, the drive to reproduce becomes more significant as we reach maturity.  It is not a real issue for primary aged students but does become a consideration for the secondary system, not only the curriculum but teacher awareness of the emergent attentiveness to the business of reproduction!

When we feel completely safe and secure we experience a level of calm that allows us to access the top levels of our brain.  This is the position of homeostatic equilibrium.  However, when we are not ‘safe and secure’ we experience a level of stress and that stress provides the drive to behave, to act in a way that will bring us back into equilibrium.

In the late 1960’s a psychologist named McLean introduced the concept of our brain that described it as having three distinct levels that were linked to our evolutionary journey.  He called this the tri-part brain with the following stages:

  • Primary Drives - the Reptilian Brain – the Brain Stem and Mid Brain

This part of the brain controls our physical homeostasis.  Whenever we are placed in a stressful situation, in disequilibrium this zone initiates the behaviours that will bring us back to homeostasis.  This is the area that controls things like breathing, our heart beat, our balance, those physical activities that allow us to physically survive.

Remember times when you had run ‘out of breath’, maybe under the water for too long recall how desperate you become to get some oxygen into your lungs.  This desperation is the stress that fuels the behavioural drive.

The ‘lessons’ assembled in this part of the brain begin to happen from the moment of conception and continue through the very early years of infancy.  We are born with the ability to breath but it takes a little time to master walking on two legs.  A feature of these behaviours is that they are for all purposes, unconscious and very difficult to change.

This is referred to as the reptilian brain because this most reptiles failed to develop beyond that point.  They do not have any social organisation and the times they do group together is because that environment supplies their physical needs such as food, water or the opportunity to reproduce.

  • Secondary Drives - the Social/Emotional Brain – the Limbic System

This is the second stage of cognitive evolution and this occurred because of the benefits group living provided to meet our needs.  The synergy provided by sharing the work needed to provide food, shelter and protection made living in groups much more productive however, it required cooperation.  This cooperation enhanced our access to the elements required for survival and reproduction but we needed to learn an additional set of behaviours that would prevent the very fact that living together had a strong potential to threaten that very survival through competition for the resources to survive and reproduce.

The major threat to our safety and security that comes from communal living is the possibility to be excluded.  In this stage of development, we learn to relate to others so that we are included in the sharing of desired, required resources.

The lessons learned here are almost but not quite as inflexible as those in the brain stem/midbrain but because they were predominantly learned in early childhood they are very hard to change and for our dysfunctional kids changes here are at the heart of providing success at school and beyond.

Despite some significant exception for all intents and purposes it is in this area of our brain problems of relating occur for the children we deal with.  Thinking back over the more than 100 Newsletters most problems faced by teachers and/or dysfunctional students occur because of the mis-match between the social requirements to successfully belong in one environment and those to survive in the environment of the early childhood.

Schematic Representation of the Brain

  • Tertiary Drives - the Intellectual Brain – the Cortical Areas and the Frontal Lobes

This is the last stage of our evolutionary development and it is where humans have gained the greatest advantage over our rival species.  It is in this area we can initiate a wide range of behaviours that allow us to manipulate the physical environment to our advantage, we have built cars to travel, air conditioning to keep comfortable and the advances in medical practices have prolonged our life expectancy.  We can modify the genes of plants to get more and improved plants, we have industrialised the capture of fish and so on.  All these come from our intellectual brain.

Unfortunately, this has also allowed us to build weapons, dare I say it of ‘mass destruction’, exploited and polluted the planet’s resources to an extent that survival of our species is threatened.

This is the part of the brain that teachers need to get focused in the classroom.  Remembering that behaviour, and learning is behaviour is only kindled when we are stressed and unlike the lower levels where a threat to initiate tension is relatively easy to achieve there is not much a teacher can ethically use to get the students to want to learn.  The best we can do is ignite their curiosity.

In the next Newsletter(s) we will discuss models of needs and drives but this essay explains the underpinning of all behaviours and that is to survive and reproduce.  I accept that some, if not all readers will disagree with my fundamental model but I argue that there are such a range of these models, the most influential being Maslow’s is because they are examining the secondary expression of the underpinning position of being in homeostatic disequilibrium. 

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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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