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Monday, June 27 2022

Avoiding Manipulation Part 2: Developing Boundaries

In the previous Newsletter we discussed techniques students use to avoid the stress associated with facing the painful impact from stressful, negative consequences that are imposed as a result of their behaviour.  As pointed out the continual use of such behaviours can easily become addictive, that is they are the ‘go-to’ response in times of rejection or psychological pain.


There are many types of addictions described in the previous essay, substance, activities and people.  That is when we can’t endure the pain of the situation we will habitually access one of these types of protection from the stress.  The objective of this work is to focus on ‘people addiction’ as this describes the behaviours used to manipulate the stressor.  However, a brief account of ‘substance ‘addiction’ and ‘activities addiction’ will be given.


Substance addiction is probably the most commonly portrayed of these addictions.  This is when the individual alters their emotional state with the use of chemicals.  The popular media focuses on those illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine but the more common legal substances such as alcohol and the multitude of other substances such as anti-depressants and food, either binge eating or anorexia are used to avoid the pain.  Dealing with these addictions is not the occupation of a teacher.


Activity addiction is another way of dismissing stressful situations.  This is when you take your mind off the presenting problem by focusing on an alternative behaviour.  By doing this you become too busy to deal with the current stressful situation.  This works in the short term but like all addictions it never prepares the person in a way that will allow them to address the same or similar situations in the future in a healthy manner.


Types of activities that are used by children to escape the stress are often the latest craze.  Things like computer games or collecting cards. Sport is another common distraction, either participation or supporting a particular team.  Adults will also access these activities perhaps becoming ‘mad’ football fans.  One addiction that is difficult to acknowledge is an addiction to work.  The workaholic is not easily identified as an addict, despite the descriptive name pointing that out!  In school the student that spends so much time doing their work will most likely be rewarded with complements and good grades.  The teaching workaholic will have the same outcome with being recognised as competent and likely being promoted. 


It must be remembered that these activities are the walls of protection and although they keep the stress out in the short term these behaviours eliminate the ability to get their nurturing needs met!


The addiction we will focus on in this Newsletter is the people addiction.  This deals with dysfunctional responses to the stressful interaction between individuals, specifically the teacher and the student!  The underpinning concept behind the model presented below is that, when students are stressed by the behaviour of the teacher they will attempt to manipulate that teacher to change their behaviour.  This is a case where, if the presenting environment clashes with the set of beliefs disrupting homeostatic equilibrium, instead of modifying beliefs the student attempts to change the environment! 


The model recognises three types of manipulative behaviours, overt and covert control and resistance.



Overt Control

This is a case of when the teacher stresses the student that child will behave in a way that is calculated to stress the teacher so much that they will stop stressing them.  They do this by either actively physically or emotionally attacking them.  These could be threats of aggression or in extreme cases actual violence.  Emotionally, they may attempt to denigrate the teacher by making fun of them or through threatening accusations about their behaviour.  The idea is, if you stress me I will stress you even more until you give up!


Covert Control

This is a more passive attempt to avoid being stressed in the first place.  These students will do almost anything to eliminate the need for the teachers to actually stress the student.  For the teacher, this approach is not threatening, they do what you want.  However, when they act this way solely to avoid being challenged they are using a type of ‘walled’ behaviour and walls may stop the stress but they deny the student getting their legitimate needs met.


Resistive Behaviour

These students really won’t engage in the classroom.  When they are challenged they withdraw.  While ever they resist the behaviours of the teacher or others they simply disengage.  These students like others use this behaviour as a protective wall and by so they deny themselves the opportunity to grow, getting their needs met!  They employ tactics like refusing to intellectually engage in class activities and physically becoming isolated in the room or playground.  They generally refuse to participate in the faulty belief that if they don’t they can’t be hurt!


Of course, unless we learn to deal with stress then these addictive behaviours to avoid stress continue throughout life.  Unfortunately, there are too many teachers who use these strategies to deal with the stress students impose on them.  The following diagram illustrates the ways these occur.

As can be seen, the methods of avoidance are so similar however, the impact on the students is more harmful because children are in the process of developing their belief systems and if you recall a recent Newsletter (Number 204 - The Importance of Personal Presentation - It's not what you do but how you do it – 13 June 2022), the students will adopt the behaviours presented by the teacher, reinforced because of the modelling and the qualities of mirror neurons.  A quick summary is as follows:


Overt control

These teachers are authoritarian bullies and because of their position they most often succeed in getting the students to cease being a threat to their authority.  By frightening the students the resulting anxiety detracts from the potential learning that could be available.


Covert Control

These teachers attempt to be ‘friends’ with the students, they are reluctant to challenge them in case they retaliate creating the feared stress in the teacher.  These teachers will put-up with low level, dysfunctional behaviours which makes the classroom unpredictable.  Perhaps more damaging is that they don’t teach the students responsibility.  They will accept substandard work, late submission and even pardon lack of completion.  The result is the children do not acquire that self-reliance and the relationship between effort and results.



These teachers will not properly follow the instructions of the department and the school.  In secondary schools they will dismiss any whole school approach to welfare with comments such as ‘I teach science, I’m not a social worker’.  My pet observation was always in staff meetings, especially those held in the library, these teachers would sit up the back and grab a book to look at while school policies were discussed.  Of course their lack of commitment put their students at a distinct disadvantage!


So what to do, as stated in the last Newsletter the use of boundaries will help teachers and students learn to deal with stress rather than protect themselves.  We discussed what boundaries are but the following presents techniques that help you create them. 


The following are steps that will impose boundaries for you.  They may feel ‘artificial’ at first but eventually they will become automatic:

  1. Stay calm - when you feel yourself becoming anxious stop and try to relax.  It is important you stay ‘in the moment’.
  2. Ask yourself ‘what is really happening’ – too often what you see is a result of what is truly happening; it is not always the first thing you see.  You won’t always get this right but never jump to conclusions.
  3. Then ask who is responsible:
    1. If it is me then I must change my behaviour – that is I must learn another way to behave
    2. If its not me, then it’s the student therefore I can’t ignore the problem.  I must work out what I want to have happen and learn to make the changes to get that result.
  4. Take action -you must make an effort if you want to make a change.  Learning new behaviours is not easy you have to over-ride existing beliefs.
  5. Evaluate – after a period of time assess whether or not the stressful problem still exists.  If so assess the effectiveness of your application of your solution, perhaps you were not vigilant enough.  But if you were thorough in your efforts then go through these steps again.

The approach above does require some cooperation from the students but when dealing with very dysfunctional students the following approach can be used.  This consists of a directive and the description of consequences both of compliance and defiance:

  1. If you … (clearly describe the offending behaviour)
  2. I will … (outline the consequences)

In some extreme cases the student’s behaviour is beyond the ability of a classroom teacher and a main stream school and in these cases the system should provide assistance!


Interactions in the classroom will always generate some clashes between the teachers’ beliefs and that developing of the student.  The use of addictive, walls of behaviours will reduce the resulting stress in the short term however, the same or similar threatening situations will re-emerge.  If you take the time to learn how to deal with these issues when they arise, you will have a behaviour that will deal with that problem, you eliminate the stress in future incidents.  However, don’t get too comfortable life continually throws-up different problems to face.  Using the process of boundaries will help you navigate your way through this changing but always interesting life!

Posted by: AT 07:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 20 2022

Avoiding Manipulation - Part 1: Developing Boundaries


In the next series of Newsletters we will examine methods students use to try to avoid facing the consequences of their behaviour.  The descriptions of the various strategies they use are universal and understanding these will help you navigate through your day-to-day life.  As indicated in our previous work, behaviour is initiated when we are in disequilibrium, that is our sense of self is being threatened or the things we require are out of reach.  It is at these times we need to act in a way to change either our beliefs or the environment we face.  Beliefs are very difficult to modify and so the natural, first response is to change the environment.  In our work the focus is on managing the student’s behaviour and so we will concentrate on the tactics they may employ to get the teacher to change their behaviour, mostly to avoid a negative consequence.


This interaction between the teacher and student operates in the part of our cognitive system which deals with our social contacts.  Disagreements in these exchanges can produce levels of stress that are very uncomfortable.  In the past children have developed behaviours that will protect them from the painful feelings associated with experiences of pain or rejection.  For the children on whom we focus, those with severely disruptive behaviours, it must be remembered that these behaviours were established in their early childhood.


These children learned how to act in a way that protected them because in their social environment they offered some defence against the behaviour of their abusers.  Their actions were functional in a dysfunctional family, but are ineffective in a ‘normal’ environment. Because these tactics had worked it is understandable that they will use them when similar situations arise.  This continual return to behaviours that alleviate psychological pain is at the heart of addiction.


The illustration below demonstrations how this practice operates identifying the types of addiction people exhibit.



The use of the term addiction is in a limited sense.  In the literature that relates to addiction there are a range of defined types of behavioural addictions but for this work I have placed them in three categories, substance, activities and people, the latter being behaviours we habitually use to relieve the immediate stress from threatening personal interactions.  These behaviours are what ‘build the walls’ around the individual to keep the stress out.  These walls are impervious which ensures the stress can not get in.  The tragedy is that not only does it shield the individual from stressful threats, it also excludes the information that might help the individual deal with the distressing problem in a way that develops behaviours that would ensure the environmental conditions could be addressed in a productive manner.


The figure above illustrates this point.  Of course the addictive behaviours, the walls created by specific actions may keep the stress out they also imprison the individual who can not grow in the confronting environment.


This brings us to a discussion about boundaries, specifically in regard to these issues surrounding manipulation.  For detailed information about boundaries see:


Our personal boundaries are the physical and psychological space between you and the outside world.  They define where you start in relation to others and how that relationship can cause stress; in fact any intrusion of your boundary will trigger an emotional response.  Boundaries are primarily there to protect the individual in the same manner as those walls discussed above but they are not there to limit pleasure.  For example, when you hold your child in your arms the emotions are so rewarding just as when your loved-one holds your hand.  These intrusions into our boundaries meet our needs.


The effect the contact has on you depends on your current set of beliefs and emotional memories about the nature of that contact and how it matches with your sense of self. 

In fact, boundaries are an expression of your sense of self.  This is why those children who have suffered abuse find it very difficult to let others in, for them violation is associated with physical or psychological pain, the walls have kept them alive.  It takes a great deal of courage to take down those walls!


Simply put boundaries are controlling what is OK and what is not OK for you! 

  • When we let people get away with what’s not OK we resent them
  • When we assume that people are doing the best they can – they are not being ‘OK’ deliberately, we don’t resent them
  • You can never know if the other person is doing the best they can, but if you assume they are then it makes it easier for you to deal with them with compassion. It is generous to make this assumption and it will create a great change in the way you deal with these students.
  • You become more authentic in your approach to others
  • We are not comfortable setting boundaries, it is natural to want:
    • The students to like you
    • To not upset the students
    • To punish the students


The illustration below clarifies the concept of boundaries.



In this essay I have explained the concept of how the behaviours we adopt to protect ourselves in an abusive situation become the behaviour we believe will protect us.  Unless we learn new ways to deal with similar challenges in a healthy environment we will revert to these behaviours.  This is at the heart of addiction, just as that well-worn maxim points out ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different result’! 


The development of boundaries, for these children is extremely difficult because it relies on understanding the processes of being nourished in a healthy environment and trust.  This is where the teacher can be their restorative chance.  If I could provide only one skill to those children it would be to have them develop healthy boundaries.


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Monday, June 13 2022

The Importance of Personal Presentation - It's not what you do but how you do it.

In a recent Newsletter we discussed the importance of the way you present yourself to the school community, particularly your class (See Newsletter 202 - Survival Tips for Casual Teachers – 30 May 2022).  In this essay we will expand on how you present yourself to your students as this is critical in controlling their emotional state.  It is often suggested that 93% of the emotional content of any communication is conveyed through non-verbal cues, these being facial expression, body language and tone of voice.  The percentage may be in dispute but it is true that the feelings you have towards a student will not be conveyed by the words you use but how you deliver them.

This is so important when you are correcting the behaviour of highly disruptive students who have a history of abuse and/or neglect.  Your use of these non-verbal cues will go a long way in deciding if you maintain a positive relationship whilst delivering unpleasant consequences.

This opinion goes beyond ‘common-sense’ it is underpinned by neurological knowledge.  We are social creatures and how we are accepted in our community determines our safety and security.  Our survival depends on how we can carefully convey to others what we want and also understand the intentions of others when they are dealing with us.  The rich array of neurons that exist in the brain to support the various functions includes a specialised set called mirror neurons. 

Essentially, mirror neurons are intimately involved in our movements. At the basic level mirror neurons fire when we generate a physical action.  They also fire the same neurons in ourselves when we watch an action taken by someone else.  This helps us to imitate that action thus providing the proof why the demonstration of desired behaviours to students is so important.  More than this they allow us to experience the associated emotions and predict the possible outcomes that will likely follow any observed behaviour.  They are responsible for myriad of other sophisticated human behaviour and thought processes.


At the University of Parma in 1996, a group of neuroscientists were busily mapping the neural pathways associated with hand movement in Macaque monkeys. The team of Rizzolatta, Gallese, and Fogassi uncovered what is potentially the most significant neurological component in human behaviour.   These researchers placed electrodes in the ventral premotor cortex of the macaque monkey to study neurons specialized for the control of hand and mouth actions. They recorded electrical signals from a group of neurons in the monkey's brain while the monkey was allowed to reach for pieces of food, so the researchers could measure their response to certain movements.


In a break in the experiment one of the research team reached out to pick-up a piece of food.  The research subject had remained connected to the recording device and to their amazement they found the same neurons fired as they did when the monkey picked up the food themselves. This explained the link between imitation and learning, not only skills but also importantly the emotional intention of others. (To provide more detail about mirror neurons in the Resource section of our webpage I have included a copy of a Chapter from my book - The Impact of Modern Neuroscience on Contemporary Teaching, 2017. Published by Xlibris and availably on Amazon).


Our focus has always been on those kids who, because of their history of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of their early childhood abuse and/or neglect are hyper-sensitive to the emotional signals given by adults in authority.  They really struggle to accurately interpret the message the teacher is sending particularly when they are about to receive a negative consequence.  Another feature of mirror neurons is that they not only fire when they perceive actions they infer a purpose on that action.  How they predict what will happen is significantly influenced by their assessment of the teacher’s emotional state and that message will come almost entirely from the non-verbal content of the communication.


There is much available regarding non-verbal messaging on the internet and the following is a brief summary focusing on the broad categories of tone of voice, body language and facial expression.


Tone of Voice

It’s true, especially for the dysfunctional kids, the way you say things has more impact than what you say.  The emotional content is interpreted long before the cognitive substance of that message.  And your emotional state will be communicated through your voice.  The tone you use must match the attributes of the message you are delivering.  If the message is about a serious issue then your voice should convey that sentiment, if it’s good news then your tone would be more up-lifting.  Of course, the tone must match your facial expressions.


Not everyone has good control over this feature of communication and the following tips may help:

  • If you speak with a slightly lower volume level you will be seen as having more ‘authority’.  However, too soft and the students might not hear you.  If you have a voice that is too loud then you will come across as being abrasive.  Most importantly the class or individual must hear you!
  • The pace of your communication is another way you can manipulate the message.  If you slow-down a fraction it projects a sense of confidence which will be conveyed to the children.  It also gives them the opportunity to absorb the message.  If it becomes too slow they will disengage and conversely if too quickly you will appear to be anxious and nervous.

It is not easy to change the way you speak but mastering the art of giving a message with the right emotional content is the hallmark of a great teacher.


Body Language

How you hold yourself projects an impression on those who observe you.  In general terms if you present an ‘open’ posture, that is stand up straight, feet firmly planted on the ground and chin up this projects to the students that you are friendly, open and confident.  They will be willing to trust you. 


However, if you present a ‘closed’ posture, slumped forward, hands in your pockets or just lazing in a chair at the front of the room you project an unfriendly even hostile persona which will make the students anxious. 


The use of your hands is an important indicator of your personality.  Sometime ago, as a new principal I was sent to a workshop on communication.  At this venue the presenter emphasised that we needed to coordinate our hand gestures with what we were talking about.  These days, when I watch TV shows like the Drum, where professional ‘talking heads’ give their opinions I cringe when some of them flap their hands about as if conducting the whole speech.  There needs to be some hand movement otherwise you will appear wooden but too much either makes you look anxious or you just distract your audience. 


If you touch you face or hair too much you really will look either nervous or disinterested in what you are saying.


Facial Expression

Facial expressions are really tied to emotions.  There has been plenty of research that confirms that our facial expressions communicate our emotional state and more importantly if you think about the qualities of our mirror neurons they also project to the audience the intensions of the behaviour those emotions will drive.


There is strong evidence of seven universal emotions that are conveyed through our facial appearances.  These are anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, and surprise. 


The eyes are often described as the mirrors of our soul but it is the mouth that provides the major clue about our emotional state.  The following are ways the mouth does this:

  • Pursed Lips – the tightening of the mouth indicates a level of disapproval or disgust
  • Lip Biting – this will convey a feeling of anxiety or stress
  • Covering the Mouth – this is an attempt to hide your emotions from others.  This indicates a lack of trust both ways.  You don’t trust yourself to be authentic and the audience will not trust you because they will conclude you are not honest.
  • Turned-Up or Turned-Down Lips – The direction the lips go has a direct correlation with your emotional state.  If they are up, you’re smiling then you are happy.  Down, frowning you are emotionally ‘down’.  It is very difficult to have a turned-up smile on your face when you are angry at a student; that smile will be so obviously false!


Eye contact is also important.  This varies on whether you are dealing with an individual student or the class.  Looking at others captures their attentions but like hand gestures there is a balance.


If you are dealing with a single student eye contact is a real challenge.  If you are discussing a behaviour issue, you may be delivering an unwanted consequence then eye contact should not be too intense.  A rough guide would be about 60% of the time.  BUT, if the student is really damaged, eye contact is really difficult for them and I’ve even found it better if I sit or stand beside them so I don’t set them off. 


When talking to the whole class your eyes should be constantly scanning the room.  However, if there are particular students whose attention you need then hold eye contact with them for about three to five seconds then move on.  If you really do need to get that student’s attention still move away but come back relatively quickly.


Throughout these Newsletters predominantly considering how teachers help those students whose behaviour disrupts their learning and that of others, we have emphasised the importance of the level of stress a student experiences.  This stress is a reaction to the emotional content of the environment they are experiencing at the time.  You are the teacher and providing the learning environment is your professional expertise.  This is why, to be an efficient educator you need to master the non-verbal skills outlined in this essay.

Posted by: AT 12:18 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Sunday, June 05 2022

The Importance of Expectations for the Beginning Teacher

This Newsletter is one of a planned series designed to assist all teachers establish their expectations of their students whether this be at the start of a new semester or at the beginning of their careers.  Long-time followers of our articles understand that all our approaches to effectively teaching curriculum are underpinned by three core strategies:

  1. Relationships – this more than any other task will determine the success or otherwise of a teacher’s success.
  2. Structure – the presence of a predictable relationship between actions and consequences provides a psychological security for both teachers and students.
  3. Expectations – in Lewis Carroll’s 1856 masterpiece ‘Alice in Wonderland’ the following exchange underlines the importance of knowing where you want to go.  

‘When she came to a fork in the road, Alice asked the Cheshire Cat which road to take.  The Cheshire Cat enquired, “That depends on where you are going”.  Alice replied “I don’t know”.  “Then it doesn’t matter which road you take”. Answered the Cheshire Cat’.


This essay will focus on setting out and fortifying the expectations a teacher wants in the standards they require for the behaviour that is acceptable in the classroom. This approach is equally valid for academic work but our focus is on dealing with disruptive behaviours.


At the very start of your time with any class you need to clearly articulate what are your expectations.  At the beginning of my career, nearly 50 years ago the advice was to come-in hard and squash any dissent and when you had the class scared of you then you could loosen-up!  Obviously that approach would not work today and in all reality it did not really work then; ruling by fear never works.  However, there is some good sense in that you need to be particularly persistent in the reinforcement of your expectations.  You do this by using verbal and non-verbal language to acknowledge appropriate behaviour and correct inappropriate behaviour.  When you are giving Instructions know where you want to go and give clear instructions on how to get there.


How to Establish Expectations

Initially, present a small number of rules to students.  These can be imposed by you or developed in class meetings.  Developing rules in a class meeting can also be effective (Newsletter 96. - Creating Structure - 6 April 2020 has a summary of how to do this in a formal way).  This is particularly important at the beginning of your time with a class or when you meet on an irregular basis where there may not have been time to develop a positive rapport with them.  When you establish a rule publish it where it can be seen.  Keep the rules short, simple and clear.  Examples of these general rules might be:

  • Follow teacher’s instructions
  • Keep hands and feet to yourself
  • Be respectful of others and property
  • Stay on task

Discuss the rules with the class and it is as important to refer to them when they are being followed as it is when they are being disregarded.


Once you have established your expectations you will need to reinforce them until they become habitual in your classroom.  You do this by either acknowledging when they are meeting your expectations and correcting them or when they are not.  There is a balance between the amount of each approach, too much acknowledgement, constantly telling they are doing the ‘right thing’ reduces the effectiveness of this process.  The same goes for correction, too much will cultivate a negative atmosphere in the classroom.  The following illustrate the importance of this balance.


Imbalance One

Unclear expectations

The teacher gives inadequate information about his or her expectations (as indicated by the broken line around the triangle). This is problematic because students will be unsure about the limits and boundaries of the classroom and what tasks they need to be doing.


Imbalance Two

Too Much acknowledgement

This is problematic because the students are not being corrected appropriately.  This is often the result of teachers trying to manage through friendliness.  They believe ‘if I am nice to the students they will like me and behave themselves’.  This can also occur because the teacher lacks assertiveness.



Imbalance Three 

Too much Correction

Students become resentful and continue to act inappropriately due to lack of acknowledgement and encouragement.  In this imbalance teachers may not intend to be negative but have developed the habit of attending to inappropriate behaviour.  In most cases where the whole class behaves inappropriately, this is evidence of the imbalance.




Giving Feedback to Maintain Balance

How you give instructions will determine your effectiveness as a teacher.  The following hints will help:

  • Clear, short instructions help students understand what they are expected to do.
  • Instructions help students organise what they are required to do
  • Instructions cue students that they need to be actively engaged with the curriculum


It is an important skill to evaluate the level of attention the students are giving you before you give instructions.  To do this:

  • Use a verbal and/or non-verbal attention gaining prompt to focus student attention towards you.
  • Wait and scan; this gives students time to process the direction.
  • When student attention is focused, start the instruction with a verb, keeping it short.
  • Follow the instruction with a short pause and scan the class.


Why is parallel acknowledgement an effective management skill?

  • It cues other students to match the behaviour that is being acknowledged
  • It is an alternative to a redirection, so can help avoid nagging.
  • It contributes to a positive tone in the classroom.

Patterns of Acknowledgement

  • Body language encouraging – smiling nodding and moving near
    • Takes no time
    • Promotes positive tone and on-task behaviour
    • Strengthens relationships
  • Descriptive encouraging – describing the appropriate behaviour you see
    • Reinforces the rules
    • Promotes positive supportive learning environment
  • Use of Praise
    • Designed to reinforce appropriate behaviour through recognition
    • Potential for embarrassment of older recipients
    • Saying “good”, “terrific”, “well done” gives students very little information about their competence and has no training effect on other students in the class.

In the next Newsletter we will explore these concepts in more detail.

Posted by: AT 08:32 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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