Education Learning and NLP

Can the techniques that have been modelled in NLP have any use in education?

Well here is a question that may not be on the lips of many educationalists, probably because they have either not heard of NLP or because it wasn’t part of their teacher training course.

One thing is for sure, it isn’t your subject knowledge as a teacher that makes you a great teacher? When children are asked this very same question, what makes a great teacher; subject knowledge is one thing they expect and take for granted. Students frequently refer to the teacher’s ability to be aware of them and their issues, to give them encouragement, to be able to maintain a presence in the classroom, to be a role model.

I am sure that if you think back to your own school days, you will hold the memory of some teachers as the catalysts for your learning, your favourites, the ones you looked forward to being taught by.  I heard a quote the other day by Andy Vass , who said that we are more significantly influenced when we feel good, we are more resourceful and more likely to take risks, which is how we learn.

Another story is of the teacher that said, ‘they may not like Geography, but if they say “but at least its Mr …. Teaching”, you know you are half way there’.

So going back to our teachers we liked to be taught by; how were they?  I imagine they made you feel good, helped you to relax, encouraged you to take risks & experiment, they inspired you and created the environment to learn.  All of these attributes are achieved by great communicators and have been modelled from people who we would describe as exemplars, those who achieve the best in their class.

Before we go further, I want to ask you a question.  What’s your passion?  For some, it may be the subject, for others, the desire to make a difference, to be able to pass over knowledge, skills etc.  But is your passion your interest and commitment to other human beings, an unconditional acceptance of them as a person with no prejudgements? You see, what you believe fuels your attitude & directs your behaviours.  If your belief is that little Jonnie is just not interested in learning, you may find yourself unwittingly going through the motions of the teacher-pupil relationship; which feels like hard work, tiring and not at all fulfilling.  But what if your belief changed, changed to maybe, ‘I haven’t found out  what really interests him’ or ‘how does he prefer to learn’?  Change occurs at these deeper levels and then the behaviours change to support the values, beliefs we may become clearer on our purpose find a true mission and grow in our identity.

We are the weather in our classroom; we effect the climate.

Go first P=P

What we project; others will follow, what we put out there ends up happening.

You may have experience of this in the classroom yourself. You think that the next class are going to be difficult, and well there’s a surprise, they are!!  Could this have been down to our class meeting our expectations?!!

I recently attended the NLP Conference in London, for the first time the Friday had a dedicated set of sessions for education.  In his session, Andy Vass enlightened his audience with ‘Positive Solutions to Learning Behaviours’ and lists these 9 points that can lead to significant improvement. He modelled them from highly effective and successful teachers.

  • Eye contact
  • Body matching
  • Tonality and first names
  • Pauses
  • Non verbal cues
  • Positive direction
  • Thanks
  • Dropping eye contact
  • Use take up time

In the first, making of eye contact is important. Just think of a situation where you have been talking or even listening to another person and they fail to make eye contact with you. How did you feel? Was the other person interested in you? The very best communicators make a deep connection with the eyes, even when talking to a big audience, often people will be heard to say, ‘it was really strange, it was if they were talking to me, there is something about …… wow. Look out for it in others, you will know when the connection occurs. I will wager they were also really interested in you, and were present with you (Nancy Kline).

We can not communicate, (Albert Mehrabian) concluded that, in face-to-face communication, only 5% of the meaning of the communication comes from  the words that we use, 38% comes from the voice i.e. tonality, pitch timbre. That leaves a rather large 55% that comes from the non-verbal, our body language and paralinguistics. Now, in NLP we will always say that your values and beliefs will direct your communication. If you believe that a pupil is being a pain, it’s likely that, although your conscious will check in with you to make sure your language (the words you use and possibly the tonality as well) are correct and appropriate; it’s likely that your unconscious will be driving the body language. Pupils (and in fact all of us) detect incongruence easily. By incongruence I mean when one part of the communication is different to the other!

Body matching helps establish rapport and with rapport the communication channels between individuals are much more open.

Have you a response to the different ways your name is called out?  I know I do, depending on where the emphasis is made, on pronunciation it has different meanings to me. You may even find that if your name is called out in such a way as to be very close to say your mother or one of your teachers from when you were a child, you feel a particular response come on.

Our ability to stimulate the best responses in our pupils, is about having flexibility. Being able to manage our state, to demonstrate range, means we are much more likely to be recognised for honouring the individual and therefore creating that opportunity for the pupil. We respond best when we feel valued and safe.

What’s in a pause?

Well it gives us a chance to consider our response for one, to check in with ourselves, to consider. I hope that you recognise that in yourself. I would like you just to ponder something for a second. Think for a moment of a situation when someone in authority pointed out something to you that you were not aware of? You may well have found yourself considering what had just been pointed out for a second or two. When the other person added another piece of information or comment, we would possibly have arrived at this ourselves, but for having enough time! If this has happened to you, you may like to recall how it felt? Was it empowering or disempowering?

Our ability to provide direction within the classroom is important. How we achieve it without creating overt control through verbal instructions is also important. The use of non-verbal cues can assist us here. Examples of this may range from physical gestures, where we are looking to physical changes to the classroom layout.

Signalling using arms to gather round, creates an unconscious signal of how you would like the pupils to form up. Looking in a particular direction to stimulate interest where we would like it to be. Changing the layout of classrooms for a particular experiment etc. helps guide pupils expectation.

Positive direction as opposed to away from direction is an important distinction to make. We may be unaware how often we language ourselves away from what we don’t want, rather than being clear on what we do want and to steer a positive achievement path toward that.

When we highlight to a pupil that they are doing something that we would rather they didn’t, we have, in fact, no guarantee that they will start doing what we had in mind!  This is because we haven’t made what we wanted to happen clear. Semantically, we have deleted the desired outcome from our communication. They may and often do simply stop one behaviour and start a different, but equally unwanted behaviour.

Human nature is to respond positively to thanks. The very best teachers do not rely on the power of authority and recognise both cooperation and engagement of pupils. I often remind myself to look for the opportunity to thank my delegates both in the classroom and when marking assignments. As the expression says, ‘a thank you goes a long way’.

Where good eye contact establishes presence when in dialogue with someone, when working with young people an important part of the teacher pupil relationship is knowing how to facilitate giving them permission to make decisions themselves when we are looking to encourage their good behaviour.

The dropping of eye contact is a way of providing that decision time, not enforcing it as a peer. Used in conjunction with what Andy Vass describes as take up time; we move our attention from the unwanted behaviour and return our interest to those in the class demonstrating the desired performance. In doing this we help to establish acknowledgement of class members behaving well, disrupt the pattern of spending time recognising poor behaviour and break the reinforcement message that to behave incorrectly attracts more attention than to do so correctly.

As always your views and comments appreciated.

If you are a teacher and would like to know more about NLP training for education or for an inset training day please get in touch