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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, September 18 2023

Final Newsletter


You may have noticed a lack of postings in recent months.  This has been a combination of some illness and travel as well as the inevitable passing of time.  We started these Newsletters in February 2017, the time of our retirement with the goal of helping teachers deal with students with severe behaviours.  Now it is September 2023 and we have produced 243 Newsletters on our web page at no cost.  We have made the difficult decision to cease this practice.  Although we continue to research the causes of dysfunctional behaviour and best practice we believe the existing essays, along with the three books will remain a resource for all teachers.


The philosophy that underpins our work can be summarised as:

  1. The purpose of all behaviour is to maintain a sense of homeostatic equilibrium.  That is, we are driven to survive and reproduce.
  2. Our equilibrium is a balance between our personal needs, physical, social and intellectual. and the environment we are experiencing at that moment.
  3. When we are in a state of disequilibrium we become stressed and that stress initiates behaviour that we have learned brings us back into equilibrium.
  4. We first learn how to behave in early childhood and what we learn depends on the environment at that time.  Specifically, it is the interactions with our caregivers and their environment that will shape our behaviours.  Behaviours are governed by our memories of what happened before.
  5. Behaviours learned in early childhood are very powerful and hard to modify.
  6. Whether or not behaviour is functional depends on the similarity between the environment we were raised in and the one in which we are now functioning.
  7. To change behaviour you need:
    1. Consequences that reflect the environment in which the child now operates
    2. A relationship with the child that allows them to trust you.

These seven fundamentals may able to be summarised in these relatively simple statements but they are extremely interactive and behind each is a depth of detail. 


The consistent advice has been, and remains that the creation of an effective learning environment depends on structure, expectations and relationships, three seemingly simple practices.  However, this is like saying nuclear energy is generated by firing a neutron into a uranium atom to generate heat.  This is true but to actually achieve nuclear fission and harness it is extremely complex.  The creation of an effective learning environment, despite being built on those comfortable fundamentals, putting them into practice is demanding.


The site will remain until our current contract ends and you can access all these resources until that time arrives.  We will include a list with titles and dates at the end.  If you search through the resources we have left you can find detail that will allow you to understand this complexity and actually create such an environment.  If you make the effort, I believe you will have as wonderful a career as we have had.


So this is farewell -thanks for your support.


John and Marcia




Past Newsletters


Newsletter 1 – There is more to Bullying Than Meets the Eye

Newsletter 2 – Bullying and Power

Newsletter 3 - Dealing with Difficult Situations

Newsletter 4 - The Troublesome Teens

Newsletter 5 - Challenging Beliefs – Not So Easy

Newsletter 6 - The Great Lie

Newsletter 7 - True Grit

Newsletter 8 – Education the Over-Indulged and Narcistic Child

Newsletter 9 – Routine – Support for Student Expectations

Newsletter 10 - ADHD Is Real but what does it Mean for Teachers

Newsletter 11 - Self-Esteem or Self-Love

Newsletter 12 - The Intricacy of Stress

Newsletter 13 - Teaching our most Difficult Kids

Newsletter 14 - Toxic Shame

Newsletter 15 - Locus of Control

Newsletter 16 – Time Out

Newsletter 17 - Anxiety

Newsletter 18 - Teaching Practical Boundaries

Newsletter 19 - Integration of Dysfunctional Students

Newsletter 20 – Ethical Teaching – Morality in the Classroom

Newsletter 21 - Independent Behaviour Programs

Newsletter 22 - The Passive Aggressive Student

Newsletter 23 - Dealing with Difficult Students

Newsletter 24 – The Impact of Neglect

Newsletter 25 - Vacuous Shame

Newsletter 26 - Characteristics of the Abused Child

Newsletter 27 - The Silver Lining

Newsletter 28 - Physical Damage from Early Childhood Abuse

Newsletter 29 - Effective Behaviour Management

Newsletter 30 - Education for the Future

Newsletter 31 - Common Mistakes Teachers Make

Newsletter 32 – What’s in a Name?

Newsletter 33 – Boredom

Newsletter 34 – Anger Temporary Madness

Newsletter 35 - Educational Myths

Newsletter 36 – Boredom – Mark 2

Newsletter 37 - Creating a Purpose

Newsletter 38 - Foetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder

Newsletter 39 – Relationships

Newsletter 40 - Emotions Direct Attention

Newsletter 41 - Dopamine

Newsletter 42 – Dopamine for Teachers

Newsletter 43 – Consequences

Newsletter 44 – Consequences not Punishment or Reward

Newsletter 45 – Taming that Difficult Class

Newsletter 46 - A Question of Choice

Newsletter 47 - At the Time – There is No Choice

Newsletter 48 - Planning for a Disaster

Newsletter 49 - A Question about Control in the ‘Structure’

Newsletter 50 – Rejection

Newsletter 51 - Different Expressions from an Abused History

Newsletter 52 - Relationships – They Know What You’re Thinking

Newsletter 53 - Dysfunctional Behaviour to Deal with Stress

Newsletter 54 - Attention Seeking

Newsletter 55- Passive Aggressive Personality Disorder

Newsletter 56 - The Tribal Classroom

Newsletter 57 - Theory of Mind

Newsletter 58 – Transference

Newsletter 59 - The Impact of Poverty and Neglect

Newsletter 60 - Accept Lack of Empathy – Just for Now

Newsletter 61 - Let It Go

Newsletter 62 – The Danger of Praise

Newsletter 63 – Areas of Indifference

Newsletter 64 - Getting to the Truth

Newsletter 65 - Resilience

Newsletter 66 - Boundary Considerations

Newsletter 67 – Dissociation

Newsletter 68 – Childhood Trauma

Newsletter 69 – Rituals

Newsletter 70 – Poverty and Student Success

Newsletter 71 - Respecting Other’s Boundaries

Newsletter 72 – Trust – The Glue that Sustains Relationships

Newsletter 73 – Testing Tough Kids

Newsletter 74 - End of Year Recovery

Newsletter 75 - Tips for Emotional Encounters

Newsletter 76 - The Impact of Language on the Behaviour

Newsletter 77 - 100 Ways to Say well Done

Newsletter 78 – Empathy

Newsletter 79 - Creativity

Newsletter 80 - A Timely Reminder

Newsletter 81 - Motivating Students

Newsletter 82 - Converting Teacher’s lessons to Intrinsic Motivation

Newsletter 83 - The Dishonourable Lie

Newsletter 84 – Malevolent - The Condemned Disability

Newsletter 85 – What are the Chances

Newsletter 86 - The impact of Abuse – It Depends how it Happens

Newsletter 87 - Perfectly Imperfect

Newsletter 88 – Addiction – Behaving to Avoid Stress

Newsletter 89 - Faulty Beliefs

Newsletter 90 – Mindfulness

Newsletter 91 - Beliefs

Newsletter 92 - Addiction - It's the Seeking not the Consumption

Newsletter 93 – Debriefing

Newsletter 94 - The Tribal Teacher

Newsletter 95 – Levels

Newsletter 96 - Creating Structure

Newsletter 97 – Student Stress

Newsletter 98 – ‘Do or Not Do’ - Yoda

Newsletter 99 - Looking After Yourself

Newsletter 100 - Recovery Time

Newsletter 101 - Sense of Self

Newsletter 102 - Sense of Self - Part 2

Newsletter 103 – Dreikurs’ Model of Behaviour

Newsletter 104 – Relatedness

Newsletter 105 - Drives and Needs

Newsletter 106 - Secondary Drives

Newsletter 107 - The Social Teacher

Newsletter 108 – Prejudice

Newsletter 109 - Another Year Over

Newsletter 110 - Sense of Self Continued

Newsletter 111 – Special Relationship

Newsletter 112 – Expectations

Newsletter 113 – Supportive Relationships

Newsletter 114 - The Importance of Emotions

Newsletter 115 – Conversations

Newsletter 116 - The Inner Critic

Newsletter 117 - Dealing with the Emotional Stress

Newsletter 118 - Developing Social Skills

Newsletter 119 – Avoiding Cabin Fever

Newsletter 120 - The Hidden Cost of on-Line Learning

Newsletter 121 – Trauma and the Environment

Newsletter 122 – Purpose

Newsletter 123. Toxic Resilience

Newsletter 124. Nature Vs Nurture

Newsletter 125. Structure

Newsletter 126.  Expectations

Newsletter 127. Pedagogy

Newsletter 128.  The Wounded Child

Newsletter 129.  Damage to the Brain

Newsletter 130.  Generating Stress

Newsletter 131.  The Complexity of Stress

Newsletter 132.  Routine

Newsletter 133.  Physical Damage from Early Childhood Abuse

Newsletter 134. Anxiety

Newsletter 135.  Toxic Shame

Newsletter 136. Dealing with the Exploding Kid

Newsletter 137. The Crisis Response

Newsletter 138. Personal Action in Times of Crisis

Newsletter 139. Making Matters Worse

Newsletter 140. Critical and Creative Thinking

Newsletter 141.  Be Persistently Consistent

Newsletter 142.  Creating a Calm Environment

Newsletter 143. Designing a Correction Plan

Newsletter 144. Dealing with Touching and Restraint

Newsletter 145. Theory of Mind

Newsletter 146. Communicating with Difficult Kids in Difficult Times

Newsletter 147. Prejudice

Newsletter 148.  Starting Off on the Right Foot

Newsletter 149. Beliefs

Newsletter 150. Structure in a Crisis

Newsletter 151. The ‘Gas-Light’

Newsletter 152.  Getting to the Truth

Newsletter 153.  Music

Newsletter 154.  Authenticity

Newsletter 155.  Supporting a Sense of Self

Newsletter 156.  Mono-Cultures

Newsletter 157.  Tips for Teaching Teenagers

Newsletter 158.  The Teens – a Time for Specific Change

Newsletter 159.  A Time for Reflection

Newsletter 160. Dealing with the Angry Ant

Newsletter 161. Dealing with Justified Anger

Newsletter 162.  Trauma Informed Teaching

Newsletter 163.  Restorative Justice - Proceed with Care

Newsletter 164.  The pursuit of Purpose

Newsletter 165. Hidden Types of Abuse

Newsletter 166.  Changing Behaviour

Newsletter 167.  Just Say No

Newsletter 168.  Achieving Excellence as a Teacher

Newsletter 169.  Indirect Bullying

Newsletter 170.  The Queen Bee

Newsletter 171.  Girls – They are Different

Newsletter 172.  Rewards and Punishments

Newsletter 173. Competence and Warmth

Newsletter 174. Student Discipline – What About Welfare

Newsletter 175.  Dealing with Students with Severely Dys. Beh’s.

Newsletter 176.  Multi-Tasking

Newsletter 177.  Emerging from Lockdown

Newsletter 178. Dealing with a Crisis

Newsletter 179.  Dealing with Student Anxiety

Newsletter 180.  Oppositional Defiance Disorder

Newsletter 181.  Modern Teenage Challenge

Newsletter 182. Teaching Truth Seeking

Newsletter 183. Creating Policy for Student Wellbeing

Newsletter 184.  Supporting a Sense of Self

Newsletter 185. Am Ignored but Vital Workload

Newsletter 186.  Beware of Despair

Newsletter 187.  Time for revision

Newsletter 188.  Acquisition and Memory of Behaviours 

Newsletter 189.  The Early Years and Dysfunctional Behaviour

Newsletter 190.  Early Childhood Modelling

Newsletter 191. The Importance of Stress

Newsletter 192. Early Childhood Trauma

Newsletter 193.  Dealing with the Impact of Early Childhood PTSD

Newsletter 194.  Boundaries - The Point of Contact

Newsletter 195. Dysfunctional Boundaries

Newsletter 196.  Identifying Source of Dysfunctional Behaviour

Newsletter 197.  Healthy Boundaries

Newsletter 198.  Stress

Newsletter 199.  Toxic Stress and Trauma

Newsletter 200. Toxic Shame Revision

Newsletter 201.  Message to Subscribers

Newsletter 202.   Survival Tips for Casual Teachers

Newsletter 203. Expectations for the Beginning Teacher

Newsletter 204.  The Importance of Personal Presentation

Newsletter 205.  Avoiding Manipulation

Newsletter 206.  Avoiding Manipulation Part 2

Newsletter 207.  Anxiety

Newsletter 208.  Patience Required for Real Change

Newsletter 109.  The Purpose of Education

Newsletter 210. Fiduciary Relationships

Newsletter 211. To Suspend - The Difficult Decision

Newsletter 212.  Return from Suspension

Newsletter 213.  Integration of Special Needs Kids

Newsletter 214.  Changing Students' Beliefs

Newsletter 215. Stress

Newsletter 216- The Problem of Dealing with Autistic and Neuro--Diverse Students

Newsletter 217. Why Changing Behaviour is so Difficult

Newsletter 218. Emotional Stupidity

Newsletter 219. The Purpose of Education

Newsletter 220. Modifying Behaviour

Newsletter 221. Three Strikes and You're Out

Newsletter 222. The Pain of Rejection

Newsletter 223.  Suspensions and Equity

Newsletter 224.  A Fresh Start

Newsletter 225.  Introduction to the Brain

Newsletter 226.  Evolution of the Brain

Newsletter 227.  Myaline

Newsletter 228.  Stress = Life

Newsletter 229.  The Wounded Child

Newsletter 230.  Neglect

Newsletter 231.  Abuse and Consequences

Newsletter 232.  Patterns of Abuse and Their Consequences

Newsletter 233.  Gender Differences in Dealing with Early Childhood Trauma

Newsletter 234.  Toxic Shame

Newsletter 235.  Early Childhood Rejection

Newsletter 236.  The Key is Stress Management

Newsletter 237.  The Impact of Elevated Stress

Newsletter 238. Boundaries

Newsletter 239. Boundaries for Teachers

Newsletter 240.  Authentic Teachers

Newsletter 241. Surviving an Out of Control Classroom

Newsletter 242. The Size of the Problem

Newsletter 243. Severe Dysfunctional Behaviour
































































































































































































































01/29 2023






















Posted by: AT 08:01 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, August 01 2023

Severe Dysfunctional Behaviour

I have been away for the last couple of weeks and during this time I have been involved with a difference of opinion in the public policy journal, Pearls and Irritations regarding what constitutes students with dysfunctional behaviour.  The dispute was about whether or not children with dysfunctional and severely disruptive behaviours attended private schools.  I’m sure you know me well enough to understand my opinion on this issue.  However, it has caused me to reflect on expressions of behaviour and I want to share my thoughts with you.


Dysfunctional behaviour is recently been considered a disability and using the old NSW Education Department’s classification it could be considered as mild, moderate or severe.  This assumes that behaviour is on a continuum.  This is a thought-provoking characteristic of behaviour and something I am not yet comfortable with but I have no alternative that satisfies any definition I would use.


Most commonly, behaviour is categorised by its expression against an expected norm.  In a classroom we expect a student to pay attention, follow teacher’s instructions and do their best cooperating with their peers.  If they are a little inattentive, talk out of turn, etc. we might describe them as mildly dysfunctional.  If they scream obscenities, throw chairs and hit other students we could consider them severely dysfunctional and, yes, these students exist!  I accept that this appears to be a continuum.


To consider if behaviour is on a continuum we must examine its purpose.  I hold that the reason we behave, from functional to extremely dysfunctional is to address the deficits in our homeostatic equilibrium. Below is a quick reminder of the philosophy that underpins my work:

  • We are driven to survive and reproduce, we are just like every other living species. 
  • When we are in an environment that satisfies all our needs we are in equilibrium.
  • When we are not in equilibrium we become stressed and this drives the behaviour for change.

In simple terms how we behave predominantly depends on:

  • Early childhood learning.
  • The health of our brain.

It is these last two factors that determines the severity of the child’s dysfunction.


There are plenty of previous Newsletters that discuss abuse, trauma and neglect and the impact these have on children (there is a sample of references at the end of this Newsletter) and, to summarise these result in:

  • A clash of environments, that is a child is raised in a dysfunctional household, relative to society norms and develops behaviours that are functional in the home but clash at school.
  • They are so neglected their brain misses normal developmental opportunities and have a deficit.
  • They are continually abused to a level that the constant elevated stress levels inflicts permanent brain damage.

You have seen the illustration of an extremely neglected and abused child below many times but it is worth repeating.

These changes in their brain are real and not present in ‘normal’ children.  The question I struggle with is does everyone’s brain have a continuum of damage or is there a critical point where cognitive control is lost?


In any case, how we intervene as teachers will differ.  Children even if they have mild behaviour disability have access to reasoning and are reasonably resilient when they are somewhat challenged.  This is why the existing interventions based on cognitive restructuring or the positive behaviour interventions used in schools and elsewhere are reasonably effective.  These kids have enough control of their internal environment.


However, children with a cognitive structure as outlined above have a very different relationship with their internal world particularly how it relates to the external environment.  The use of cognitive interventions, etc. is ineffective and teachers of these children need other approaches to manage their behaviour.


To deal with these students we need to accept that they have become that way because of the environment they were exposed to in early childhood.  The only way to get them to make any real change is to present an environment that lets them develop new pathways between what they do and what happens to them.  Over a period of time they can develop new neurological pathways that generate functional pathways, of course depending on the environment the school presents. 


The illustration above shows the interaction between a child’s internal and external environment.  Mental health professionals are trained to deal with their internal world, teachers are most definitely not.  The emergence of trauma-based interventions are risky in the hands of non-professionals and they can be damaging.


What the environment requires is:

  • Structure – when a child behaves in an appropriate way they get an appropriate consequence.  Conversely, if they act inappropriately they get an undesired consequence.  This does not need to be severe but consistent and persistent so new behaviours can be learned.
  • Expectations – It is wrong to assume the students know what to do.  Students need to know how to behave to get their needs met.  For severely dysfunctional kids this is not easy and expectations should be explicit.  There a good social skill training programs available that can be used for this.
  • Relationships – This is the key and, as the only professional adult in the room this is the teachers responsibly.  Creating a relationship with some of these students is an extreme challenge but it can be done.  The key is to have a 100% acceptance of the child understanding that their behaviour is a result of some adult abusing them and 100% rejection of inappropriate behaviour.

These three qualities may sound simple but they require a special, courageous person that will consistently hang-in for the time required.


So, I have to conclude that I am no wiser in regards to whether or not the functioning of behaviour is on a continuum but I’m confident that the types of interventions are not.  However, what I do know is any school or teacher who presents the type of environment outlined above will provide all their students with a sense of security and belonging.


Newsletters dealing with neglect and abuse:

  • Newsletter 24. The Impact of Neglect                                                - 09/12/2017
  • Newsletter 26 - Characteristics of the Abused Child                          - 09/26/2017
  • Newsletter 28 - Physical Damage from Early Childhood Abuse          - 11/06/2017
  • Newsletter 53 - Dysfunctional Behaviour to Deal with Stress            - 07/02/2018
  • Newsletter 59 - The Impact of Poverty and Neglect                           - 08/20/2018
  • Newsletter 121 – Trauma and the Environment                                 - 11/05/2020
  • Newsletter 129.  Damage to the Brain                                                - 07/13/2020
  • Newsletter 133.  Physical Damage from Early Childhood Abuse        - 08/10/2020
  • Newsletter 165. Hidden Types of Abuse                                             - 06/16/2021
  • Newsletter 189.  The Early Years and Dysfunctional Behaviour         - 02/15/2022
  • Newsletter 192. Early Childhood Trauma                                           - 03/08/2022


Posted by: AT 09:48 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 26 2023

The Size of the Problem

The previous Newsletters have outlined the problems and possible solutions for dealing with out-of-control classrooms.  Like most work on this topic there is a level of generalisation across the system as if all schools are the same.  This is such an obvious mistake especially in the public sectors.  Yet when it comes to providing support to deal with dysfunctional classrooms there is a ‘one size fits all’ approach from the Department.  For example, for counsellor support is based on a student ratio!


In recent years there has been a drift from public schools to the cheaper private schools especially for families who have the resources and opportunity to take their kids out of classrooms where disruptive behaviours impact on the learning of their children.  Like their rich counterparts, these private schools don’t take students whose behaviours are relatively uncontrollable.  This has resulted in a residualisation of public schools and unfortunately a concentration of these students.


To add to this disparity the socioeconomic areas schools service directly influence the distribution of dysfunctional behaviours.  The most common cause for students with these behaviours is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from childhood abuse.  It is estimated that between 1% and 11% of the population will suffer PTSD as a result of childhood trauma but in some poor areas the proportion can be up to 26%.  These students invariably attend their local, under-resourced school!


Suspension data is a fairly strong indicator of the behavioural environment. Using the 2021 data (2022 data was heavily influenced by the COVID pandemic and not considered) this difference can be identified.  As a percentage Sydney-North had 0.6% of their students experiencing a short suspension while North-West NSW had 5.3%, that is 530 students compared to 3,434!  Long term suspensions reflected this difference.  To ask teachers to deal with behaviours on a systematic scale in the same way, with the same resources is unfair but it is what is expected!


The following information is our attempt to provide some more specific advice for these schools.


Take the time to identify and understand the nature of the challenge your school and therefore your classroom faces.  By careful analysis you can identify significant factors that will influence the student’s behaviour.  In the first instance you should scrutinise the community’s strengths and weaknesses.  You will undoubtedly be dealing with the parents and understand their expectations, real or imagined.  Then analyse the school, how does it deal with severe behaviours and are these strategies effective? 


If you are a classroom teacher your level of influence on these external factors will vary depending on your personal power within the school and community.  However, in the classroom you are the seat of power and you need to understand the students you are dealing with.


An analysis should identify:

  1. Are the students you are working with proficient in English.   A significant proportion of the population in low socioeconomic areas come from new migration or refugees.  Their lack of English proficiency will make it difficult for you to communicate instructions.  This lack of understanding excludes them from participation and may lead to disruptive behaviours. 
  2. Catering to the diverse needs of students with learning disabilities, particularly early childhood PTSD and attention deficit disorders or other special needs require differentiated approaches to instruction and behavior management.  The application of consistency and persistency in your management style takes on another level of significance.
  3. The impact of poverty, unstable home environments, or community violence has a profound effect on a students' behavior, emotional well-being, and eventually their academic performance. 
  • Many of your students will arrive at school already hungry because there was no food in the house or their parents were not ‘awake’ when they left for school.  Ohers might not have slept during the night, maybe they spent their time walking the streets or maybe they couldn’t sleep because they were witnessing high levels of domestic violence. 
  • These students will have complex needs that must be addressed before they can learn.  Although this is your responsibility it is difficult to make a difference unless you have additional support.  If this is not coming, try to provide that support, it is what we do!
  1. Managing classrooms with students from diverse cultural backgrounds, where norms, values, and expectations may vary, requires sensitivity, understanding, and effective communication strategies.  Particularly the children from first generation migration will live in two cultural worlds.  At school they will inevitably absorb the prevailing culture of the community, this just happens but often the parents object to this and put pressure on their children to conform to their cultural norms.  The most visible of these are dress codes where girls are expected to wear hijabs or Hindu boys turbans.  It is important that the other students accept this and the particular students feel comfortable.
  2. All too often you will be dealing with parents or guardians who will have minimal and/or inconsistent support and involvement.  This might not be a bad thing in the short term but this can hinder the reinforcement of classroom procedures and discipline.  The physical and psychological abuse directed at school principals is at unprecedented levels but little protection is offered from the Department.


Based on the insights gained through your analysis you can consider how to move forward to address the specific challenges and obstacles you are facing.  Take the following steps:

  1. Reach out to colleagues, administrators, or other professionals who can provide guidance and support. Share the challenges you are facing and seek their support and advice.  Listening to experienced teachers or supervisors can show you other ways to deal with these problems.
  2. Modify the existing procedures to suit the class.  This is not to water-down the expectations you require but another way to communicate and reinforce them!  Consider procedural adjustments that may better address the specific challenges and obstacles you are facing and be open to trying new strategies and approaches that have the potential to yield positive results.
  3. Clearly communicate any changes or adaptations to the procedures to your students. Explain the reasons behind the modifications and how they will benefit the learning environment. Ensure students understand the expectations and the rationale for the adjustments.  Students appreciate being included in solving the problems.
  4. Identify students who may require additional support.  In some cases this may require you to go beyond the school’s resources.  In these cases it should be the principal that seeks that assistance.  Within the school support staff, such as counsellors, special educators, or social workers can help to develop individualised plans or interventions that can help address their needs.
  5. After any modification of a procedure you are obliged to monitor its effectiveness.  Not all change makes things better.  Collect data, observe student behavior, and seek feedback from students and colleagues to gauge the effectiveness of the modifications. Make adjustments if things are still not working!  


It is a popular truism that the most predictive influence on a child’s future success lies in the family into which they are born.  I believe this is blatantly unfair; a child’s future should not be determined by their parent’s resources, not that I’m advocating that all parents should not want to and do provide every opportunity for their kids, they should.  But it falls to the schools to even out the playing field so all kids, especially those who have been abused and neglected by their parents are given a second chance.  It takes a brave teacher to accept this challenge and fortunately we have these in abundance!


Posted by: AT 12:50 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Wednesday, June 21 2023

Surviving an 'Out of Control' Classroom.

The next series of Newsletters will focus on managing very difficult classrooms.  From as long as surveys have been taken focusing on teachers’ greatest concerns, managing difficult behaviours has inevitably been at the top of that list (only in recent years has the extreme workloads displaced it).  Also, with the rise in private and selective schools there has been a residualisation of those schools who take students who, through no fault of their own have dysfunctional behaviours.  Teachers in these schools should be exposed to training and development that helps them deal with these behaviours.  The driving force behind all our work has been to provide that help.


Regaining control of an out-of-control class can be a challenging task, there are times when you feel like throwing up your hands and giving up.  This is understandable but inevitably the extremely disruptive behaviour is initiated by a few students, the majority deserve to be taught in a calm secure environment, so at least you have a responsibility to:

  • Protect the students – you must ensure, as much as possible the safety and security of the members of your classroom.  It may be necessary to remove the offending student from the classroom or in certain situations you might move all the others out to a safe area nearby
  • Protect yourself, you are of no use if you are injured.  It is often necessary to remove the offending student from the classroom or in other cases you might move all the others out to a safe area nearby.
  • Protect the offending child as much as you can from being harmed, either physically or psychologically.
  • Protect the property. 


If you have removed the student from the classroom you must ensure they’re safe.  In some cases the student might flee the school area, if this occurs notify your executive and they will contact the child’s family.  In any case you need to notify your supervisor in a manner that maintains everyone’s safety, that is do not send a student out with a message if there is a chance they might be confronted by the perpetrator.


It may be that two, or more students are having a physical fight in the classroom.  If this is the case then:

  • Ensure the immediate safety of all students. If necessary, evacuate other students from the immediate area to prevent them from getting hurt or becoming involved in the fight.
  • Do not physically intervene, as a teacher, it's crucial not to put your-self in harm's way. Your primary role is, protect the other students, to defuse the situation and seek assistance if needed.
  • Immediately call for help, contact your supervisors, or at least another staff member and inform them about the fight and request their immediate assistance.
  • While you shouldn't physically intervene, you can attempt to defuse the situation verbally. Remind them firmly that fighting is not acceptable and that there will be consequences for their actions.
  • If it is safe to do so, try to create physical distance between the fighting students but never put your-self or others in danger.
  • It is very important to document the incident, note of any important details regarding the fight, such as the names of the students involved, witnesses and any relevant information that may help in addressing the situation later on. This documentation can be helpful for school


You have to remember that you are the adult in the room and you do have a responsibility to regain control of the class.  When this situation arises the first response is to remain calm, you need to put on your boundaries.  Take a few deep breaths to manage your own stress levels before addressing the situation.  The previous Newsletters have plenty of advice on how to do this but as far as the students are concern you need to:

  • Stand up for yourself in an appropriate level of assertiveness – you are in-charge when being the teacher 
  • Model non-hostile body language, stand up straight, hands off hips, fists unclenched, no finger wagging
  • Continue to act as if their behaviour has no effect on you
  • Sustain a steady, positive gaze
  • Speak clearly
  • Remain silent after you have delivered your message.  You must give enough time for that message to be understood.  Silence, coupled with confidence is a powerful way to communicate
  • Maintain appropriate eye contact
  • Don’t stand too close or touch them

Remember, your demeanour can have a significant impact on the students involved and the rest of the class


After the crisis has passed you will need to document the event.  This will provide a record that might provide pointers that will help you avoid this particular situation reoccurring.  The following points will help:

  • Once the situation is under control, ensure that the students involved receive appropriate support. Talk to them individually, privately, and calmly to understand the underlying causes and offer guidance or referrals to counselling or other resources if needed. It's important to address the issue rather than simply punishing the students involved.
  • If it is a significant event or a reoccurring one then reach out to the parents or guardians of the students involved to inform them about the incident. Maintain a professional, non-judgmental approach while discussing the situation, and be prepared to answer their questions or address their concerns.
  • After addressing the immediate situation, you should reflect on what caused the situation and assess what preventive measures can be put in place to minimize the chances of similar incidents occurring in the future. This will be the topic of an up-coming Newsletter.

Remember, it's crucial to follow your school and the Department’s policies and guidelines for dealing with extreme misbehaviour and violence. However, your primary focus should always be on the safety and well-being of your students while maintaining a supportive and conducive learning environment.






Posted by: AT 12:38 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, June 12 2023

Authentic Teachers - Having 'Some Skin in the Game'

The last couple of Newsletters have investigated boundaries, that contact between your ‘self’ and others.  Of course, boundaries primarily operate to maintain our security, keep us in a state of homeostatic equilibrium, at a social level it is where we evaluate the intensions of the ‘others’.  However, you have to understand every person you interact with is making the same judgements about you; are you threatening or can you provide something they need that allows them to maintain their equilibrium.  Boundaries are at the centre of all relationships.


In the title of this essay I have referred to having ‘some skin in the game’.  This expression refers to a concept where you have a personal stake in any interaction and how you behave towards others, in our case a student.  You really must realise the importance of your personal involvement, your behaviour towards others will be judged by how that impacts on them.  Having "skin in the game" implies a commitment and a willingness to take on the consequences of one's actions.


When you are dealing with students who have a history of abuse and neglect you have to realise the difficulty they have in trusting adults, their have been betrayed so many times before.  You have to be consistent and persistent (there are those words again) in the way you treat them.  This is only possible if you are true to your own personality values and temperament.  You are, persistently and consistently regardless of the situation in which you find yourself.  This is where you apply the boundary questions:

  1. ‘What is really happening’?  Often this is not the immediate action that you observe, there could be other factors that got you to this place.
  2. ‘Who is responsible’?
    • If the answer is ‘me’ then I must take responsibility, take action to address the cause of the stress.
    • If not ‘me’ then I ask a further two questions:
      • ‘What is causing the incident’?
      • ‘What do I have to do to change this situation in the long run’?


Regardless of the pressure you're under you must answer these questions honestly.  Sometimes this is very challenging, you are lying at the boundary between you and the student.  If you are not consistent, you become inauthentic by avoiding the uncomfortable truth.  This may give you some short-term personal protection but imagine the reward you get when you dare to be true to yourself, and to the student regardless of how frightening that may be.  On top of this personal cost you will lose a relationship vital if you want to be an effective teacher, you want to be authentic!!


A truly authentic person is one that appreciates of the reality of a situation, ‘what is really happening’.  Not only are they aware of what is improper they process the steps required to share that truth they also take action to rectify the situation for the benefit of all concerned.  They are kind, a trait that is a bit out of fashion these days and have real compassion for those students who struggle with behaviours that are a legacy from the childhood.  However, an authentic teacher knows what they and their students are capable of achieving.


An authentic person is kind, generous, and considerate toward others. You have the ability to put yourself in other people's shoes and see the world from their perspective. You can easily find common ground with others, regardless of how different they are from you.


As mentioned above, the students are the ones who will judge your authenticity.  The following are some steps to demonstrate how genuine you are:

  • Above all other qualities, the necessity to be true to yourself is paramount.  I have seen many young teachers try to mimic other staff members who appear to be successful. This never works; when you are under pressure you will always revert to your fundamental ‘self’.  So stop trying and embrace your own unique style and personality. All students, especially those who are highly suspicious, appreciate teachers who are genuine.  Remember they can see through any pretences.
  • Share part of your personal experiences; teachers who disclose part of their own journey, especially when they relate to the topic at hand create a connection with their students.  In this way you show you are not just an authority figure but also someone who has experienced real-life situations.  A strong word of caution, never cross that professional line, remember these are professional boundaries!
  • Show vulnerability, you will make mistakes and you don’t know everything so let the kids see you are imperfect just like them and everyone else.  This also demonstrates that learning is an ongoing process for everyone, including the teacher. It also encourages your students to be open about their own challenges and mistakes.
  • Authenticity involves being present and attentive to students. You should actively listen to what they are saying, showing genuine interest in their ideas, concerns, and questions. This fosters a sense of trust and respect.  Just remember how you felt when someone important gave you their undivided attention.
  • Communicate openly and honestly with your students providing them with clear expectations, explaining why you are teaching in this style and giving constructive feedback.  Your transparency make the students more likely to perceive you as authentic.
  • Authentic teachers demonstrate compassion and understanding of their students' challenges and emotions. So create a supportive and inclusive environment where students feel safe to express themselves and share their thoughts and feelings.
  • Authenticity is also reflected in consistent behavior and actions. Consistency is one of the most powerful personal qualities you can have.  Great teachers are unfailing in their words and actions, treating all students fairly and respectfully. This consistency develops trust and credibility.


Put simply, authenticity means you're true to your own personality, values and spirit, regardless of the pressure that you're under to act otherwise. You're honest with yourself and with others and you take responsibility for your mistakes. Your values, ideals, and actions align.

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Wednesday, June 07 2023

Boundaries for Teachers

By defining and communicating clear limits, teachers establish expectations and structure within the classroom, providing a safe and secure learning environment.  Effective and healthy boundaries allow both students and their teachers to navigate through the lesson with a sense of mutual respect and genuine connection.  Children, and teachers for that matter who come from fully functional families generally have already established healthy boundaries but, as outlined in a previous Newsletter…! (Newsletter 238 – Boundaries – 30 May 2023), those kids from neglectful and abusive backgrounds must be taught to have the protection that keeps them secure and allows them to go out into the world to get their needs met.


Compromised Boundaries

Even with the best intentions teachers can easily encounter various boundary problems in the classroom. Here are some common challenges they may face:

  1. Over involvement with students’ personal lives – Teachers, by nature are caring individuals who naturally develop relationships with their students. However, the risk is they become too involved and cross the line from professional to personal relationships.  This is inappropriate and dangerous, it leads to favouritism, compromised objectivity, and difficulties in maintaining a fair learning environment.
  2. Lack of respect for personal space – Each of us has a personal space and you will know this because when others move too close your emotional stability is compromised.  You will know your outer limits are being crossed when your stress levels rise.  However, you will never know the others’ outer limits as all of us have a different size ‘space’ so you will never be sure if you are invading the personal space unless you are told.  Teachers who constantly invade the personal space of others by say, touching them without permission, or making inappropriate comments make those students feel uncomfortable and can negatively impact the learning environment.
  3. Emotional boundaries - Teachers may find themselves emotionally invested in their students’ well-being. While empathy and support are important, we must navigate the fine line between being supportive and taking on the emotional burdens of their students.  Maintain your professional role, if the student is need of specialist counselling then refer them to the appropriate person, you are their teacher not their therapist.
  4. Digital boundary violations – With the increasing use of technology in education, teachers may encounter boundary issues related to online communication and social media.  You must be careful in how you use such platforms such as Facebook, understand that any personal information you post can be read by your students.  The Department has pretty good guidelines for this space


Professional Boundaries

As mentioned above, professional boundaries involve clearly defining the space between the student and the teacher.  The following are helpful:

  1. Physical Boundaries – You need to maintain this area, not only to protect yourself but to maintain the appropriateness of the relationship.  Enforce the outer limits of your physical space and never invade the children’s. 
  2. Availability Boundaries -You need to define when you are available to deal with students.  It is not appropriate for teachers to be contacted when at home.  Clearly communicating office hours or designated times for student consultations helps manage expectations and ensures that teachers have dedicated time for planning, grading, and personal activities.
  3. Parental Boundaries – Parents have the right to ask about their child’s progress and inquire about problems they may have BUT the school should clearly communicate the procedures that must be followed for parent-teacher interactions.  Establish appropriate channels of communication, and set boundaries around response times.


It’s fine to know where your boundaries end but it is important to communicate their outer limits to those with whom you are dealing.  The keys to effective communication are:

  • Explanation – Convey the situation as you see it and be specific.
  • Feelings – Own your feelings and take responsibility for them.
  • Needs – Say what you want.  Be selective, realistic and be prepared to negotiate.
  • Consequences – Outline how things will be if there are changes or if they stay as they are.

It is no surprise that these represent the steps to assert yourself outlined in the last Newsletter(238 – Boundaries – 30 March 2023):

  1. When you …!
  2. I feel …!
  3. Because …! 


There will be times, especially with psychological boundaries when the definition of your boundary will require some negotiation.  The following outlines the steps you must take to ensure your integrity is intact and your safety assured:

  • Establish Expectations: - What are the areas of agreement and real difference
  • Check your Intentions: - Is what you want fair for all
  • Consider Your Options: - Investigate the full range of options
  • Suggested Options: - After discussion put forward your proposal
  • Evaluate: - After trial evaluate and revisit procedure if needed
    • Be persistent in putting your view
    • Be aware of other’s feelings
    • Consider short & long-term consequences


Healthy Sense of Self

By establishing and maintaining effective personal boundaries, you can create an environment that promotes respect, professionalism, and emotional well-being. The strength of our sense of belonging and acceptance is necessary for us to feel secure in our social group.  This fosters a positive and empowering learning experience for students. 


Children who do develop this sense of belonging are categorized as being able to: 

  • Think well of themselves
  • Trust others
  • Regulate their emotions
  • Maintain positive expectations
  • Utilize their intellect
  • Have a sense of autonomy

When working with those students whose abusive and neglectful childhoods have robbed them of any defence against further abuse or exploitation, learning the protective boundaries outlined in this series, teaching them through instruction and modelling is perhaps the most effective skill you can give them.




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Monday, May 29 2023


In the last Newsletter we discussed the protective behaviours students and adults use to protect themselves from stress in their life. In these next couple of essays, we will examine the concept of boundaries; what they are and how to control them.


Everyone has a sense of their self.  The extent this ‘self’ intrudes on the external environment in a physical self is relatively easy to experience.  We all have an understanding of our personal space.  When someone comes within that space our emotions change, our stress response is triggered.  If the intrusion threatens our safety (our homeostatic equilibrium) then we will be motivated to protect our ‘self’. If, on the other hand that someone is someone who we love, we still have an emotional shift when they come into our space but this is the result of us seeking that contact; a type of positive stress. 


These external boundary violations occur when others do things like:

  • Stand too close, or touch you in any sense without permission
  • Violate our rights to privacy (i.e. going into your bags, eavesdropping on conversations, etc.)
  • Exposing you to risk (i.e. Subjecting others to your illness or smoking in ‘no smoking’ area)


We also have a psychological sense of our ‘self’ and these boundaries are not spatial but we react in a protective manner when others are denigrating our position in the community or we will, or should have a positive sensation when our standing is celebrated.


Internal boundary violations are assaults on your psycho/social self by others.  This includes:

  • Yelling or screaming at you
  • Lying or breaking a commitment made to you
  • Calling you derogative names
  • Patronising or telling you what you should do
  • Addressing you in a sarcastic manner
  • Shaming you or your community


So these boundaries are the physical and psychological space between you and the outside world.  They define the outer limits of your physical and emotional sense and intrusions that cross this border trigger an emotional response expressed as stress. 


In the classroom, teachers have to be aware of their student’s personal physical and psychological space and understand that this ‘space’ will vary from student to student.  The illustration below indicates that point of intersection.


Simply put, effective boundaries control what is okay and what is not okay on how others treat you. 


In the last Newsletter we examined inappropriate behaviours to control stress levels under the heading of people addiction.  The use of such behaviours may protect you in the short term, at the point of your boundary but the following illustration shows how this action ‘to protect’ will build what could be called walls around you.  


As you can see, the walls do protect you but also entrap you; you are unable to move into the environment freely to get your needs met.


Types of Boundaries


This is when there is no real division between where you finish and the other starts.  These people have no real protection and are:

  • Easily exploited
  • Victimized by others
  • Have difficulty getting their own needs met



This occurs when people close their ‘self’ off from others for protection, always reacting in the same manner when stressed.  They will never understand how to deal with others in an appropriate way, to either reject unwanted advances or initiate connections.  These are the walls discussed above.



People can use a combination of soft and rigid depending on how the other person presents, that is:

  • If they are comfortable with the other person they have soft boundaries they will accommodate the other person. 
  • On the other hand, if the other person startles them then, they cut them out, put up walls.



These are the ‘goldilocks’ boundaries, not too soft and not too rigid but just right; an appropriate application of boundaries.  The person has enough of an understanding of their right to get their needs met.


The illustration above shows how you can be protected from physical and emotional abuse by being responsible for the things you do wrong, we all make mistakes and we accept appropriate consequences and protecting your ‘self’ when you are under threat.


The kids who are causing you trouble will inevitable have poor boundaries and many adults suffer that same incapacity but you can learn to apply effective boundaries following the steps outlined below.


Importantly it is the stress that causes you to behave.  Controlling this is important if you want to use boundaries to control your life. I use what is described as a relaxation response.  With practice I have developed a style of relaxation by counting from five to one in the following sequence:

  • 1. Relax the muscles in my head
  • 2. Relax the muscles in my neck and shoulders
  • 3. Relax my arms and fingers
  • 4. Relax the muscles in my stomach, lower back and buttocks
  • 5. Relax the muscles in my legs and feet, down to my toes


I do this slowly and after a period of training, when stressed I just count down from five to one.  I have placed an extended description of this technique in the resources section in our web site –


When you are calm you can use the following steps to learn how to deal with any situation.


  1. Ask the Questions
  • ‘What is really happening’?  Often this is not the immediate action that you observe, there could be other factors that got you to this place. 
  • ‘Who is responsible’?
    • If the answer is ‘me’ then I must take responsibility, take action to address the cause of the stress.
    • If not ‘me’ then I ask a further two questions:
      • ‘What is causing the incident’?
      • ‘What do I have to do to change this situation in the long run’?
  1. Take Action.

Assert you rights without threatening the other person.  You can use the follow script:

  • ‘When you …’
  • ‘I feel…’
  • ‘Because...’


The ‘when you’ step is the time to describe to the other person what the situation is, say for example if you are having trouble with their behaviour, you tell them ‘when you’ and describe exactly what they are doing that is causing the problem.  The ‘I feel’ allows you to let them know how their behaviour is upsetting you.  Don’t be afraid to tell them how you really feel and finally the ‘because’ gives you the opportunity to tell them what are the consequences of their behaviour. 


If the confrontation is more serious or the students are not engaging in the process of solving the problem, then a stricter approach can be:

  • ‘If you …’
  • ‘I will…’

This is when you can spell out that if they behave in a certain way you will deliver a set of consequences.  The decision on what to do is theirs but they will have no control over what happens next.


  1. Let Go

Sometimes even if you have done everything possible to contain of the other person or a class is out of control, using the right techniques and with the best intentions but things are still not working, it is time to seek help.


Letting go is a difficult thing to master, everyone wants to believe they control their life, this gives us our security but rationally we understand the only thing we can control is how we prepare for life and as life presents us with the inevitable challenges we respond in a way that we currently understand will get our needs met. 


Healthy boundaries are vital in taking control of your life.  Students who have been raised in chaotic families rarely have developed them but they can be learned; that is the same for teachers.

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Monday, May 22 2023

The Impact of Elevated Stress

In the previous Newsletters we have discussed how stress is generated when we feel vulnerable because the conditions in our external environment pose a threat to our safety.  Further, we examined how this elevated stress impacts on our choices of behaviour in order to protect ourselves.  We also discussed how stress is needed not only to initiate behaviour but that stress allows us to learn new methods to deal with hostile external conditions in the future.  As can be seen from the illustration below, as an individual becomes more aroused their brain is said to ‘gate-down’.  Although the graph moves up from a state of calmness the neurological attention is moving down from the cerebral cortex, through the limbic system on to the midbrain/brain stem hence the phrase ‘gating down’.  

You can notice that we have moved from being able to consider a range of alternate behaviours when using our total brain into a condition of concrete thinking where we will only access behaviours that have worked before.  These issues have been covered in detail in two recent Newsletters, 228. Stress = Life - 1st March 2023 and 233. Gender Differences in Dealing with Early Childhood Trauma – 3rd April 2023.


In this essay we want to describe how people deal with this problem, first in a dysfunctional manner and then how to act in a way that will allow us to deal with future situations that echo the characteristics of the threatening environment.  In their early careers Margaret Paul and Erika Chopich presented a model of the different responses to threatening levels of stress; the following outline is founded in their work.


All addiction is an attempt to deal with painful stress which of course drives the need to return to homeostatic equilibrium.  Unfortunately, the use of any dysfunctional, protective behaviour in which you redirect your cognitive process or manipulates the cause of the threat or if you change the chemical composition of your brain without making a change to your behaviour condemns you to always being at the mercy of such situations.


These dysfunctional behaviours are shown in the illustration above, the people and activity addictions are the attempt to redirect the cognitive process of the perpetrator and, of course substances addiction is a well-known method of protection.


When you talk to substance addicts they almost invariably will tell you the first time they were ‘high’ on whatever substance they felt a sense of peace and personal power.  For kids with a history of abuse and that resulting sense of toxic shame it is no wonder the slide into addiction is easy.  Of course, the issue is that the more they use the drug of choice the more they will need of it.  Eventually, and this applies to all addictions the behaviour to protect themselves from stress becomes the source of future stress.


Activity addiction is not easily recognised as an addiction.  To understand the process that makes an activity an addiction is that whenever they feel stressed they will busy themselves with a distraction.  This is more easily illustrated in adults with the workaholic being the poster child of activities addiction.  Years ago when I was forming this model I was explaining it to a colleague.  When I mentioned activities addiction he exclaimed ‘that’s me’!  I had suspected that was the case and I continued on with ‘you don’t have to be that way’ to which he quickly replied, ‘that’s alright, I’m going to do my PhD’!  I had suspected this because of his frenetic approach to his work and the times he talked about the deteriorating quality of his marriage.  Needless to say, him achieved his PhD and lost his marriage.


This same addiction is seen right across society, from children being addicted to activities such as skateboard riding to becoming a fanatical football fan to some underserving team.  A word of caution, not everyone who has a consuming hobby, loves a particular team or spends most of their free time involved in a sport is an addict.  It is when they retreat from difficult situations they achieve that status, for that colleague, every time his wife wanted to address their problems he was ‘too busy’!


Finally we come to the people addiction and understanding the use of this type of protection will help you recognise what drives some of the behaviours of students. When being stressed by other people those choosing to protect themselves have a choice, they can try to control the other person or resist any attempts for the other to affect them

The types of people addiction are shown in illustration below.

The attempts to control the ‘other’ using overt behaviours can be summed up as ‘if you stress me, I will stress you back to a level you will leave me alone’!  They are, as the graphic indicates bullies; they threaten, use their friends to tease them or mock them to make them the centre of ridicule.  Eventually, the perpetrator will withdraw removing the source of the stress from the overt control addict.  This may work in the short term, the stressing behaviour of the adversary my cease but unfortunately when a similar situation arises the student will have to again be aggressive.


An alternate way to ‘control’ the stressful situation caused by another is to be so nice to them they will never attack you.  This is the covert method of people control.  Like the overt model the use of being a ‘best friend’ or ally is that you have to submerge your own need to avoid being exposed.


The final type of people addiction is that of resistance.  This is when a potential victim of ‘intimidation’ from others chooses to isolate themselves, refusing to accept any responsibility to whatever stressful situation exists.  They refuse to take part in organised activities, are absent a lot and isolate themselves.  However, there will be times when the resistors join forces and justify their behaviour with each other.


These acts of addictive behaviour are not just for the students, adults will also use these forms of control.  The selection of whether or not to be covert or overt depends on their perceived personal power in regard to the other.  It is more likely that a ‘boss’ that is feeling overly stressed will take on the overt role.  It is easier to bully those with less power.  Alternatively, those who work for an overt style boss might find it more comfortable using the covert techniques, ‘sucking up’ to make sure they are not their target.  The use of either control method disempowers the individual, the boss will lose the respect if their staff and those using the covert style will not be respected by fellow workers or skilled managers.


In the last illustration I have presented the student diagram as it applies to staff.

I’m sure we can all recognise these behaviours in our school staff.  Overt control teachers are those who put their students down, ‘why would I waste my time with this lot’.  Covert control teachers seek to be popular by letting their students ignore school norms, forgiving them for not handing assignments in on time.  What they don’t understand is that they are denying their student their right to learn about responsibility and in the long run they are never really respected.  Finally, we have those who sit up the back at staff meetings, reading the paper or talking amongst their allies.


I hope this information will help you identify those students and colleague’s dysfunctional behaviours not to condemn it but to let you approach them with compassion and understanding that these behaviours come from a faulty and toxic self-belief.  I have put a copy of Chapter 8 of my book ‘The Impact of Modern Neuroscience on Contemporary Teaching’ called Acting to Protect Yourself.


In the next Newsletter I will talk about how to deal with stressful situations in a healthy way.


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Monday, May 15 2023

The Key is Stress Management


This is the first in the latest series of essays on the impact and importance of the levels of stress in the classroom.  In broad terms, stress is the process where the brain comprehends, and attempts to maintain, a person’s homeostatic status.  Of all the Newsletters we have produced those discussing the impact of stress on behaviour and learning far outnumbers any other topic.  Like all living things we humans are driven to survive and reproduce and when any situation in our environment either threatens or nurtures our existence we will act to deal with such a situation; we will behave!  This Newsletter will focus on that process focusing on homeostasis.


Homeostasis is the process by which the body maintains a stable internal environment despite external changes.  Our internal environment consists of our physical, social/emotional and intellectual world.  This three-part feature is embodied in the physical structure of the brain, often referred to as a triune brain shown below.

The brain’s only task is to regulate its behaviour in response to the external environment to retain homeostatic equilibrium. 

To maintain homeostasis at the physical level much of the processes are reflexive, that is they are achieved at an unconscious level; part of our genetic organisation.  These are things like breathing, maintaining blood pH and sugar levels.  The act of breathing to maintain our oxygen levels demonstrates the power a deficit can have on your behaviour.  Just try holding your breath for say two minutes and feel the growing urgency to address the disequilibrium.  The continual process of oxygen depletion and renewal demonstrates our need for continual adjust to the changes both in our bodies and the environment.


As well as this biological feature of the physical realm there is that of movement.  From the moment we are born we have to learn to move our body to sustain equilibrium.  Watch a new-born try to get their finger into their mouth.  Just like any lesson, through trial and error eventually a neural pathway will form, a behaviour is learned.


The social/emotional level involves the regulation of how our sense of self interacts with the community that is in our immediate environment.  The limbic system through structures like the amygdala and hippocampus regulates our stress levels.  When there is a perceived threat or danger, the limbic system initiates the "fight or flight" response, which triggers the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. When we perceive something in the environment that we need to address a deficit, say we are hungry, the stress response if not a product of a fight/flight response but one of seeking food in this instance and is driven by dopamine.

Once the threat or deficit is addressed the brain's homeostatic mechanisms work to restore the body to a state of equilibrium.


Finally, at the tertiary level is a treasure trove of memories that inform our behaviour in response to social cues, such as facial expressions and body language and environmental conundrums that may impact on our stability.  The prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for what is referred to as executive functions like decision-making and impulse control plays a crucial role in maintaining that equilibrium. 

Importantly, it is this tertiary section on which we want the students to be focused.  Teachers need to create a level of uncertainty related to the content of the lesson they are to deliver.  The resulting stress is expressed as curiosity!


The status of homeostatic equilibrium refers to a state where the whole body is safe and secure.  To achieve this the whole brain has to provide the energy to sustain those demands require to keep us alive.  However, the brain is incredibly energy-intensive consuming roughly 20% of the body's total energy, despite only making up 2% of its weight and that energy is vital in supporting our physical, social/emotional and intellectual needs. 


For example, when there is a deficit in say our social needs the resulting state of disequilibrium will demand that the brain adjust its energy consumption to focus on rectifying this problem.  Given that we have a finite energy budget, this focus on the social problem means there is less to service the other needs.  Overall, the distribution of the brain's energy is tightly regulated to support the diverse functions of different brain regions, and this regulation is critical for maintaining normal brain function and promoting overall health and well-being, that is homeostatic equilibrium.  The following illustration explains the consequences of different types of disequilibrium.

It is obvious which state is suitable to maximise the learning outcomes for our students.


It is a truism that kids learn best is a safe and secure classroom and this is why.  It is the teacher’s professional responsibility to, as much as possible produce an environment where the student’s social and physical needs are not under threat.  In reality classroom management is really stress management!

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Monday, May 08 2023

Early CHildhood Rejection

The drive to belong is arguably our species’ most powerful need.  As I have pointed out elsewhere, most believe that the determination to survival is primary but suicide refutes this and invariably suicide is a result of rejection.  It is in early childhood that we learn to attach, belong to others especially with early caregivers (parents) and rejection at this time has devastating impact on the development of their sense of self.  Understanding the impact early childhood rejection will help you, not only have compassion for these victims of rejection but assist you make those professional relationships that are critical in your classroom.


Parents can reject their child by:

  • Withholding Affection – If a parent does not show affection or emotional support the message to the child is they are not worthy.
  • Being Overly Critical – When parents consistently criticise their kids for their behaviour, efforts or appearance are again showing they are not considered worthy. 
  • Neglect - Emotional or physical neglect is a more passive way of rejection (see Newsletter 230 - Neglect 22 March 2023). 
  • Comparisons to Others – When parents compare their child to others, particularly siblings it is invariably that they are not as good as the other (however, if they overly praise their child that will have a different negative impact on the child).
  • Abandonment - In extreme cases, parents may abandon their children both physically and emotionally and this can have profound impact on their development.   

It is obvious that significant rejection whatever the form will lead to a sense of toxic shame as described in the last Newsletter.

MRI studies on rejection, even in the least threatening conditions show that when one is rejected the same areas of the brain are activated as they do when we experience pain – rejection really hurts.  In broad terms the changes are as follows:

  • The amygdala, that area processing fear and anxiety is activated leading to feelings of distress and anxiety
  • When a child is rejected their body releases stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline which increases heart rate, sweating, and muscle tension.  Continued elevated stress leads to permanent brain damage.
  • There is decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s executive and the effectiveness of decision making is reduced.
  • The link to physical pain is illustrated in studies that show that rejection can make a child more sensitive to physical pain.
  • Rejection can also lead to changes in the levels of certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which can not only affect mood and behaviour but also the ability to learn, make memories!

Overall, the physical and neurological changes that occur when someone experiences rejection can be significant and can have a profound impact on their emotional and mental well-being.


One field of study that is underpinned by rejection is that of attachment.  In general attachment is the emotional bond that exists between people.  It must be remembered, like all behaviours these are learned in childhood and how they are acquired will influence how effective they will be in later life.  Infants have a need to form an attachment in their first six months by being supported emotionally and socially, if not they are rejected.  The study of attachment throws up various descriptions of the styles and, in simplified terms those dysfunctional types can be summarised as:

  • Insecure – these children have a raised fear of future abandonment.  They find it difficult to trust others and struggle in isolation.
  • Avoidance – these children avoid making attachments in the future.  They will appear indifferent and unresponsive to other’s advances.
  • Ambivalent – These children are a mix of the previous two.  They vacillate between seeking comfort with others to pushing others away.


As I said at the outset, the drive to belong is powerful and these children, despite the injury inflicted on their ability to make functional attachments will still attempt to belong in their immediate community.  In the first instance, they will seek attachment, be that with other adults, teacher or older peers.  These may or may not satisfy their immediate need but they will try.  Their functional deficiency in attaching will make these kids vulnerable to exploitation.


Some kids, particularly those who have above average abilities may become very self-reliant and successful at school or in other activities.  This may be an attempt to let their parents see they are worthy of their attention.


The rejection makes them hypervigilant, always looking to avoid being rejected again.  This makes them suspicious of others and brings in their lack of trust in others.  If they are in a situation that reminds them of times when they were rejected they will retreat behind protective walls of behaviour that are designed to keep others out.  This can be things like aggression or being extra ‘nice’, anything to avoid opening up to any real meaningful attachment.


As Karen Bierman of Pennsylvania University points out children who have been rejected in early childhood have:

  • Low rates of prosocial skills, they find sharing or taking turns very difficult
  • High rates of aggressive and disruptive behaviours
  • Difficulty in attending to tasks and are impulsive
  • High rates of social anxiety


What to do when working with a student who has disrupted attachment?  It will be of no surprise that our philosophy gives a broad outline of how to help these students:

  • Structure – make sure your classroom is very predictable.  Students with rejection issues often have difficulty with transitions or changes in routine. It is important for the teacher to establish a consistent and predictable routine to help the child feel safe and secure.
  • Expectations – always reinforce the behaviour you expect from them.  Of course that is easy when they are doing the ‘right thing’ but when they are disruptive the rejection of that behaviour must not include the rejection of the child!  This is critical because their hypersensitivity to rejection makes it hard for them to make that distinction.   Remember we accept the child 100% while we reject inappropriate behaviour 100%.
  • Relationships – you can build professional relationships by understanding these kids really suffer a disability that is not of their making.  The way you are consistent, always welcoming them into your class despite what might have gone on in the last lesson and are persistently there for all studenst will allow them to start to trust you and that is the foundation to all good teaching practice!



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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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