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Monday, May 22 2017

Educating the Over-indulged and Narcissistic Child


23 May 2017


A growing phenomenon in our schools as well as in our society is the focus on ‘self’ by students and a growing number of teachers.   We now live with what could be described as a ‘me’ generation.  The growth of social media where people report the most everyday events in their life, the number of ‘selfies’ taken and distributed, all indicate an inflation of people’s belief in their importance.   Of course this is an over generalized description of a whole generation but there is a growth in self-centered behaviour and its extreme manifestation - narcissism. 

The cause of this is commonly linked to modern parenting styles.  We are urged to provide unconditional love, which is true but the mistake is translating unconditional love with unconditional feedback.  Some kids receive constant praise from a significant adult usually a parent but can be others such as coaches or teachers, where they receive praise without deserving it.  It is little wonder these kids expect to be the centre of attention no matter what they do.

We tell them they can be whatever they want which may well be motivated for the best of intentions but by doing so parents create a lot of damage to their children.  In other places I refer to this as a form of abuse because they are denied the opportunity to become self-aware, resilient and sociably acceptable in society.

This modern parenting style is only one part of the creation of the narcissistic child.  Modern media celebrates the idol child.  In movies and television shows the rewards that are associated with young, smart children are for all to see.  It is inevitable that any child will see the connection between doing what you want with getting everything you desire.  There is no requirement for effort and no one but no one should get in your way.

Surprisingly there is another that develops in conditions that are almost the opposite described above.  Children who grow-up in cold, depriving families receive inadequate validation and support about their behaviour and their need for love and attachment skews their development.  They cope by repressing negative experiences which would exacerbate their chance of acceptance by developing grandiose ideas about themselves.   The drive to present as perfect translates into their self-belief.

For teachers there are two problems.  The first is the aggressive parents who attack any member of the school staff if they dare to deal out consequences for children’s inappropriate behaviour.  The parents refuse to accept their child made a mistake because they ‘know’ he/she is perfect just like they have been telling them.  Unfortunately they are denying their child the opportunity to become really self-aware. 

The second is with the students, especially in the secondary years are more than ever focusing on themselves.  Social media, especially Face Book is full of posed pictures of young men and women.  Modern kids, with their mobile phones have seen an explosion of indulgent movie clips that are put out for all to see.  However, the recent increasing trend of sex-ting, the sending of explicit ‘selfies’ to others is a practice that would have been unheard of a couple of decades ago.  Instead of modesty, the belief you have some private life, these children place the most intimate information out in public.  The danger of this behaviour is alien to them as they have a belief that everyone ‘loves them’ and besides there is a chance they might be the next ‘Kardashian’ – rich and famous!

So what to do?  Teachers are being challenged more and more by the ‘entitled’ child and the following advice may help:

  1. Avoid taking battles personally – you are not responsible for the child’s behaviour but you are responsible for providing appropriate feedback and consequences.  Keep in mind you may be the child’s only chance to become self-aware.
  2. Place responsibility on the student – always associate the consequence with the behaviour not the child.  There is no value in referring to their ‘selfishness’ this makes the discipline personal - about the child, even if you know their self-belief drives that behaviour.
  3. Avoid extrinsic motivation – the worst thing you can do for children who ‘want it all’ is provide more opportunity for them to get more.
  4. Reinforce the benefits of community – get the whole class involved community service projects.  Never under estimate the power of volunteering work.  This will give these children another way to feel good about themselves.
  5. Educate families – this is not easy if the parents are the cause of the child’s narcissism.  It is a productive tactic if it is done on a macro scale, which is the whole school believes in sharing, helping others, etc. the power of the group will at least make the enabling parents keep quiet even if they don’t stop the ‘abuse’.

Modern teacher’s work is hard enough and teaching children to be authentic should not be their responsibility but good teachers understand that until children have that genuine sense of their self, serious education is not an option for the child.


Posted by: AT 12:34 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, May 15 2017


True Grit

16  May 2017

At the core of school’s work is student learning, it’s what schools are there for and because teachers are who they are, they are always looking to improve on this.  Teachers are committed to get each student to maximise their learning outcomes.

Earlier education practices worked on the premise that students came with certain abilities and we should stream them in homogenous classes so they would learn best.  Initially this ‘sorting’ was based on intelligence.   Of course some students are born with a natural gift for schoolwork but this talent is only the potential for success.  

Recent research has established that the major indicator that will determine a child’s success is not their ‘intelligence’ but their character.  So it stands to reason that we should focus on developing character!  The question is what sort of character?

What our students need to achieve sustained excellence in anything they do, is the traits of hard work and ability to stick at a task and see it through.  Paul Tough in his book How Children Succeed identified seven characteristics of a successful student, the first being ‘grit’. 

Grit describes a passion for success and requires perseverance, hardness and resilience, sticking to a problem until it is solved.

A simple but telling example of how grit works comes from the different results nationalities get in the PISA Scores for mathematics.  Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, describes how some students would take 22 minutes to work out a complicated math question.   Unfortunately the average student gives up after only THREE minutes, preferring to ask for help than work through the problem. Those students who persisted for that extended period of time got the solution.  Their grit ensured success and they would continue to keep in trying as the work becomes harder in the senior years.

Encouraging kids to step out of their comfort zones and take learning and social risks is one of the great challenges for teachers and parents.  It’s critical that we challenge children and young people to attempt activities where failure is a real option. Overcoming setbacks and pushing through difficulties is how character is formed.  Too often we try to protect our kids from the consequences of their mistakes but it is through mistakes and the taking of the responsibility of those mistakes character is built.

A word, or two of warning; grit has become extremely popular in modern times.  Angela Lee Duckworth on a TED Talk that has had over 10 million views talks about her experiences.  It’s hard to argue with TED, but I often do however there is a problem with this adoption of grit to the extent that supporters will accept that it is acceptable that kids do not have a balanced approach to life.  They argue that great achievements come from individuals that are extremely single-minded.  I would argue that, for a child we do require balance.

A second problem is that the total belief in grit promises success.  It is like the myth of meritocracy and the mantra of neoliberalism ‘by hard work to the top’.  The hidden message given to a child by ‘grit’ is that if you fail it is because you didn’t try hard enough! 

So what to do?  I agree that grit; perseverance, delayed gratification and the like are qualities we should teach to all our kids.  And I agree that character is a better indicator of success for a student but this is only on a personal level.  Kids are unique - all have different abilities but while ever we measure success in relation to a population some kids despite all the resilience and perseverance will never top the class, will never win an Olympic Gold Medal.  They need to know they are not failures but the best of people.

Posted by: AT 10:28 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, May 08 2017

The Great Lie

9 May 2017

In this time of obsession with the ‘quality teacher’ as being the answer to all the ills of our modern education system it is prudent to look at a few statements and reconcile them.

The first two come from Professor John Hattie in the work that established his reputation.  These are:

For learning outcomes:

  • 50%                            - The Nature of the Student
  • 10% - 18%                 - The Nature of the School
  • 32% - 40%                 - The Nature of the Classroom

The four most influential factors cited are:

  • Self-report grades
  • Absence of disruptive students
  • Classroom behavioural (conditions)
  • Quality of teaching

Another statement that is relevant to the discussion in this paper is that studies in memory acquisition or learning have examined the procedural aspects of this process on individuals in isolation.  This focus on individualised learning ignores the impact the social setting can have on the process for each student.

I am sure John Hattie is well aware of the interaction between these factors in the first point but since this finding, bureaucratic and some academic leaders have implied that the 50% the child brings to the evaluation is in isolation; as if Hattie’s second point was irrelevant.  Practicing teachers are well aware of the impact one or more acting-out students has on the learning outcomes of others.  In fact this condition is implied in the second and third of Hattie’s influential factors with the impact of the teachers down to forth place!

This slight of hand has allowed those ‘leaders’ in education to look at teachers as the only variable we can work on.  Hence they feel ‘off the hook’ when it comes to taking responsibility for student performance – it's the teachers’ fault.

However, the reality of the classroom is not with the education leadership be that academic, bureaucratic or even political, the latter just imitations of the former; it is with the classroom teacher.  It is the in the classroom that how much of the 100% (half the contributing factors) potential each individual student brings, depends on their engagement with the lesson.  How much is accessed depends on the atmosphere of that classroom.

It is the teacher who is in charge of that atmosphere that determines the engagement of the student.  No problems with that but, and here’s the point, classrooms are social gatherings where the web of personal interconnections establishes the learning climate of the classroom.  Each individual brings to the classroom a contribution to that atmosphere through the social connections.

When a class has one, or more students with severe behaviours the impact of their actions has a devastating effect on the learning outcomes of all the children in the class.  All humans’ pre-occupation with social networks is ingrained, it is important at a survival level and the threat these students create to everyone else in the classroom is unavoidable.   The students and the teacher spend a significant amount of their learning potential psychologically or physically surviving!  There is not much left for learning.

Even if a teacher is expert enough to deal with these severe behaviours to do so will take a considerable amount of on-task behaviour away from the lesson.  If the teacher is not equipped to successfully deal with these students, any attention to the lesson is almost non-existent.

Back to the premise of this essay, the education elite who evaluate students, teachers and schools, through common testing such as NAPLAN, etc. ignore the environment in which the learning takes place.  The distribution of these difficult students is not homogeneous, just as there is no equity in the distribution of all resources to schools.  Teachers and students should not be judged unless the total learning environment is considered.

The answer is not to eliminate students with severe behaviours, the whole purpose of our consultancy group is to help all levels of the education community, academics, bureaucrats, schools, teachers and students to overcome conditions that are overwhelmingly the result of childhood trauma or neglect neither of which is the child’s fault.  Their presence in any class or school will have a significant effect on learning and its time education leadership took some responsibility and dealt with the problem by appropriate training for staff instead of scapegoating the teachers.

Posted by: AT 08:02 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Tuesday, May 02 2017

Newsletter 6, May, 2017 


Challenging Beliefs – Not So Easy

Teachers who work with troubled students are well aware of the importance of the children’s belief system.  There is no surprise that these students have an expectation of failure at every level and for the vast majority, their belief about their academic ability is insignificant compared to the importance for them to survive physically and socially.

Beliefs about the world are built from experience.  When a certain stimulus occurs a chosen action will get an expected result.  So when we are faced with a situation that needs to be addressed we believe something will happen based on what happened in the past.

For most of us this ability to know what will happen, a sort of long range detection device works well and the better people can predict the more intelligent they are deemed to be.  The consistent narrative gives us a fundamental view of the world, a sense of consistency, control and cohesion – conditions that give us confidence in the future.  In fact all learning is based on the ability to predict so beliefs are crucial.

But for our belief system to be ‘intelligent’ it must be based on reality, that illusive condition that would rely on precise and objective analysis of what is really happening.  This precision is hard enough in the objective sciences but extremely difficult in the social fields.  A further complexity is that most of these social beliefs are imparted by our parents and have no direct link to the child’s reality.  The power of these hand-me-down beliefs can be seen in the religious wars that have raged, and still rage across the globe.  People die for their beliefs!

It is obvious that beliefs operate independent of sensory data and will persist in the face of contrary data.  They do so because having beliefs, no matter how much they clash with reality provide reason for what is happening, can determine the cause of why things are as they are and underpin our principles.

It is hard enough to take account of our beliefs as adults, every night we see intelligent adults arguing about the current political system.  It is easy to lampoon some of the more colorful characters, the USA have a textbook case who when confronted with evidence provides ‘alternative facts’ to maintain his belief system.  Change is hard and evidence is insufficient.  There has to be a strong emotional component along with evidence to allow a significant change in important life sustaining beliefs.

So we return to these kids we work to support.  Their belief of themselves is:

  • I’m worthless
  • I'm hopeless
  • No one cares about me
  • I am a failure

The list goes on and why wouldn’t they think that?  When their belief system was being formed they experience all those conditions.  Kids can’t be expected to understand the reality that they have been abused and/or neglected and being kids they believe it is their fault.

So be patient with these kids.  Providing evidence is not enough nor is providing security in the short term.  I believe that over time with a structured, supportive predictable environment they will develop a new set of beliefs that will allow them to function in our society.





Posted by: AT 10:29 pm   |  Permalink   |  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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