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FREW Consultants Group        
Monday, December 17 2018

In a previous Newsletter (4th September 2018) we spoke about the importance of looking after yourself while working in a stressful classroom.  At that time, we discussed things that you can do to maintain healthy levels of stress on an ongoing way.  Suggestions were to:

  • Debrief – Discuss the incidents with a trusted other; why they happened and how to avoid a repeat of those situations that generated that stress.
  • Boundaries – This is a topic that has been examined in recent postings but in general it is how to protect yourself in the stressful situation.

However, as we approach the end of the school year, this article focuses on the recovery from a long and stressful year at the chalk-face.

It is a tradition that teachers are all asked to ‘enjoy a well-earned break’ by the authorities of the day but to do so would rely on an ability to control our bodies through some cognitive instruction.  Such a statement demonstrates the lack of understanding of how the brain works.  It is as useful as telling a dysfunctional child to behave themselves!  If it was only that easy.

At the end of any school year even the most competent teachers suffer from an annual ‘burn-out’.  This happens because during any day the teacher is confronted by situations that ignite our fight/flight response.  It is this reaction that prepares us for the release of hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine and epinephrine. The energy generated by this response should be released as we actually physically fight an opponent or flight from the situation.  Following that sequence, we release cortisol into our system to readjust our physical sense of wellbeing.

But, as teachers it is inappropriate to take physical action against our students and so the energy we created for survival is not used and remains in out body.  Further the cortisol that naturally follows has no real work to do and so remains taking a corrosive toll on our body.

During the year, with the overwhelming schedule that demands a teacher’s time there is little opportunity for ongoing maintenance for each episode and so there is a cumulative cost on teachers’ physical wellbeing.

When we come to the ‘big-break’ teachers are tired, worn out and even though there is a demonstrated link between stress and illness.  Paradoxically, when the teacher goes on leave and the situations that constantly generate that stress somehow that ‘readiness to protect’ is removed and it is common for teachers to suffer some physical disintegration.  How often do you hear of colleagues getting the flu at the beginning of any holiday?

So, to take advantage of the annual opportunity to recover the first consideration is on our physical wellbeing.

Physical Activity

It is well understood that exercise uses those stress hormones and importantly releases the endorphins that promote a feeling of mental health.  Exercise uses our energy budget and then promotes healthy sleep patterns that also support our physical wellbeing.

Just how much exercise depends on your own physical shape.  It would be pointless for someone in their twilight years to take off on a marathon run.  For some a brisk walk is an appropriate holiday start to recovery.

If you take these walks outdoors you will restore your connection with nature.  This is called ‘earthing’ or ‘grounding’ that calms the nervous system and reduces inflammations and increases our blood circulation.  This ‘earthing’ is also associated with working in the garden.

Finally, think about undertaking some relaxation activities.  These can be formal joining some meditation classes or yoga or it could be a restful hobby like painting or knitting.

Just make sure the exercise is pleasurable – resist any thought of building another challenge.  This is about recovery not kicking off another ‘task’!

Feed your Recovery

There is plenty of information about the use of food and supplements to reduce your stress.  If you look at any of these resources they will include the obvious warnings about fatty foods, too much alcohol or caffeine.  This will be a bit of a challenge around the celebrations of Christmas especially on ‘the day’ but use common sense.

What will be helpful is to take time to prepare your ‘special’ meal with someone you enjoy sharing wonderful moments with.  Take the time to find that particular recipe, source the ingredients and delight in being the ‘Master Chef’ in your kitchen.

Share Your Love

Take the time to reconnect with family and friends.  Shelley Taylor of UCLA coined the phrase ‘tend and befriend’, the reverse of ‘fight or flight’.  Instead of generating the defensive stress response; ‘tend or befriend’ releases oxytocin that enhances our wellbeing.

This is reported to be stronger for woman than men but I would encourage all men to give this a go.  Taylor cites the benefit of cuddling, hugging kissing and loving intimacy as a great way to rebuild your body.

Not only share the intimacy, share activities like going to concerts or sporting events.  Share laughter and those moments that are so rare in your working life.

Finally, take control of your smart phone.  For most of my career I did not have any way to contact the ‘Department’ when I was on holidays and I got through.  If something is so important you will be contacted so take control of your digital life.  The friends on Face Book will not ‘tend or befriend’ you so get some human contact!

This is the last Newsletter for 2018 so we would like to thank you for your support and also thank you for all the work you do for those children who need you.  Have a great break and we will be back next year!

Posted by: AT 09:51 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 10 2018

Testing Tough Kids

A diagnosis frequently made for students who cause behavioural problems is Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD).  ODD is characterized by constant disobedience and hostility towards authority.  This diagnosis is a fair description of those kids who continually oppose and defy teacher instructions.  In a previous Newsletter I discussed the importance of trust and the lack of trust is at the heart of ODD.  This condition is the gold star expression of loss of trust. Most information about this condition discusses its causes and manifestations; but the question rarely asked is why do they choose to act in a way that almost guarantees a negative consequence.  What is it about that drive to defy when the cost can be so punishing?

I have taught many such children and have felt helpless in the face of this self-destructive behaviour.  Even if you give them the choice to change their behaviour; they understand the consequences of continuing that behaviours and you know they really don't want those results; they will still ‘choose' to act in that defiant manner.  My understanding is that the behaviour is an inability of trust.  The fact is they believe that if they follow your direction, they are conceding to you power over them and in their history trusting someone exposes them to abuse and/or neglect.

This refusal to ‘do’ as required has huge ramifications for teachers who have one or two such characters in their class.  Statistics from the US estimate that about 10% of all children develop ODD but these statistics may well be exaggerated however, there is general agreement that at least 2% of children will reach the threshold of ODD diagnosis. 

Another point to be considered is the ‘severity’ of the expression of defiance; this can range from mild, general reluctance to extreme levels of defiance.  There is another factor that reflects the correlation between socioeconomic dimensions of a community and the frequency of the expression of ODD. 

So as a teacher you had better prepare yourself for such students.  Even in the day-to-day evaluation of students, learning relies on students ‘being told' how to respond to situations presented to them; such a regimented approach to ‘success' for assessing the ODD student makes this way impossible.  Because of their defiant attitude they almost always are obliged to refuse to comply.

This refusal is because:

  1. For the ODD student, the very presence of an authoritive direction means the student is driven to say no!  Compliance means giving up their ‘safety.’

 

  1. To really try to do the test to the best of their ability exposes them to the risk of failure.  These children will avoid taking chances because of their innate vulnerability.  These kids will inevitably come from a position of toxic shame (see Newsletter 19) and the drive to defy is enhanced by the belief that to be good you need to be perfect.  These kids are already refusing to complete lesson tasks so they know they will fail.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this Newsletter, these ODD children will refuse to follow a direction even if they understand any negative consequence of their disobedience and the loss of something they may like if they conformed.  This dilemma, of being dammed if they did and dammed if they didn't, was exemplified in a test given to a young delinquent in a detention centre.  He refused to answer any question on the exam paper.  When it was returned, he had received an ‘E’; he genuinely thought the ‘E' stood for excellent and you could see the delight he was experiencing.  It was easy to find this amusing but it was so heart-breaking when you understood what this meant. 

In the first instance, this boy was so intellectually delayed he had no idea that consequences were related to his actions.  But why would he think he was responsible for a result that was linked to his efforts?  Life was done to him and right now life had given him an ‘E'!  The second distressing message was the delight he showed when he thought he had passed.  His reaction confirmed was that he really would like to be such a success.

Helping these children is the core of our Consultancy.  Providing this 'help' is a challenging undertaking but one worthwhile.  There is no proven way of dealing with these kids or for that matter all those kids who are going to ‘fail' in a punitive system that wants to sort the good from the bad.  All I know is that if you can build enough trust in these kids, so they do want to participate in school you will have past the teacher's test – with a great big ‘E'!

Posted by: AT 09:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, December 03 2018

Trust - The Glue That Sustains Relationships

 

Much has been written about the significant relationship between learning outcomes and trust.  Trust across all levels of the schooling system whether that is between the community and the school, the system and individual schools and most importantly between the teacher and the student(s).  

Dean Fink, from Ontario in his article ‘Trust in Our Schools: The missing part of school improvement?', gives an excellent summary of research that shows that across the developed nations PISA results correlate strongly with the social levels of trust.  Statistically, high levels of trust result in better learning outcomes.  He points out that when policy makers introduce easily measured testing regimes and insidious compliance tasks the level of trust contracts.  He goes on to suggest that the Australian "federal government's recent school improvement efforts are heavy on low trust strategies."  This observation explains the emerging dissatisfaction experienced by teachers across the system and the exodus of young teachers from our profession.

This significant relationship, between trust and learning is more critical when dealing with those students with severe behaviours.  Their developmental history almost ensures a natural distrust of the authority at school.

Erik Erikson, the German-born American developmental psychologist points out that psychosocial development including basic trust occurs in the first two years of development.  A child raised in a predictable and affectionate home with caregivers who are reliable and competent will have the confidence to trust the rest of their environment.  That is, they are optimistic about their future and teachers and schools are afforded trust. 

Conversely, and generally the children with severe behaviours are raised in homes where the opposite conditions apply.  That is their environment is chaotic, attachment is at best marginal and there is no foreseeable individual success; why would these children have any trust? 

The thing is, trust is the belief something will happen following a given set of circumstances.   At school, these insecure students will at best predict an unpleasant outcome but more likely will have no idea what will happen.  It becomes critical that their teacher must develop the child’s confidence in the future before any meaningful learning can take place. 

There are steps in developing trust in students.  These are:

  • Provide a predictable, caring environment where the boundaries between the teacher and the student are well defined.  Providing a structured set of expectations allows the student to develop the sense that it is their behaviour that initiates adverse outcomes, not the belief they have an inherent incompetence.  This separation of the student's sense of worth from the mistakes they make will slowly have them accept corrections from the teacher without destroying the relationship.

 

  • Students with a history of abuse and neglect are locked into the present moment as they tried to survive the situation in which they find themselves.  Eventually, they will be able to project into the future by trusting the advice given by the teacher despite the lack of any evidence these things will happen.

 

  • They will come to believe that putting in an effort will pay-off despite there being no real understanding between their efforts and some future reward.  So often we teach students subjects that, in all honesty they really would find it difficult to connect to some future but because they trust us they learn these lessons now without a guaranteed pay-off.

 

  • This last point is huge for these challenging students.  When they have developed real trust, they are risking their vulnerability, having faith that we will not exploit this exposure.  Never underestimate the core levels of fear these kids live with.  In early childhood, their abuse and neglect was linked with dying and this experience has imprinted overwhelming feelings of fear that normal children would never associate even with low-level rejection or mild threats.  For these children to expose themselves is an enormous level of faith in the teacher.  Eventually, this trust could be generalized and they could begin to trust the world.

Developing trust in these children is a gift from you.  Any teacher who takes the time to develop this level of trust is making an incalculable contribution not only to that child but also to their classmates, their school, and society.  The real bonus is their success will repay you in a way that is your real, unmeasured contribution to education!

Posted by: AT 09:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email

PRINCIPALS

John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance


ABN 64 372 518 772

ABOUT

The principals of the company have had long careers in education with a combined total of eighty-one years service.  After starting as mainstream teachers they both moved into careers in providing support for students with severe behaviours.

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