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FREW Consultants Group        
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.

Posted by: AT 11:56 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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.




Posted by: AT 07:36 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
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John R Frew
Marcia J Vallance

ABN 64 372 518 772


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

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