Do teachers need a pay rise?

There’s been a recruitment crisis for at least the last 6 years. More than 30% of teachers are leaving before 5 years in the job, and teachers earn less than similarly qualified professionals. All of this would suggest that paying teachers a bit more wouldn’t go amiss.

And the government is listening. A few days ago they announced that they plan to offer cash bonuses to some teachers to try to persuade them to stay in the profession a little longer (these will be the same teachers that got the £20k bribe to start in the first place - secondary teachers in shortage subjects).

This is classical economics: want someone to do something? Pay them to do it. Want them to do it some more? Pay them some more. Tinker with the amounts until the market works out the going rate and then leave well alone.

But is this really what teachers need?

If you talk to teachers, gripes about pay come up relatively infrequently - it is a problem, to be sure, but it’s nowhere near the top of the list. Ask a teacher what frustrates them and you’ll likely hear about the lack of freedom to teach in the way they believe children need to be taught, the workload and bulging timetable which leave little time to slow down and take satisfaction from doing something properly, and the feeling that they’re not making as much of a difference as they would like.

I could go on, but this video (which is old now but I only just came across) explains why this matters more than pay:

Now I’m not saying teachers don’t deserve a pay rise (and I absolutely include TAs in that). Like all public servants whose real-terms pay has been decreasing since the financial crisis, teachers should be paid more. But that won’t fundamentally change the retention crisis. Teachers are not teachers for the money, so classical economics won’t work here. Teachers are teachers because they believe teaching is a good thing to do.

The only way to keep teachers teaching is by making education something worth believing in - something in which they are trusted to have autonomy, allowed the time and space to develop mastery, and thereby have a sense of purpose. As the research in the RSA video shows, the way to incentivise professionals is not to give them an extrinsic reward, but to give them the space and support to develop autonomy, mastery and purpose. Throwing a small group of teachers a bone will make no difference, changing the culture of education might.

Counselling for Teachers - Avoidant Attachment

Last month we shared three examples of attachment styles. In this post we’ll go into a bit more detail about how one of those styles - avoidant - shows up in the classroom and how you can work with it.

You may remember Neil from the previous post. He found early on that the adults around him wouldn’t help him to understand or deal with his emotions. With little support and no great role models around, he learns to suppress his emotions - consciously or unconsciously - and often focuses on others’ emotions as a way of avoiding his own. How does this play out in school?

Avoidant children in the classroom…

  • are often very quiet and can appear detached

  • show few extremes of emotion

  • are likely to slip through the gaps even if they are struggling, as their behaviour will not flag up as troublesome

  • may be quite uncomfortable in social situations and prefer to play alone, or if they do play with others do so in a ‘vigilant’ way without really letting go

  • can be very hard to reach, as they are used to cutting off from significant adult figures, and will not expect teachers to ‘get’ them

So what can we do?

Children with an avoidant attachment style can be hard to identify and to support, as they are not used to asking for help and won’t expect you to understand what they need. If you do identify any children who fit the description above, here are a few simple tips to help you work with them:

  • Take the time to build up a trusting relationship with the child, and don’t be disheartened if it’s slow progress. It will take longer than with other children, as they’re not used to relying on adults in the same way.

  • Show them that you really ‘get’ them: rather than just noticing and praising their compliant behaviour, find ways to show them that you can understand some of their real experience - something that is meaningful to them.

  • Let them know that you have them in mind. Children with an avoidant attachment style will not be used to adults remembering them and taking them seriously, but if you can start the day by, for example, remembering that today is their brother’s birthday, they will begin to trust more that they can rely on you.

  • Be a role model of emotional openness, ‘thinking aloud’ what you’re feeling and demonstrating that it’s ok in your classroom to be angry, sad, happy etc. Provide a narrative when you think they may be experiencing emotions they don’t know how to process (“If I were in your situation I’d probably be feeling really frustrated and my heart would be beating fast. I’d want to do something about it but I wouldn’t know what…”) Over time they may come to trust that you can help them deal with emotions that might feel out of control.

If you want to find out more, Inside I’m Hurting by Louise Bomber is a great resource about attachment and how to work with it.

Avoidant Attachment in Teachers

Attachment is not just for children, though. The style that we develop in childhood will often continue into adult life. So how does avoidant attachment manifest in teachers?

A lot of people who work in the caring professions have avoidant attachment styles, as focusing on others’ needs is one way of avoiding the spotlight falling on us. This is normally a healthy adaptation as it enables us to empathise with others’ needs, but it can go too far.

For example, I’m sure we can all think of teachers who can’t say no to any request, even if secretly their furious about it. Or of teachers who will endure a huge amount of stress but when offered support say: “I’m fine - I’ll get through it”. Both of these may indicate an avoidant attachment style, as neither teacher is confident that they can have their emotional needs met by others.

If you are one of these avoidant teachers (and there are lots of us out there), take a moment to reflect on your automatic responses: Could I say “no”, just this once? It would feel awkward to stand out like that, but maybe it’d feel good to stand up for myself? And before I brush off the offer of support and keep busy, what would it be like to spend 15 minutes with someone who would listen to me?

If you know one of these avoidant teachers, take a moment to think about how you could show them that you can handle their emotions. This could be as simple as asking the person that everybody normally goes to for advice how they’re feeling, and not just taking their first, dismissive answer. Or just letting somebody know that you’ve noticed that they tend to take a lot without complaining, and letting them do the rest, when they’re ready.

Counselling for Teachers - Attachment (introduction)

What is attachment theory? You may have come across people talking about attachment disorders, or difficulties with attachment, especially where looked-after children are concerned, but what exactly is it?

Attachment describes the way one person relates to another. Each of us has an ‘attachment style’ - a typical way that we tend to be in relationships with others - which is often set early on in life, through our initial interactions with caregivers and others. There are three main attachment styles: secure, avoidant and ambivalent.

Secure attachment

Anna knows from an early age that if she feels an emotion and expresses it, she will be heard and helped. When she cries, someone comforts her; when she is excited, someone shares her joy; when she gets angry, someone wants to understand why. Anna has been given permission from the world to feel emotions and express them, safe in the knowledge that the emotion won’t destroy her or her relationships with others. As she grows up, Anna internalises what others have done for her, and she learns to manage her own emotions so that she can feel whatever she feels without being overwhelmed. She also carries an internal belief that she’s basically ok, and that the world is basically trustworthy.

Avoidant attachment

Neil is not sure that it’s ok for him to express his emotions. Too often when he has cried he’s been ignored, and when he’s excited no-one else seems bothered. He’s also noticed that his parents seem to fight more when he’s emotional, and this makes him feel unsafe. He learns early on that he’s better off managing his own emotions than trusting other people to help him out, but he doesn’t really know how, so just keeps quiet. Instead of allowing his own emotions out he focuses on other people’s emotions, becoming vigilant so that he can keep himself safe. As he grows up, Neil internalises a belief that the world is not to be trusted and that he shouldn’t burden others with his needs or wants. He finds it difficult to express himself in close relationships and is unsure how to ask for help or put himself first. Normally this will not present too great a problem, but he may be left feeling taken advantage of or cut-off from those he’s closest to.

Ambivalent attachment

Frida also found early on that when she expressed emotions she wasn’t always heard or taken seriously. When she cried she was ignored, but she learnt that if she turned up the volume, she would be heard, eventually. She doesn’t quite trust it when others comfort her, however, and sometimes pushes people away, before panicking and turning the volume up again. Frida comes to see herself as helpless - always needing more than what others are willing to give her - but resents that she has to rely on the unreliable people around her. As she grows up she finds that she very rarely feels secure in relationships, and finds herself swinging between pushing people away and desperately holding on to them.

Anna, Neil and Frida are examples of the three attachment styles, but it’s important to note that these are not definite categories - most people will have a mixture of at least two of the different styles, and will be more or less secure in different relationships. However, attachment styles are relatively consistent over an individual’s lifetime, and are difficult to change. They also have a huge impact on our success in relationships, work and earnings.

How can attachment styles be used in the classroom? Just being aware that different children will have different attachment needs can improve the way we relate to them, as can understanding our own attachment styles and how these impact on the children we teach. In the next few posts we’ll share some more practical tips for using attachment theory to deepen your engagement with the children you teach.

But does it work?

We've not posted here for a while, partly because of the busyness of the end of the academic year, but also because we've been putting a lot of work into analysing the impact data we've collected. We've used a couple of measurement tools with our clients, and have learnt a huge amount from the data we've collected. We've learned even more from the discussions we've had with clients, and from the comments they've left on our anonymous online feedback form. We're looking at using this data to start some more in-depth research, but for the moment we've shared some of the headline figures on our website - you can find it under our Impact page.

We're really proud to have seen such an impact in only 3-6 sessions, and to have received such positive evaluations. We've always thought that what we're doing works, but it's nice to see it reflected in the data and in our clients' experiences.

Reflective Practice Livestream Resources

If you've come here from our livestream with Twinkl, welcome to our website! Take a look around the blog for some perspectives on teaching from two counsellors, including some counselling theory and techniques which you may find useful.

Below are resources and links related to the exercises we've been through this evening. Please feel free to use them yourself, or to use them with others. If you want any advice, or would like to discuss accessing the services we provide for yourself or your school, message us through the contact form or on Facebook


Reflecting on Me



In this exercise we invite you to consider the different roles you occupy throughout your life, and to reflect on how satisfied you are with this picture. We each act out a range of roles - some are relational (mother, friend, lover), some professional (teacher, manager), and some personal (baker, artist, runner). There is no 'right way' to balance these competing identities - you might break them into the three categories above (relational, professional and personal) to see what picture emerges, or use Maslow's hierarchy of needs to rank your roles. One other interesting way to explore your constellation of inner aspects which you may not be familiar with is through Positive Psychology's model of wellbeing: according to Martin Selligman, wellbeing consists of 5 parts: 

  • positive emotions
  • engagement
  • relationships
  • meaning 
  • accomplishments

Once you've drawn your own identity map, why not check each aspect against these categories: to what extent does each role allow you to feel each of these? Which categories of wellbeing are underrepresented in your main roles? How might you be able to re-balance your roles so that you get more of these?



There are oodles of resources on the internet for mindfulness. Our own experience has been that once you find one that suits you, stick with it. For example, some people respond well to apps that help you structure regular time for mindfulness - here's a good place to start. Others prefer to watch a video or listen to audio scripts - you can find a huge number on Youtube, or can download various meditations from iTunes. If you are interested in digging deeper into the theory behind mindfulness, I'd recommend Jon Kabat-Zin's Full Catastrophe Living or anything by Mark Williams.

Something else we've discovered recently is a website called Mindful which has some really interesting articles about mindfulness, as well as emailing you a weekly digest of mindful ideas.


Nightmare - Reality - Ideal

A lot of the work on internal working models comes from attachment theory, which is well worth investigating (Why Love Matters is an excellent place to start). But for our purposes this goes too much into the history and not enough into the present day working models we carry with us. A better way to engage with our current internal working models might be to reflect on how the activity felt when you were filling the columns:

If you found it easier to fill in the nightmare scenario than the others, this might indicate that your negative internal working model is a bit too powerful, and may be taking up too much of your mental and emotional energy.

If you found it very difficult to fill in the present-tense column this could indicate that your internal working models are not sufficiently connected with the evidence of the world around you. We'll all be familiar with the experience of only being able to remember the negative part of feedback rather than the positives, and this kind of cognitive distortion stops us from making a rational assessment of our situation (how we're perceived, how well we're doing), which in turn stops us from feeling good about ourselves.

If you found it very difficult to fill in the 'ideal teacher' column, this might indicate that you feel you have little ownership over your professional life, and little hope of being able to change. Or it may be that you have difficulty expressing anything positive about yourself. In either case, perhaps that indicates that a change is needed?


Reflecting on relationships with children


Class List

In case you missed any of the reflective questions we asked, here are some which we have found useful:

  • Questions reflecting on children: 

    • Which child stands out to you? Which do you not really notice?
    • Which child were you most like? Who would have been your friend in school?
    • Which child do you worry most about?
    • Which child needs you most?
    • Which child(ren) would you be happy to transfer to a different class?
  • Questions reflecting on the process:
    • Which child popped into your mind first? Did this surprise you?
    • Did the children emerge in any groupings? Are these 'official' groups (e.g. ability groups) or unofficial groups (e.g. friendships, children I like more)
    • How did it feel to write out your class list and reflect on the process? 


Hot Cross Buns

The hot cross bun model (actual name: 5 aspects) was created by a chap called Padesky. You can find his original article here, and have some useful resources for self-help. You can also find an article we wrote about how to use it here.


Life through the eyes of...

Here is a version of the visualisation we did today. Feel free to use this and share it with anyone you think may benefit from trying it out. We do ask, though, that you do not publish this (online or elsewhere) without our permission.


Reflecting on other relationships



There are lots of geneogram resources online, though these tend to focus more on constructing family trees than on understanding other relationships. They are also very concerned with getting the symbols right than they are on enhancing your understanding of yourself. That said, the Wikipedia entry on geneograms has some useful symbols and suggestions, and this video is excellent if you like Star Wars. If you're interested in the therapeutic power of geneograms, this article starts to scratch the surface of their use.


Me through the eyes of...

Although we rushed quite quickly through this exercise, it can be a really profound way to understand yourself. We often make mistakes by presuming the worse about how others perceive us, or hoping for the best despite evidence to the contrary. You can find a more in-depth visualisation here which helps you to get in touch with the presumptions you unconsciously make about how others see you. 


School rules and culture

When we introduce ourselves in a new school we often do a sorting exercise where we ask groups of teachers to rank 9 statements about teaching into a diamond 9 (where the top statement is one you agree with strongly and the bottom is one you disagree with strongly). You can use this bank of statements to create your own sorting exercise - it's interesting to do by yourself, but it's even more intriguing to try to agree a ranking with others.

We've also included another activity we didn't have time to touch on today - this one invites you to locate your beliefs along a series of spectrums (e.g. between child-led and adult-led). As with all of our other resources, you are welcome to use these for yourself and within your school, but we ask that you do not publish or share them online without our permission.


Thank you for watching our livestream and looking through these resources. We're always happy to hear any feedback or thoughts you have, and to hear from you if you are interested in getting Teaching with Heart into your school. You can contact us here or on Facebook.

Counselling for Teachers Pt.5 - Unconditional Positive Regard

Following on from our article two weeks ago about the locus of evaluation, we thought we'd delve a little deeper into the work of Carl Rogers, who is regarded by many as the godfather of modern counselling, and whose ideas are particularly applicable to education.

Rogers called his style of counselling person-centred because he believed that the counsellor's role is not to interpret, diagnose or advise their client, but to respect each individual's right and ability to find their own answers to their own questions. 

The phrase 'person-centred' has since been adopted by various professionals (e.g. child-centred education, patient-centred care, client-centred social work) who try to replicate Rogers' attitude of respect for the individual. They do this through three 'core conditions' which together constitute the person-centred approach:

  • unconditional positive regard
  • empathic understanding
  • congruence 

In subsequent articles we'll look at empathy and congruence, but today we'll be focusing on unconditional positive regard.

Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR)

The person centred approach is fundamentally positive and optimistic. It holds that people are essentially good, self-regulating and social, if allowed to feel and express their feelings freely.

Thwarted potential

Unfortunately, most of us are not in that ideal, free situation. We are taught early on in life to adjust ourselves to the rules of those closest to us, learning that unless we behave in certain ways we won't be loved or valued or cared for. For the most part these lessons are not harmful: we learn to ignore the impulse to throw our dinner on the floor because we don't want to lose the warm smiles from our parents, and overall this is no great loss. However, many of us learn that certain fundamental aspects of ourselves are not welcome, and that we won't be as loved/valued/cared for if we express them. For example, parts of ourselves that may be rejected include:

  • basic emotional needs ("I remember falling over as a child and crying because I had this really big cut on my knee. I just wanted her to pick me up and tell me it'd be alright. There was blood all over me, but my mum just said 'get up and stop whinging'. I remember that like it was yesterday. I still won't cry now.")
  • the way that we express emotions ("I was never allowed to get angry at home; if I did I got sent to my room, and I could only come out when I'd calmed down. I learnt that anger is bad and that you were bad if you felt it.") 
  • our beliefs ("I remember Mum taking me aside and telling me "Whatever you do, don't tell your Dad you've joined the Young Conservatives; he'd never have you back in the house".")
  • aspects of our identity ("As soon as I told my brother I was gay, I could see the way he looked at me change. He acted like he was cool with it, but you could see in his eyes that he was, well, I think he was scared. I never mentioned it again and neither did he.")

In all of these cases, the person has to keep a fundamental aspect of themselves hidden. And it is the tension between this hidden self and the self they show to the world, Rogers says, that causes anxiety and distress. Being unable to express important aspects of ourselves, we can become blocked and frustrated, unable to grow freely and positively. 

How to undo the damage

If the damage is done by having our identity judged and rejected, Rogers thought, then healing can only come about through being treated without any judgement. This is what he meant by unconditional positive regard: by refraining from any judgement (and this goes just as much for positive as for negative judgements - he would neither praise, celebrate nor criticise his clients) we make space for the true, hidden self to emerge and grow.

How does this help?

UPR has a number of effects on the person receiving it:

  • It helps them to feel safe to explore hidden or scary aspects of themselves, knowing that (unlike in normal life) they can take risks here and not be criticised for them.
  • It stops them from seeking answers outside of themselves, demonstrating that their counsellor has faith in their own ability to find the resources needed to solve their problems. (In other words, it helps the individual to internalise their locus of evaluation).
  • It makes them feel prized, important, and heard. Very rarely in our life are we truly centre stage (or if we are, we often find ourselves putting on an act), but by communicating UPR, the counsellor helps the client to feel that, for the duration of their session, their experience is all that matters. 
  • It slows things down. As the person isn't worried about someone jumping in and contradicting them, they can be more reflective and access parts of their experience that normally get ignored or buried away. This gives time and space for new parts of themselves to emerge and have a voice.

How can we apply this to teaching?

You may be thinking that this all sounds well and good, but hopelessly idealistic and impossible in a busy school. And you'd be right. There's no way that we can offer individual UPR to a class of 30 children with all their different beliefs, experiences and desires; at least, not if we want to get anything done! But the attitude of UPR is of great importance in two areas: healing ourselves and healing others.

Healing ourselves

As teachers, we live in a very judgemental world. As we saw in the article on locus of evaluation, there are lots of voices in school life who are ready to offer us respect and regard only if we fulfil certain conditions. These conditional voices often leave us scared to expose important parts of our experience (confusion, worry, self-doubt, anger), and feeling frustrated and constrained that we can't properly be ourselves. Without the safety and security of knowing that we are loved and valued even if we're wrong, we will not be able to learn, to take risks, or to make good decisions.

Indeed, we know that children do not learn or grow if they do not feel safe, so how can we expect to flourish if we operate within these conditions? Rogers would suggest that we can not, and that if we are to flourish we need to receive unconditional positive regard.

So ask yourself: where do I go for unconditional love? Who in my life provides it? How ready am I to accept it from others?

And as we're a community, ask yourself: whom do I provide UPR for? Whom can I offer it to? Can I offer it to myself? 

(If you're wondering how to offer UPR to someone else, it's simple: just be with that person without judging or trying to change or advise them. It's not easy, but it's incredibly powerful. You can find some more tips about that in our first article in the Counselling for Teachers.)

Healing Others

For many children, early experiences will have taught them that they are loved only insofar as they succeed, or are quiet, or are replicas of their parents. Our assessment-focused school system can reinforce this message, telling them that they are good only insofar as they perform well, and that their perspective doesn't count for anything.

Consider a not-too-uncommon case:

Tim had an argument with his best friend yesterday. He woke up worrying about this and wanted to tell someone, but his mum seems much more interested in his baby sister now she's come along, and last time he told his dad about his friends his dad had got angry and told him he needed to stand on his own two feet. He knows he should be dealing with his problems differently, and is ashamed he's not more grown up, but he doesn't know how to do this, so he keeps quiet.

When he gets to school he approaches his teacher to ask her what to do, but she gives him a look that says "I'm busy and this is not the time". So he goes to his table and starts his early morning work, but he's struggling with the spellings and getting anxious about it (he remembers how the rest of the table got gold stars last time and he didn’t because he put the apostrophe in the wrong place).

Tim's anxiety isn't helped by the fact that his best friend - Mohammed - is sat on another table and is laughing with some other boys. Tim gets up to go to talk to him but as soon as he does he hears his teacher's voice cut across the classroom reminding him about the rules. He sits back down, flushed and ashamed - it's another mistake, he thinks, I can't get anything right. I may as well just give up. He can feel tears prick his eyes and he looks over to the teaching assistant - she's been nice to him before - but he can't tell her anything. He worries she won't understand either, and he can't bear to make another mistake. He couldn't deal with the rejection, so he looks back at his spellings, trying to get through without breaking down. 

What does Tim need in this situation? Confused and full of embarrassment, Tim feels worthless and alone. He can't process his emotions and fears rejection if he tries. The only thing that can cut through his self-doubt is someone who can demonstrate to him that he is loved, regardless of what's going on inside him. Someone who can prove to him that he's not a hopeless case.

UPR is a way to break through shame and fear, but it is not easy to establish, and it’s hardest to establish for those who need it most: those who do not trust the world. As teachers we can use UPR to show children that we value them for who they are, warts and all, not just for their achievements or attributes. We can show them that even if they think or do bad things, that doesn’t mean that they are bad people.

And how? To show UPR to a child all we need to do is interact with them without trying to change, advise, or judge them. It is not possible to offer it all of the time, for obvious reasons, but in moments of contact, when a child is particularly distressed or alone, it can make them feel safe to know that you are not going to reject them, no matter what. So ask yourself: how often do the children I teach have the opportunity to show me who they really are, without my having an agenda for them? Who really needs to be heard? Can I make time and space for this?

We can also demonstrate UPR on a broader level in our attitude towards our class: how much do our class know that they matter? When are they valued just for themselves, not for what they do? How does the feedback I give them leave them feeling valued or not?

But a note of caution: UPR does not mean accepting everything the child does. Indeed the mantra"love the child, hate the behaviour" comes from person centred approaches to childcare: UPR tells the child they will be loved no matter what, but it doesn't tell them that there are no consequences. 

A word on love

To finish this introduction to UPR, I thought it might be worth discussing the elephant in the room: love. Rogers called it UPR, but essentially it is love. Like love, you cannot demonstrate UPR for someone unless you really - really - feel it. Like love, UPR is a moment of human-to-human contact that takes place outside of hierarchies. Like love UPR is not a tool or technique you use to manage, but a lived feeling which communicates something profound and transformative.

It may feel uncomfortable to think about love in the context of education - we're becoming an increasingly technicalised profession, encouraged to see teaching as a series of skills and techniques. And mention of love puts us immediately in mind of appropriateness of relationships and safeguarding. So how do you feel about it? Is there a need for love in our schools? Is there space for love? Should there be?

Counselling for Teachers Pt.4 - Where do you feel?

Surely you mean "How do you feel?"

Nope, where.

What are emotions? We often think about emotions as things that exist in our minds. But we also talk about heartache, gut feelings and blood boiling. From this perspective, emotions are just stuff going on in our bodies. They are our body's way of telling us something important about our situation: anger tells us that the situation is unfair, fear that it is dangerous, and joy that it is wonderful. Desire tells us that something is worth having, shame that someone might judge us and find us wanting, and sadness that the world is a worse place than we had hoped.

How do they do this? In another article we'll be looking at some of the physiology of emotion, which involve hormones, muscles, blood flow and a whole bunch of systems interacting. But for today we wanted to look at how this physiology is experienced.

Take a moment to imagine yourself feeling very fearful. Think back to the last horror movie or thriller you saw, for example, and put yourself in the scariest moment. Where do you feel that fear? Tune into your body and see if you can identify the part(s) of your body that are telling you about this fear, and the quality of feeling.

I know for me that fear is a tightening of the stomach and a kind of fuzzy humming feeling which, if the fear gets ramped up into, say, terror, becomes a unnervingly cold sensation, which I feel expand into my spine.

Try the same for anxiety. Think back to a moment where you felt anxious. Where did you feel it? For many people anxiety is carried around the shoulders, neck and chest, but everyone is different. Where don't you feel it? Are there any parts of your body which 'disappear' when you feel anxious?

The similarities between people's experiences of emotions can be seen very clearly in this article by Nummenmaa et al (2013). The authors surveyed a number of people, asking them to map where and how intensely they felt various emotions. The picture below summarises their findings:

You can see from the scale on the right that this includes both reports of sensation and lack of sensation: in sadness, for example, there was some activation in the thorax and behind the eyes, but more noticeable is the deactivation of sensation in the limbs - a pattern you can see even more clearly in depression, which is characterised by a lack of affect everywhere except the chest and belly.

so what?

Aside from finding it fascinating to check my own bodily emotional responses against those of the average person, I think it can be really useful to get a better sense of how and where we feel. Often strong emotions can feel unmanageable - like forces which overtake us and over which we have little control. Understanding them better gives us a better chance to respond to them thoughtfully and rationally.

It also gives us a chance to address the physical sensations instead of getting tied up in emotional reasoning, which is not always useful. For example, my anxiety manifests as shallowness of breath, tightness around the shoulders, and a feeling of vulnerability in the stomach. If I try to reason with my anxiety, arguing with myself that I'm stupid to be feeling it, I'll generally get worse. But if, recognising the early feelings of anxiety, I choose to consciously slow and deepen my breathing, and loosen my shoulders by slowly raising and lowering them, I can arrest the anxiety there and then. With the emotion under control (rather than me being under its control) I can then decide whether I want to listen to what the anxiety is telling me, or decide to discount it and move on. 

This is not an easy thing to do. Throughout our early life we're encouraged to either act on emotions or hide them. We spend a lifetime doing this, so finding a middle way - listening to emotions but not being beholden to them - does not come naturally. As counsellors we will often invite clients to describe where in their body they feel a particular emotion, as a way of befriending and getting to know an emotion they may previously have been taught to ignore or disown. And this needn't only take place with a counsellor - just taking a moment to locate an emotion when you're feeling it can give you a little bit more control, and help to make better decisions about how you respond to it.

Everyone's experience of bodily emotion is different, and so the steps we can take to arrest control from unwanted emotions will differ, but they all begin with self-awareness, and a great place to start with this is the body. 

And the children

One final point: we've focused today on self-understanding, but this kind of bodily awareness is absolutely vital for children. The emphasis of PHSCE (or whatever the acronym has been changed to this week) has often been on naming emotions, which is really important, but being aware of their bodily manifestations is vital too. How might we support the children we teach - especially those who are less verbal - to feel more deeply with greater awareness, and so take back control? (Full personal disclosure: I hated, as a child, being asked to name emotions, and as a result was pretty delayed in my own emotional development, choosing to hide them rather than try and fail to name them. If I'd been given a more practical bodily model of emotion I would have been a lot better at understanding and managing difficult emotions today).

The very well-meaning emphasis of PHSCE has also been on expressing emotions, which is clearly vital. But I wonder how wise it is to suggest to children that emotions are always to be accepted and expressed, rather than responded to more carefully. Let me give you an example:

I remember a very emotionally literate child in a class I taught. She was empathetic to others' needs, understood her own emotions and had a remarkably mature emotional vocabulary for her age. Her parents encouraged her to express herself when she felt an emotion, and accepted whatever emotions arose. On a number of occasions, when it came around to maths, she would approach me and say "It's making me feel really sad that I have to do this". She was shocked when I didn't accept and validate this emotion, or even engage with it at that point, letting her know instead that this was a lesson and she needed to remain in her seat, and that we would talk about her emotions at a more appropriate time. 

I'm not suggesting that we encourage children to suppress or ignore emotions: it's great that they can name and express their emotions. But it would be even better if, after feeling the emotion they had the ability to notice it and decide do I want/need to act on this emotion, or can I just let it be? Part of emotional maturity is not just naming and reacting to emotions, but being able to respond to emotions. Learning to locate the sensation of any particular emotion is an early step in this journey, and one which is useful for all of us.

For previous instalments in the Counselling for Teachers series:

Part 3: Locus of Evaluation

Part 2: Hot Cross Buns

Part 1: Basic Skills

Counselling for Teachers, Pt.3 - Locus of Evaluation

So far we’ve tried to keep our Counselling for Teachers series as jargon-free as possible. We're trying to make these posts a practical guide that teachers will actually use, and we don't want to scare anyone off with technical terms. However, today we’re introducing a piece of jargon you’ve probably not come across before, which we think is useful in understanding ourselves and others: locus of evaluation.

Put simply, your locus of evaluation is where you go for judgements about good and bad, right and wrong. It comes in two flavours: internal and external. If you’ve got an internal locus of evaluation, you judge the world and yourself based on something inside you; gut instinct, emotional response, or personal beliefs. For example, this teacher has an internal locus of evaluation:

“At the end of the lesson I sat down for a few moments. I knew I had to get ready for maths after break, and there were still the literacy books to collect in, but I wanted a moment out to enjoy how well the lesson had gone - I had butterflies! I know it wouldn’t be an ‘outstanding’ lesson if a stranger with a clipboard walked in, but anyone who knew what this class is normally like, and how big a step it was for them to complete that piece of work independently, well, they’d be pleased too. That is, if they knew how important it is for children to make their own discoveries instead of having things handed to them on a plate. Just the look on Mateusz’s face when he got it done! The pride I felt then!

You can see how this teacher judges their lesson based on how they feel about it, what they have perceived, and what they believe to be valuable. They are aware of other ways of evaluating (the stranger walking in with a clipboard) but are untroubled by this, weighing their own responses as more important.

If, on the other hand, your locus of evaluation is external, you need someone or something outside of you to tell you what’s what. For example, when asked whether their lesson had gone well, this trainee teacher responded:

“I’m not sure, really. They seemed to enjoy it so that’s a bonus, but I don’t know if that’s really relevant - I know it's more about learning objectives than enjoyment. I’d have to wait until I’ve levelled their writing before I could tell you, and that’d need to be moderated because I’ve not done much of that yet. I mean, if I were to grade it I’d say that it was Good with some Requires Improvements, I think. But I know my tutor wouldn’t agree – she’d say it needed less teacher talk but she says I'm better than I think I am. You’re better off asking my TA; she can see a lot more of what goes on than I can.”

Where the first teacher judged themselves by their own standards, the second was unable or unwilling to do this. They didn't trust their own perception, instead deferring to the authority of others.

So which is best - internal or external?

Carl Rogers, godfather of modern counselling (who popularised the phrases internal and external locus of evaluation) was pretty definite on this: life is better if you can find your values inside rather than outside of yourself. In fact, he thought that all human unhappiness was caused by our fighting against or disowning our own perceptions and judging ourselves by the standards of others.

Of course, nothing is this simple. We none of us have exclusively internal or external locuses of evaluation. For example, as a teacher I was very comfortable to be my own judge when it came to establishing relationships with students, but I needed a lot of reassurance and feedback when it came to my management of colleagues. 

And anyway, it's not clear to me that an internal locus is always best. While the trainee teacher is probably being too hard on themselves by not trusting their own judgement at all, it would be calamitous if they completely ignored other, more experienced colleagues. 

In fact, that goes for all teachers: we need to be open to the judgements and expectations of others - not run by them, but open to hearing and considering them. While we might admire the first teacher’s confidence in their internal locus of evaluation, we may also worry that they’re so sure of themselves that they will not be open to change or input from others.

How does the locus of evaluation help us to understand ourselves, then?

In our experience, a purely internal locus of evaluation is not practical in school: the life of a teacher is necessarily a mixture of internal and external locuses of evaluation (between things we judge for ourselves, and times when we are being judged by others). What does seem to be true is that we need a good balance of internal and external judgements. We all need to be able to listen to ourselves and others. But this is not as easy as it seems. We've put together some reflective questions to ask yourself, so that you can identify where your locus of evaluation typically lies, and how you feel about this:

  • Which parts of my role am I most confident to say "I know how well I do this" about? Why?
  • Which parts of my role do I need feedback to understand? Why can’t I do without? Am I alright with this?
  • Who gets to decide, in my school, what counts as ‘good’, ‘acceptable’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’? How do I feel about this?
  • When do I feel most judged? What do I do about this?
  • How welcome are my beliefs and emotions within the school? When do I get to express them? Which aren’t I allowed to express?
  • How do I deal with praise? How about criticism? How do I feel judging others, either positively or negatively?
  • What happens when two judges conflict (e.g. ‘school vs family’, ‘personal beliefs vs school’s beliefs’)? Who wins out? How do I feel about this?
  • How often am I really myself in school? How often do I want to be? What needs to change for this to happen?

Being able to notice when you’re operating from an internal or external locus of evaluation gives you a better sense of why you're acting the way you are. It also puts you in a better position to be able to make any changes that need to be made. If, for example, you feel unable to 'be yourself' in school, finding moments when you can be the judge can give you a greater sense of ownership and authenticity. 

If, on the other hand, you feel that you have too much responsibility and ownership, leaving you isolated without guidance or reassurance, then asking for feedback or inviting contributions from others can provide a greater sense of community and belonging.

What about the children?

Locuses of evaluation can be a useful way to think about children too. In Rogers’ view, babies are born with an internal locus of evaluation: they know nothing of anyone else’s judgements, and just listen to what their bodies are saying, communicating this through smiling or crying. As they grow up they learn adults’ rules and come to internalise the idea that someone external gets to tell them what’s what.

By the time they get to school, children are already caught between listening to their own feelings and the values of others. In some ways this is not so different from a teacher’s experience in school: like teachers, children are working within a hierarchy that judges them, but, like teachers, they also have their own feelings and beliefs. They have to negotiate a path between the school’s values and their own. Understanding this can help us to understand children’s behaviours: there will be those who are used to deferring to parental judges and so baffled when you ask them to assess their own work, and others who are used to being deferred to, and so unable to take external feedback seriously.

A child's locus of evaluation can also indicate underlying confidence and self-belief, as children with low self-esteem will more often defer to the opinions of their peers or elders, while confident children will quietly assert their right to their own judgements.

It may also be worth considering how your school and classroom encourages children to develop an internal or external locus of evaluation. The recent emphasis on 'growth mindsets' fits in very neatly with an internal locus of evaluation, while the culture of testing and accountability is more conducive to an external locus of evaluation. Which do you think is more important for children to develop? How can you help this to happen?

Some other questions for reflection might be:

  • Which of your students is able to express a judgement without checking in with others first?
  • Which will never put their hand up to volunteer an answer?
  • How much of their typical day do students get to judge themselves rather than being judged? How do I support them to do this?
  • How responsive are they to praise? Who is unable to accept praise? Who is unwilling to work without it? Why is this?
  • Which child was I like when I was their age? How much has my locus of evaluation changed since then?

For previous parts in the Counselling for Teachers series:

Part 2: Hot Cross Buns

Part 1: Basic Skills

Counselling for Teachers, Pt.2 - Hot Cross Buns

Just in time for Easter, our series on counselling skills for teachers looks at how Hot Cross Buns can help you to understand yourself and others.

Unfortunately, we don't mean the baked variety. In our experience these do not develop understanding. Rather, we're thinking of a tool counsellors often use - especially those trained in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) - to help clients to grasp and change problematic patterns in their life. This 'Hot Cross Bun' comes from a paper written by Padesky and Mooney back in 1990 (they called it a 'cross-sectional CBT formulation', which isn't quite as snappy. You can find the original short paper here, if you're into that kind of thing). In principle it's very simple, but in practice it can be a really powerful way of understanding ourselves or others. So, how does it work?

How to Hot Cross Bun

The Hot Cross Bun typically looks a bit like this:



Essentially, it's a map of a difficult situation, broken down into different categories: thoughts/beliefs, emotions, behaviour and bodily sensations. By filling it in you find out more about your responses to the situation, and the way that these interlink. You might also find the way to stop some of your responses and deal with the situation differently. It's most useful as a tool when looking at situations that come up regularly, and that you want to change. Organising your responses into these categories can help you to think more systematically and clearly about them. It can also identify areas you typically don't think about - for example, you may be great at naming the emotions that you experience, but typically don't engage with the bodily manifestations of these.

Perhaps the best way to explain it is to give an example. I've drawn one up quickly for myself, thinking back to a recent experience as a supply teacher in a challenging Year 4 class in Birmingham.

(I rarely have the correct paperwork to hand, so have done this one on blank paper).

(I rarely have the correct paperwork to hand, so have done this one on blank paper).

In this (real but fictionalised) example, I've drawn up a hot cross bun to summarise the experience I went through when one student in the class openly ignored my instructions and drew as much attention to this fact as he could. Have a look through the details I've filled in and see if they tell much of a story, before reading my description.

the hot cross bun story

It was the kind of defiance I prided myself on being able to deal with when I was teaching full time, but in this school, as a part-time supply teacher in a bottom-set maths group, I was floundering. I found myself overreacting to the provocation and acting out of this feeling (anger and fear) rather than making a rational assessment of the situation and implementing a strategic plan of action. I was reacting bodily too - I was caught in the raised heart beat and short breath of worry turning into panic, which made my behaviour more automatic (pacing, fidgeting with papers to keep myself busy, talking in an unnaturally loud voice to other students) and also left me less able to stop unhelpful thoughts. I wasn't really aware of these thoughts at the time, but on reflection, I was aware of a chain of catastrophising thoughts that went:

"It's only my first day here and already things are getting out of hand" => "They won't ask me back here again" => "They'll tell the agency I'm no good" => "I'll not get any more teaching work" => "I'll have to give up supply teaching, which means I won't be able to do the counselling I want to, which means I've failed at that too..." and so on.

These thoughts, of course, then influenced the emotions I was feeling, my distraction behaviours, and caused the bodily manifestations of stress to mount, which in turn left me dwelling on my inability to manage the situation and myself. After my initial overreaction I swung back the other way, criticising myself for adding fuel to the fire, and finding myself unable to act purposefully, instead fiddling and pacing. And the fiddling and pacing kept my heart rate up, and only served to remind me that I was failing. And on it goes.

We'll leave the story there. (If you were wondering, the real outcome was much less catastrophic than the 3 minutes or so that are represented here make out: I was able to regather myself, I followed the school's behaviour policy and even though the lesson wasn't a great one, we all got through it and I was asked back on the regular.) 

What's the Point?

But the real outcome isn't so important where hot cross buns are concerned: what's important is dwelling with the experience as it happened, and learning from it. What I learnt from this hot cross bun is how fragile my self-concept as a teacher is, and how this can undermine my ability to handle difficult situations. I learnt that my actions and feelings were being determined not by what was actually occurring but by what I feared might occur. I also learnt that my coping strategies for dealing with heightened emotion are not the best - overreacting and then underreacting is not a recipe for success. The main learning for me, though, is how inextricably connected the different parts of my experience are: each thought has impacts on emotions, sensations and behaviour, and each of these in turn on each of the others.

So How can this be used in teaching?

As a teacher, I think this method can be extremely powerful for understanding our own reactions to difficult situations. It can work very well done alone, but it might also be something you choose to bring to mentoring / performance management meetings. It works best if you choose a relatively short period of time (less than five minutes, ideally less than 1) and really focus down on the centre of the problem. This can often be the moment before the flashpoint in a situation - the moment when you can still make a change.

But it can also be helpful for children and families to understand themselves - you might not get the sheet out and fill it in with a child, but it could structure the kind of questions you might ask. For example, if Tom, a Year 6 student, has been walking out of lessons whenever the PPA cover teacher is in your class but can't tell you why, asking questions that help Tom to identify what thoughts, emotions or sensations are present at the moment he gets up to walk out, you can help uncover more about the situation, and work towards solving it. You might draw his attention to where in his body he feels whatever emotions he's feeling, and how he might deal with this. Or you might help him to talk back to some of the thoughts or beliefs that are activated by the situation. Obviously this kind of approach is not a replacement for behaviour management, but it can enable the kind of clear communication that stops problems form repeating themselves.

Then What?

The next step, of course, is trying to change the pattern. There's no easy way to do this, and there's not space to deal with that here today. Sometimes just knowing what's going on is enough. Sometimes there'll be something in the hot cross bun that is easy to address (like, for example, shortness of breath with breathing exercises) or so obviously false that it loses it's power (such as catastrophic thoughts). Other times the problem is more intractable, but at least you have the information to set about finding a solution.

What's missing?

When I did my teacher training (GTP) nearly ten years ago now, I was surprised at how little we learnt about learning, or about children. Sure, we were thoroughly primed on devising sequences of lessons, on managing behaviour, and on providing effective and efficient feedback - I went off to my NQT year very well prepared to do teaching. But we never went beneath the surface of the techniques we were taught to understand why we were doing what we were doing, or why it worked for some children but not for others. And we certainly weren't taught to understand, interpret or manage our own responses and reactions.

Even though teachers who took the PGCE or BEd route felt the exact opposite (that they had too little practical input and too much theory) they still felt unskilled in understanding for themselves how children develop and experience the world, or in understanding their own responses to children and colleagues.

Training for my MA in Counselling Psychology gave many of the insights I'd been lacking when I was teaching full time. Insights into how and why we feel what we do, into why children think and feel the way they do, and into how children and adults interact.

When I went back into the classroom this helped me to understand both the children I taught and, just as importantly, myself. Since then, Rachel and I have set up Teaching with Heart so that we can help staff to experience something similar, mainly through private one-to-one sessions which focus on the individual's particular situation.

But as our work has progressed, we've noticed that certain common threads are emerging, which is why we are now offering inset training which addresses some of the gaps we've noticed in teacher training - gaps which we believe all staff could benefit from filling.

These are specifically focused around understanding children (from a developmental and psychologically-informed perspective), understanding ourselves (in psychological and physiological terms), and understanding the ways that relationships develop, grow and deteriorate.

At the moment we are offering three half-day insets:

Childhood Attachment

Understanding the child's emotional world, and how this impacts on learning

Childhood Mental Health

Using current psychological theory to understand and support the children we teach

Staff Wellbeing

Looking after ourselves so that we can look after others


We're very excited to be offering these new training sessions, which can be tailored to each school's needs. We are also developing further training looking at basic counselling skills for teachers to use (and for teachers to teach children to use).

Click on the links above to find out more, or get in touch with us if you want to know more.