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

 

Roles

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?

 

Mindfulness

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 get.gg 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

 

Geneogram

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:

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646.figures-only

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646.figures-only

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:

From: http://psychologytools.com/cross-sectional-formulation.html

From: http://psychologytools.com/cross-sectional-formulation.html

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.

Accountability - time to pull the flush?

"Telling teachers how to teach is as ridiculous as dictating to adults about how to use the lavatory"

Well that's patently untrue. Teachers are not born teachers, innately able to do the job perfectly and consistently. And neither is 'teaching' a skill that you learn once and then apply throughout the rest of your life. Unlike lavatory use.

But the question the anonymous author raises in this article is a valid one: what impact does accountability actually have on teaching? They argue that just as signs that "remind people, in a passive aggressive way, to wipe their bum and flush" don't really have an impact on toilet behaviour, neither does accountability (book scrutiny, observation, moderation) have an impact on teaching and learning.

"Is being caught out a deterrent to that "naughty" teacher who wants to put his own kids to bed once a week, or collect her daughter from the child-minder herself every Friday as a special treat? Of course not. Teachers are adults and professionals. They should be allowed to sort themselves out."

Is this true? Well, no, on two counts:

  1. Fear does act as a deterrent: this is precisely why it's an effective and devastatingly counter-productive tool
  2. Teachers should not just 'be allowed to sort themselves out'. Anyone who's worked in any school will have seen teachers who, if left to their own devices, would have a negative impact on the children in their care. It's foolish and unhelpful to suggest that schools should operate on the basis of trust alone.

But I don't want to sound like an apologist for bad management. Even though the author's argument is unfounded, the opposite view - that the way schools hold teachers accountable is not intrusive enough and that only by further micro-monitoring will standards improve - is equally unfounded.

In fact, what both of these extreme positions show us is how accountability is experienced in some schools. Notice how stuck the author is within a black-and-white, them-or-us understanding of accountability: either management do it to you as a condescending adult treats a misbehaving child, or we professionals do it for ourselves, as noble and independent adults with no outside influence or scrutiny.

Both positions are obviously absurd and counterproductive: if it's to work in children's interests, accountability has to be a two-way process based on trust and mutual respect. Trust and mutual respect are often in short supply, though: it is all-too-easy, when faced with stressed, authoritarian managers, for teachers to become the 'naughty teacher' - powerless and resentful. It is also all-too-easy (and I speak here from personal experience) for managers to treat teachers like they are naughty children. In schools across the country there is a 'them-and-us' atmosphere which is becoming ever more deeply entrenched. The vicious cycle goes something like this:

Pressure from above (OfSTED, league tables, etc) leads managers to make greater demands on staff, who interpret the demand as a criticism of their professionalism and ability to do their job. Feeling powerless to resist or reject the demand, and being unable to express the feelings it raises, teachers use the only power they feel they have left (to comply sullenly and slowly, taking less responsibility for and ownership of the job they feel they're not trusted to do). The managers interpret this as a part of the machinery of school not working, and, feeling a worrying distance from what's going on in the classroom, respond with the only tool they feel they have: more micro-management and scrutiny. This makes teachers feel more resentful and ignored, so they comply only so far as is strictly necessary, going through the motions, and so on...

Once it kicks in, this cycle of mutual distrust leads to ever greater levels of top-down scrutiny and bottom-up resentment, as managers become ever more anxious and active, while teachers become ever more withdrawn and passive.

All of which obscures the obvious truth here: change should come from within, as well as without.

Now, it's true that we're far too focused, as an educational system, on imposing change from above and outside, and do not make enough space to trust that change will emerge from below and inside.

But it's also true that we're too quick, as teachers, to accept that we're powerless. It's become a habit, across the profession, to adopt a fatalistic "nothing's ever going to change, so I may as well get on with it and not complain" attitude - an attitude that hides a whole wealth of negative feeling which is then channelled underground, only to emerge when the teacher leaves the school or burns out completely.

Both sides are part of a negative system, and both act to sustain the system in its horrible downward spiral. Both sides bear responsibility, though each feels the other is solely to blame, and does not trust the other to solve the problem. 

So what do we do?

Well, a marriage counsellor would suggest that the only way to re-establish trust and responsibility in a relationship filled with suspicion and resentment is communication. Clear, open, honest communication.

What the author of this piece needs to communicate is not overblown passive-aggression but the desire - the need - to be taken seriously as an adult and a professional. And I dare say what the manager concerned needs to communicate is the desire - the need - to be taken seriously as a colleague and a person. What's required is for both sides to be able to say to the other: "I feel you don't treat me as I should be treated - with trust and respect".

As Clement Atlee once said:

"It is a fundamental fallacy to believe that it is possible by the elaboration of machinery to escape from the necessity of trusting one’s fellow human beings"

And he's right. No amount of the machinery of accountability can take away from the necessity of trust. And we're all responsible for re-establishing trust - not just the managers, not just the teachers.

Counselling for Teachers pt.1

Reading this Secret Teacher article reminded me how similar counselling and teaching can be. Some of the most important parts of a teacher's role - parts for which we're generally not very well trained - are closer to counselling than they are to teaching.

For one thing, counselling and teaching are both based, fundamentally, on the ability to form a relationship, and on understanding the emotional and intellectual world of another person (or another 30 people). Although the aims and means of counselling and teaching are different, the relationship-building process is fundamentally the same, as are the skills of empathising with someone else's perspective.

For another, teachers are required to deal with mental health issues, group dynamics, attachment styles, life-stage transitions, self-esteem, and a whole plethora of relationship problems. Again, these are part of the job, but often a part that we're not particularly well trained to engage with.

At Teaching with Heart we have been working in schools to enable some of the reflective space that counsellors routinely use in supervision. But we thought it might also be useful to share some of the counselling skills and knowledge which might enrich teachers' practice, starting today with some thoughts about active listening. 

Counselling skills - active listening

In your average counselling 101 course, the first thing you'll likely learn about is active listening. It's fundamental to establishing contact between counsellor and client. Without it there will be no relationship, poor communication, and little if any progress. 

So what is it? Well, it's something we all already do, to a greater or lesser extent. Some elements of active listening are:

  • making eye contact, and being available for eye contact when the student wants to make it;
  • letting go of prior plans / agendas, and listening for the student's agenda;
  • ignoring the desire to fill silences or suggest solutions before the student has fully expressed their understanding of their situation;
  • using body language to demonstrate positive intent:
    • nodding,
    • short non-intrusive responses - "mm-hmm", "I see", "yes" etc,
    • head slightly tilted,
    • facial expression that mirror those of the student (joining in with the joy or pain they are expressing, if this is appropriate), 
    • sitting / standing in an alert, open posture,
    • avoiding fidgeting or other distractions,
  • mirroring back to the student what they have said ("you feel sad because of what Jack said");
  • paraphrasing what the student has said in your own words ("it's the second time this has happened with Jack and you're feeling hurt and let down");
  • checking in with the student to make sure you understand ("so if I've got it right, you feel like Jack is deliberately letting you down because he feels he can. Is that right?");
  • listening with all of your body - noticing feelings and sensations which you may be picking up from the client. For example, your growing anxiety may reflect a similar anxiety in your student.

What bearing do these have on the teacher's daily life?

Well, like I said, we'll all do this to a greater or lesser extent in our daily interactions already, but it's amazing how effective it can be to actively switch on some of these behaviours. Often we are so used to 'being a teacher' that our teacher-responses come naturally, and, more often than not, these embody authority, control and decisiveness. For the majority of the school day this is right and proper - as teachers we are  in control and in charge; it would be a dereliction of our duty to do otherwise.

We can't be active listeners all day, but occasionally it can be really powerful to switch from that hierarchical, authoritative voice into a more level, open voice, which makes space for the student to communicate what needs to be communicated - on their terms, not just ours. One way of thinking about it is that the vast majority of the day students have to play by our rules, but by taking some time to switch the rules and let them communicate in their way, we make a space for something new and creative to emerge.

As a teacher I found this switch quite difficult to achieve - in the middle of a difficult lesson, dropping my guard and moving into a more sensitive relational space was just not available to me. It felt too risky to really engage with a child's idiosyncratic demands when 29 other children needed boundaries and direction.

But finding the spaces throughout the day when this could happen provided both me and my students with much-needed moments of contact. One of the first things I put in place in my student year was changing the scheduled 10 minutes after-lunch quiet reading my class were required to do (which was often fraught with post-playground aggro) into 10 minutes of quiet conversation, when students could chat with each other or with me, if they wanted. Timetabling this time helped me to justify switching from the authoritative teacher voice for a period, and taught me important lessons about the children I taught.

Other times I found I was listening actively, on the child's level and according to their agenda, were:

  • first thing, before the register (often with parents involved too),
  • play times,
  • PPA (this was really powerful - just spending 10 minutes chatting with a child I'd been struggling with was often enough to change the relationship); and during those tasks which don't require a full mind of attention (practical tasks, some creative activities, tidying up). 

It's not easy to find these times. One of the reasons I left full-time teaching was that there weren't enough of these moments of relational contact in my day. But as Dewey wrote, way back in the 1930s:

“every pupil must have a chance to show what he truly is, so that the teacher can find out what he needs to make him a complete human being”

Making students 'complete human beings' may sound like a woolly aspiration, but there's a hard side to it too: improving the relationship is the best way to improve attainment. Those moments when a child just doesn't get it, are moments of relational/communication breakdown. Often we can overcome these by reteaching or reexplaining, but without the other side - without being able to hear from the child what's going on for them - we'll be missing a key part of the picture. 

Alongside addressing misconceptions, active listening is a great starting place to deal with more difficult processes, like relationship issues or unmanageable emotions. And further, it embodies an attitude towards the child that says "I value you for what you are, on your own terms, not just on mine".

In our next post in this series we'll begin to look at some of these more difficult processes, and at the shared values that underpin counselling and teaching.

Mental health in schools - symptoms and causes

When faced with any illness - with any problem, come to think of it - you can choose to address the causes or the symptoms.

Growing up with a doctor for a mum, I knew this only too well. As a sickly child, I'd often sidle up to her and say, in a brave, tremulous voice that I wasn't feeling very well. More often than not, her response was no-nonsense: she'd ask if I'd had a poo, and then give me a paracetamol crushed up in a spoon of honey. Often I found this infuriating, as I wanted her to get me x-rays, investigations and operations - to wonder why I felt unwell and try to solve the problem.

Of course, my mum was right. More often than not, dealing with symptoms is more effective than worrying about the underlying problem. But when the problem persists, just sticking with the symptoms is foolish, and it's important to know when to switch from controlling symptoms to dealing with underlying causes.

Psychotherapist Nick Totton tells the (apocryphal) story of two Buddhist monks walking along a river, who see first one, then more people floating downstream, flailing their arms and shouting for help. Both wade in and try to rescue the drowning people, but as the numbers mount up, one gets out of the river and runs upstream. The monk in the river shouts to his friend "Where are you going? These people need help!" To which the monk now running up the riverbank replies "I'm going to find who's throwing them in". (You can find his better telling of this story here, from page 4 onwards).

More than a third of female students have 'mental health problems' (BBC)

More than a third of female students have 'mental health problems' (BBC)

The lesson is clear: at a certain point we need to switch our attention from the people who are suffering to the causes of their suffering.

Stress driving quarter of teachers to take medication (TES)

Stress driving quarter of teachers to take medication (TES)

I was reminded of this lesson when I read a couple of things this week about the epidemic of mental health problems children are experiencing, about the difficulties schools have in providing support for them, and about the increasing levels of mental illness within staff within the education sector. 

Half of schools are struggling to get mental health services for pupils (TES)

Half of schools are struggling to get mental health services for pupils (TES)

There is a crisis. Increasing numbers of people are floating downstream, unable to get out of the water, and there's less of us to help rescue them. Indeed, many of us are ending up being washed down ourselves. So maybe now is the time to find out why - to address the causes - rather than complaining about a lack of resources for symptomatic relief.

So, why is there a crisis? Well, we have a pretty good idea about what's troubling young people and teachers at the moment: social media, parental pressure, unrealistic expectations, poor management, workload, cyber-bullying, bullying, etc. etc. The list goes on, and is probably pretty accurate, but if that's the case, what are we doing about it? If we know that all of these are causes of the crisis, why aren't we addressing these rather than giving symptomatic relief through talking therapies and medication? Why are we advocating for more mental health provision (which generally only aims at symptomatic relief, especially if it's the NHS's therapy of choice - CBT) rather than advocating for curricula and working practices which do not cause the problems in the first place?

Childhood Mental Health (Philhills)

Childhood Mental Health (Philhills)

This time last year I wrote about how we need to start listening to the message that mental health problems are sending us, as well as treating them. The rise in childhood mental health issues, and the rise in teacher mental health issues, are both telling us something important about the system we're a part of.

Think of it this way: if you taught a maths lesson and most of the children left with misunderstandings about what you'd taught, you'd be stupid not to correct them - to address and cure the symptoms. But you'd be even stupider if you went on to teach the same lesson, in the same way, to subsequent classes, ignoring the message the symptoms had sent. If we continue to see mental health as nothing but a symptom, we will be just like that teacher.