NLP in Education

I realised very quickly that I needed other tools in my toolbox to be an effective and excellent teacher.

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NLP in Education

My NLP journey began back in 2002. At the time I was a newly qualified teacher and realised very quickly that I needed other tools in my toolbox to be an effective and excellent teacher.  Throughout my 20 years working in Education I worked in High schools, Educational diversity, Further and Higher Education and my most recent role before I left was a Mental Health Specialist.

The majority of my time was spent teaching young people who had experienced difficulty within mainstream Education.  Although I loved my job, at times it was exhausting and emotionally draining. There were many safeguarding issues, behavioural and emotional challenges and times where my students had no food or money.

 I am so grateful that I had the tools of NLP to support me throughout my time in Education. From being able to manage my state, build positive relationships, understand how to motivate my students and how to help them learn at their best, how to bring my best self to the classroom and model resilience, compassion, and self-belief.  I believe so much in the tools of NLP for effective teaching, that when I became an NLP trainer one of my goals was to train trainee teachers. This year I had the pleasure of collaborating with our local Teacher Training scheme sharing some of the principles of NLP to support the wellbeing and retention of teachers.

We collected some feedback and here were the main takeaways and learnings:

  • Understanding the importance of being self-aware of their own internal state and how this influences the classroom environment. I taught the Mercedes Model of NLP in relation to observing how their thoughts and feelings influence their behaviours. For example, if they have experienced a challenging lesson that left them feeling stressed or nervous then they might find themselves engaging in thoughts that are detrimental to a successful lesson next time - 'what if it goes wrong again' 'what will I do if I can't get them on task' how will I manage any difficult behaviour'.

This thinking could lead to more anxiety or stress and worry about the next lesson, triggering fear or feelings of incompetence. Your thoughts and feelings are reflected in your external physiology, so these unsupportive thoughts and feelings may lead to tension in the muscles of the face and jaw, increased breathing, sweating and many other subtle signals indicating that a person may be stressed. These signals can be picked up and sensed by others (the students), which can impact the 'energy' of the classroom and their behavioural responses to the fearful or nervous teacher. The likelihood of having another unsuccessful experience increases and the cycle continues.

This can lead to the teacher programming themselves for repeated difficult times with certain classes. Seeing as though we tend to get what we focus on, the focus becomes one of challenge and struggle in the classroom rather than one of enjoyment and pleasure in teaching.

The good news is that this cycle can be broken! Learning how to make internal representations of a positive experience - picturing the class going well where students are engaged and happy, having positive self talk about yourself and feeling confident before the lesson, can contribute to a more resourceful and calm state of being which will increase the likelihood of a successful lesson. The more you practice doing this, the more you will become unconsciously programmed to have great lessons more of the time and access your optimum teacher state.

Gandhi's famous quote of 'be the change you wish to see in the world' is a quote that I often refer to when teaching NLP. Being aware of how our state is influencing others enables us to have more choice in changing what we are doing if we are not getting the results that we want. So in a teaching context if the behaviour or learning is not as we want it to be, then changing our thinking, feeling or behaviours will invite a different response from the students.

In my opinion learning how to take an inventory of your personal state and master yourself is the biggest gift that you can give yourself and your students as a teacher. This is the main reason why I wanted to learn NLP all those years ago when I was a newly qualified teacher in 2002.

  • Communication and rapport- In a classroom of 30 students you have 30 different maps of the world and yours. Each student has their own unique way of making sense of the world. They have their own experiences and their own ways of learning. The way we all process information differs and what we filter and pay attention to is influenced by our values and beliefs, memories and attitudes, decision making and ways of thinking about things.

We view the world from our limited world view deleting, distorting and generalising information in order to make sense of our experiences. The challenge of this for a teacher is that a student is bringing all of this to the classroom often out of conscious awareness influencing their attitude to learning, how they perceive themselves, you and their peers and how they behave in the classroom.

The NLP communication models helps us to understand this in more detail so that the teacher can meet a student where they are in their map of the world, and pace and lead their teaching and learning according to how their students learn at their best. Thus, creating an inclusive environment where everyone is engaged, motivated and inspired to learn. Understanding how to use language to match someone else's map of the world can greatly enhance rapport and make them feel understood, accepted and included. You can also enhance and accelerate their learning skills  by tuning into their preferred representational systems and teaching in a way that matches how they learn.

  • Values - the teacher within. Our values and sense of purpose and beliefs drive our behaviour. There are many challenges that come with teaching and during times of stress, it can be really helpful to come back to our personal values as these are at the heart of what we do.

Asking yourself questions like

  • What is important to you about Education? What else is important to you?
  • For what purpose do you teach?
  • What does teaching give you? How does it benefit you and others?
  • Who do you want to be as a teacher?
  • How can you be an effective teacher?
  • How can you take care of yourself to preserve your energy and wellbeing?
  • What is my mission?
  • What motivates me?

In my 20 years of teaching, I experienced many challenges from a student being murdered, child protection, children in care, poverty and emotional and behavioural challenges. At times I was exhausted and often had to come back to my values to remain being the teacher that I wanted to be for my students. I shared my values with them.

I told them that my mission was to help them to feel good about Education and to become life long learners. I expressed how important it was to me that they learned to feel good about themselves and that they believed that they could achieve whatever they put their minds and hearts into. This was reflected in how I taught my students and the compassion I modelled, to lead the way for them to nurture compassion for themselves and for others.

I'm passionate about supporting new teachers as I am so grateful that I learned the skills and tools of NLP to help me as a teacher and to help my students be the best version of themselves. I hope that I can continue to support teachers by training many more in NLP.

Sarah Fletcher
Sarah Fletcher (member article)

I’m Sarah based in Blackpool, Lancashire