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‘Three Top Tips from Tom’ will be updated weekly with the best advice and tips on behaviour and classroom management.

Tom Bennett is the TES adviser on behaviour and a teacher at Raines Foundation, an inner city state school in Tower Hamlets. He regularly supports teachers on TES through our behaviour forum and monthly newsletters on behaviour.

NLP for teachers: can you be Derren Brown in the classroom?

NLP used to be so fashionable you could get counterfeit copies of it down Roman Road market. Neuro-Linguistic Programming was all the rage when I were a rookie teacher; they even paid for me to go on training courses. It was meant to be the science of success, a distillation of several branches of psychology, neuroscience and business philosophy that, combined, were sold as the Secrets of the Ancients. Students of it were guaranteed a number of powers and techniques that, many assured us, could be employed in the classroom. If you’ve never heard of NLP, then this will mean little to you. Just be aware that in a galaxy not so far away, not so very long ago, this was being sold to us as ‘the answer’ to problems in the classroom. It, of course, wasn’t. There are no magic panaceas to behaviour and teaching challenges; just lots of sleeves getting rolled up and a good deal of lips being stiffened and shoulders being braced against the storm.

  1. Body language. Exponents of NLP are advised that they can influence the thinking of others by the use of subliminal physical cues: mirroring the stance, blink rate, and even breathing of the person you were speaking to was supposed to create rapport, and induce tacit suggestibility in the hapless partner. More often than not, it simply made you look odd as you inhaled and exhaled like a Shire horse. A lot of people looked odd in those days at interview panels, as they tapped pens in time to the pulse beat of the Head Master. And don’t think I’m kidding.
  2. Lie detection. This is one of the more magical claims of NLP- that you can look at someone’s eye direction and tell if they are lying to you or not. Of course, this is not the case. Body language is horribly misunderstood by many - there is no one language of the body that reveals inner states, any more than there is one agreed meaning of a word. If I were to say to you, ‘I’d like a warm hand on my entrance,’ there are at least three definitions I could take from that, none of them without peril. As words are governed by context, so too are non-verbal cues. You need to be a very acute observer to do anything like this at all. Unless, like Derren Brown, you have a decade or so to practise this kind of thing, I suggest you save your time for more worthy pursuits.
  3. Left/ Right brain thinking styles, Brain Gym, ‘Thinking Pressure Points’… these are just three more aspects of NLP that were rolled out to us, the unsuspecting patrons, as gospel. I have NO idea how much money the DfE spent telling us how to massage the acupressure points above my sternum to stimulate good thinking, but I shudder at the figure.

If you want good behaviour in your classroom, stay away from the Magic Men and the snake oil salesmen. Just be a teacher instead.

Good luck


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