Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). To the sceptics, it smacks of pseudo-science. To the believers, it's the secret to a happy and dynamic classroom. To everyone else, it's just plain baffling. Isomorphic metaphors? Submodalities? Outcome frames? The jargon alone is enough to leave you feeling dazed.
"It can sound complicated," admits Roger Terry, author of NLP for Teachers. "But the basic concept is quite simple. NLP is essentially a set of communication skills, used to build rapport between individuals and groups. In a classroom, that is incredibly useful."
NLP evolved from research in the 1970s, which studied successful communicators and analysed their techniques. The findings were then applied to the world of business, promising salesmen the chance to seal their deals with a clever turn of phrase or a smile at the right time. In essence, it claims to "rewire" our behaviour so we can improve the chances of a successful outcome. In the past decade, NLP has been marketed to teachers, becoming an established part of the Government's new fast-track teacher training programme.
There are lots of strands to NLP, and courses differ widely. In most cases, the emphasis is on using language more effectively. For example, learning how to "embed" commands within a sentence so that pupils are less likely to resist.
Body language is important, too. For example, experts suggest that mirroring another person's posture can establish rapport, but warn that if a pupil is using aggressive body language, then it is best not to mirror, or you will end up having an argument. NLP also offers strategies for using your classroom space more effectively - by displaying information in certain places or teaching in different ways from different parts of the room.
But does it really work? Yes and no, according to Dr Michael Heap, a psychologist at the University of Sheffield. "Some of it is just common sense," he says. "but a lot of it is completely unproven, and NLP certainly isn't regarded as mainstream in the world of psychology."
Despite the lack of evidence, plenty of teachers are convinced that NLP makes a difference. "My own experience is that it's revolutionary and empowering," says Liz Robinson, head at Surrey Square Junior School in Southwark. "NLP is different to most training that's out there, because it's focused on changing you as a person."
Ms Robinson says that when staff saw her using NLP techniques, there were so many requests to go for training, that it was easier to organise a whole-school workshop. "Two-thirds of the staff came along, even though it meant giving up two weekends. Ofsted recently judged the school outstanding and what really impressed them was the rapport between teachers and pupils."
It seems the only way to find out if NLP is going to work for you is to give it a try.
FIND OUT MORE
- Film one of your lessons. Analyse how you communicate, verbally and non-verbally.
- One-day courses can be a good introduction to NLP, but most experts recommend three to four days' training.
- Study course content carefully. Ensure it's tailored to teachers.