Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Enduring Practice of Negative Psychology

If constructivist theory is what all learning and teaching is based upon how well do we know and understand it? How do we help students understand the philosophies they have constructed and how they by and large determine the choices they make and the emotions they experience? If a child has given up on herself and has reasoned that she is hopeless how then can she develop her potential? If she has hit a psychological brick wall and can’t push through it or clamber over it what can be done? This psychological impasse has a negative affect on the student and if schools are not equipped with the means to support her then nothing changes for that student.  Could educators unwittingly be peddling a brand of negative psychology in schools? If educators are addressing behaviours only and applying consequences to them this is not enough as the underlying individually constructed beliefs that give rise to dysfunctional behaviour and emotions aren’t being addressed.  We can ask children to ‘believe in themselves’ and have posters on walls around the school but what philosophy underpins such self-belief?  How do we teach it?

Recently an educator (Ms. Di Namic), a self proclaimed ‘passionate teacher’ and a strident critic of ‘poor’ teaching believes that a ‘good’ teacher (like herself maybe??) can compensate for the psychological barriers that students have developed over a life time. Well-prepared, knowledgeable and passionate teachers can achieve this according to Ms Namic. These students can be ‘inspired’ out of the doldrums by the teacher’s passion and verve! A more enlightened educator commented that ‘I had a great physics teacher at school. Loved him but I didn’t learn a thing.’ The point is that teacher competency; enthusiasm and dedication in themselves are not enough to help disengaged students who are emotionally and behaviourally unwell.

Dr Albert Ellis founded Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy in the 1950’s, a philosophy based form of psychotherapy, the forerunner of other cognitive therapies like CBT and Choice Theory amongst others. Martin Seligman acknowledges the influence Ellis’ work had on his Positive Psychology approach. Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance helps people to identify the errant personal philosophies they have constructed, how these affect their moods and behaviours and how they can deconstruct them and replace them with more helpful habits of believing.

This approach is educative and empowering and is used the world over to help people sort out their emotional and behavioural problems and has great potential for students from preschool age upwards. It enables teachers to help students understand why they feel and act as they do. It is not enough to focus solely on the behaviours we observe (behaviour management?) but also on the underlying beliefs students have constructed (behaviour education).

The Whyalla REBE School Cluster in South Australia delivers the REBT mantra to students across all year levels i.e. THINKING FEELING and BEHAVING are all linked. The behaviour we observe and accompanying emotions are the visible (and audible) expressions of individually constructed personal philosophies, which can be rational or irrational (they either help or impede progress towards our goals). Rational Emotive Behaviour Education educators promote positive psychology in schools through Albert Ellis’ ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance. They not only describe behaviours but teach students where their choices of behaviour come from, a very powerful teaching competency!

REBE Educators in Whyalla:

·      Understand constructivist theory
·      Know that we act and feel as we do because we think as we do
·      Teach students how they construct their core philosophical beliefs
·      Help students challenge and change destructive self defeating beliefs
·      Always give behaviour (not person) specific feedback
·      Teach students they are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but they are always worthwhile

To do otherwise is not enough as the status quo prevails where students remain in a mire of self-doubt and helplessness (a cycle of negative psychological disturbance) disengaged, alienated and at great emotional and behavioural risk. 

Some ways in which negative psychology is reinforced:

Having a step system (one size fits all) approach to behaviour (behaviour management)
Publicly admonishing students
Saying things like ‘you make me angry’
Using person specific feedback e.g. ‘you are lazy/naughty’
Referring to student as ‘a shit’ in the staffroom
Inflexible, undifferentiated curriculum
Exclusive curriculum
Saying good boy/girl

Any others?

Whyalla Foreshore Friend

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

I am the best - the teacher told me so!

‘The teacher said I’m the best pupil’ the student declares proudly (see picture below). What does this mean? The individual may construe this in a rational way or an irrational way. Rational Emotive Behaviour Education teaches student’s about Unconditional Self - Acceptance that demonstrates how one positive or one negative personal attribute or characteristic does not or cannot define categorically a person’s total value.  It teaches students that their worth isn’t given to them by others and therefore cannot be taken away. They have worth because they exist and ‘that’s that’ as Albert Ellis would say. The same applies to success and failure.  We can fail at something but does that make us failures?

This is a very important insight for students to have. How many students measure their worth according to how well they do in their exams? Or how they are esteemed by others? When we measure our worth according to how others view us or how well we do we are at great risk. Why? Because when people we like do not like us and when we bomb out in our studies (as may happen) we may view this to mean that that we are unlikeable, dumb and unworthy. Dr. Ellis would say that this is self-defeating musturbatory thinking. Must we absolutely always achieve our goals and must we have the love and respect of all significant others?

Our subject, the ‘best pupil’ may seek the approval of the teacher and others in order to validate his personal worth. If he needs the approval of significant others (his teacher) he will work hard to ‘please’ the teacher at every opportunity. He may develop Serious Approval Dependence (SAD) and experience exaggerated levels of anxiety (I must do well. It would be awful if I didn’t). He may outperform his peers in some aspects of the curriculum and he could consistently achieve high grades but this cannot determine his overall worth as a person. He has some faults and hopefully more positive attributes so it is impossible to rate him as ‘the best.’
Better that he consider his teachers assertion that he is the best pupil in some kind of perspective; 

‘yeah I do well because I work hard and I’m good at some things and I feel good about that. I am not the best pupil because Mary is by far a better artist than I am and I don’t do so well at music. The teacher may consider me the best but that’s his opinion. I know I am OK and worthwhile but not any better or worse than anyone else. I accept myself even when I do badly at things.'

Use the picture from People and Emotions to explore these ideas. What might the other student be thinking? Would she feel upset about this or really angry? Would she feel sad and disappointed or really depressed about the teacher’s appraisal of our ‘best’ pupil?
Teach your students the link between thinking (believing) feeling and behaviour. Tell them about helpful thinking (rational) like:

Unconditional Self-acceptance: I accept myself warts and all. I cannot be bad or good. I’m worthwhile even when I fail and others reject me.

Unconditional Other Acceptance: I accept others because they exist like me. I won’t judge their person but I can judge aspects of their person and decide not to associate with them if I choose. I can dislike a behaviour which though bad doesn’t make them totally bad.

Unconditional Life Acceptance: I accept that the world isn’t for me or against me. Sometimes things won’t go my way. I don’t expect that I should always get what I want (though I prefer I did).

These attitudes/beliefs/philosophies give rise to manageable, healthy negative emotions like sadness, concern and annoyance.

On the other hand the following attitudes/beliefs/philosophies (irrational) precipitate feelings of anger/rage, depression and anxiety.

Conditional Self-Acceptance: I am only worthwhile if others think so or if I do well at things. If I fail it means I am a failure, which is awful, and I can’t stand it.

Conditional Other Acceptance: I accept others only if they meet my idea of what’s normal/cool/ok. If they don’t they deserve to be punished and ridiculed and ignored.

Conditional Life Acceptance: Things must go my way and if they don’t it’s not fair and I can’t stand it. It is awful!

The poem below is written from the perspective of the student who is not the best pupil according to the teacher.

A group of schools in Whyalla, the Whyalla REBE School Cluster, teach these ideas through Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy across all curriculum areas. A good thing to do indeed!

The teacher said …

The teacher said that he’s the best,
And this must mean, for sure 
That I have no worth, that I’m no good 
And there’s no point in trying anymore.

Well that’s a view that one can take
If that is what you choose to do
But where’s the evidence, all the facts
That prove what you say is true?

It’s nice to be liked and noticed
Of this there is no doubt
But it’s not what others think
That this is all about!

We are all worthwhile and worthy
Believe me, I insist 
That it’s true and so it follows
We are worthwhile because we exist!

Work hard to reach your goals
And remember it is true 
That not trying will not hurt others
As much as it will hurt you! 

The said 'I'm the best!'
Copyright People and Emotions

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bully for You! - An REBT Approach to Bullying

The scenario below (*People and Emotions) can be viewed with your students through the REBT lens. What behaviours do we notice? What are the actions and posture of the participants?  What is being conveyed non-verbally?

What roles can we identify? Who is the victim and who is the bully? What is the third persons role?

How might the actors be feeling?  What are the strength of these emotions?

There may be common emotions shared by all and some particular to an individual. What might the bully be feeling? What might the bystander be feeling etc?

REBT’s ABC Theory of Emotional Disturbance teaches students that our own personally constructed philosophies about others; the world and ourselves largely determine how we feel and behave.  

Using this model invite students to suggest what is happening in this picture. Here we identify A i.e. what happened.

Part C of the ABC Theory is how each individual might be feeling and behaving as a consequence of A i.e. what happened.

What may not be so obvious is B: what could each be thinking? What are each persons constructed core beliefs and what strength of emotion and choices of behaviour might each demonstrate in response to A and B? Through Rational Emotive Behaviour Education students can suggest whether an individual might be thinking in OUGHTS SHOULD or MUSTS. They might identify an attitude of CONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE OF OTHERS in the bully i.e. people must conform to my stereotype of what is cool or normal.  If they don’t they should be punished. They are bad. They might also suggest that the bystander is suffering from the dire need of the bully’s approval? She must like me. I need her to like me i.e. CONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE of SELF. They also may determine that the bullied person has issues to do with confidence. This always happens to me. I’m such a failure. I deserve this (Conditional Self Acceptance). 

These ideas help students understand that core beliefs are linked to the choices we make and the emotions we experience.  They are not made solely by the situation (A) but also by the way we think about A (B). This has implications for teaching, counselling and parenting practice.

1.     Teach children Unconditional Self Acceptance. This helps students maintain the belief that they are always worthwhile despite the negative attitudes and opinions of others
2.     Teach children Unconditional Acceptance of Others. This helps students develop the attitude that its OK to be different and that others don’t have to THINK and ACT like they do.

The message is clear as evidenced in the recent research findings of Giulio Bortolozzo and Ken Rigby (referenced below):

1.     Self - Accepting students have a high degree of immunity to the slings and arrows of bullies. They are also less likely to be bullied as they project a sense of confidence about themselves.
2.     People who Accept Others are less likely to want to bully others. They may not like a behaviour or a quality of a person and can choose not to associate with her but their total worth is not at question.

REBT is delivered to all children across all year levels at the Whyalla REBE
School Cluster, Whyalla in South Australia.

These and other teaching suggestions can be found throughout this blog and also at
Bully for You!

Do you think you have nothing to offer?
Use self-talk which is negative and untrue
And you don’t think you amount to much
Then I have just the thing for you!
Bully for you, bully for you
I have a bully for you!

I look for people to victimise
My admiring buddies think I’m great
I like to see fear in your eyes
You deserve to suffer mate!

Bully for you, bully for you
I’m the bully for you.

I will persist, never let up
I don’t consider how you feel
My life’s work is to see you suffer
You don’t matter; you’re no big deal!

Bully for you, bully for you
I’m the bully for you!

We control our thoughts
We are what we perceive
We can choose to be powerless victims
Until we change what we believe

Victim for you, victim for you
Will I be the victim for you?

I’m a worthwhile person
I have qualities unique to me
We are all different from each other
That makes us the same you see?

No, I will not allow you to bully
You don’t have my permission you see
I will not be your sporting obsession
You are not the bully for me!

Bully for me, bully for me.
You are not the bully for me.

The cloak of silence
Is the bully’s best friend
So speak out, everybody
It’s the cloak that’s specially tailored
For you and for me!

Other references:

*People and Emotions - an REBT based program for primary and secondary teachers/counsellors by Giulio Bortolozzo

Have a Go Spaghettio! an REBT based program for early childhood teachers/counsellors by Giulio Bortolozzo

How schoolchildren’s acceptance of self and others relate to their attitudes to victims of bullying 
Bullying in Schools: Addressing Desires, Not Only Behaviours Ken Rigby