Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) is as famous for its effective use in personal coaching and therapeutic applications as it is for its colorful origins. Yet despite the great potential of NLP’s insights to enhance or even transform education, formal inroads into schools, colleges and universities remain elusive. One reason, perhaps, is that NLP training is a competitive industry in its own right, with a slight new-age flavor and a price point that makes NLP prohibitive for school systems to adopt widely. Another reason may be that among the factions within the NLP business, consistency of approach and quality is lacking, leaving schools to consult with NLP trainers on an ad hoc basis, if at all.
To help bridge the divide between NLP proponents and educators, I offer this article, and herein would like to discuss NLP not as a business, but as phenomenology, or what happens subjectively inside the learning mind, hoping the NLP ideas here will find their way into more and more classrooms.
In formal education as in other applications, NLP leverages the real-time subjective experiences of students and teachers, to help students tailor their own learning strategies based on their internal maps of the world. Basic NLP earning strategies can be taught to teachers and students alike, presupposing that students will then take more responsibility and credit for their own success. These NLP strategies start with the end in mind, enable students to alter their own mental and physiological states, map new learning to their own internal maps or change their internal maps to accommodate the new learning, try alternate ways of viewing or expressing new learning, and future-test new learning for ecology.
I will highlight 10 foundational NLP patterns with brief examples of their possible application in school, and trust your imagination to implement these ideas effectively in the classroom.
1. Teach Well-formed Outcomes
They say that a problem well-defined, is half-solved. NLP teaches that effective learning happens best when you know the outcome you want. Once an outcome is defined, vivid visualizing enhances the outcome, and prepares the students’ minds to do well on tests. In solving complex problems or on projects, “chunking” is an NLP term used to teach breaking steps toward the outcome into meaningful and manageable sizes. Obstacles are dealt with in simulation mode, and then the student is better prepared to navigate around or through those obstacles when they arise in real life.
2. Teach Pacing, Matching and Leading
NLP teaches that in a state of rapport, any learning is possible. Students learn best when they feel esteem and respect for their teacher, and absence of fear from their peers. Rapport is facilitated when the teacher not only matches the physiology and language of the students, but paces or aligns the material to their mental maps of the world. Once students feel they operate from the same map, the teacher can lead them into new learning territory. Additionally, listening and rapport-building are valuable life skills to be formally taught to students.
3. Teach State Calibration
NLP advocates using sensory acuity to observe the person in front of you for clues about their current state. Teachers who learn to read body language have at their disposal a real-time meter which tells them whether their teaching is getting through. Signals are given off via postures, gestures, breathing and eye movement patterns, and skin tones and color, which do not hint at whether the teaching is momentarily “hot or cold”. Adjust accordingly. Students who learn body language can also gain emotional intelligence, and navigate school, work and home life more freely.
4. Teach Future Pacing and Checking Ecology
Future pacing and ecology checks are ways to test and debug mental strategies in our heads before going into real life with them. If school is a kind of laboratory, then it is the perfect venue for this kind of testing. Students and teachers can gauge the impact of every decision, action, project and learning on their futures, their families and communities, and the environment. Checking ecology is highly subjective, but exercises critical mental muscle, and is less slippery values-based approaches.
5. Teach Flexibility of Response
Rigid teaching styles only reach a portion of their students, part of the time. Behavioral calisthenics allow the teacher to draw on a fuller range of emotional states, verbal delivery patterns, to reach more students more of the time. Students can also learn that if something is not working, try something else. Flexibility that is openly rewarded teaches that there is no such thing as failure… only feedback. The queen rules the chessboard, because she has the most available moves.
6. Teach State Elicitation
In NLP, a state involves thoughts, feelings and physiology, and covers the spectrum from deep relaxation to high excitement. A great teacher needs to be able to “light up” the neurology, in order to associate the right state with the new learning. Memorable learning does not happen through intellectual discussions, but through emotionalized discussions, such as fear, anger, disgust, confusion, shock, peace, joy, forgiveness, focus, fun, going for it. Emotions are energy in motion, and should not be suppressed, but channeled in productive and ecological ways.
7. Teach State Induction
I am not suggesting to teach or use hypnosis here, as it is illegal in many states to induce trance in school, and deep trance is overshooting the mark. However, it is well-documented that relaxed, alert “alpha” states are most conducive to absorbing new material. A teacher could unobtrusively teach students how to take a deep breath, and focus or defocus their eyes a bit before taking in new information. At other times, a teacher can teach students how to access “beta” states, when high alertness is required to execute tasks rapidly (this is the state induced by most video games). Effectively teaching students to alter their states willingly can preempt the need for stimulant drugs. Humor is a very powerful tool for inducing a learning state. We always remember the things that gave us a good laugh!
8. Teach Breaking State
When moving from topic to topic, or between repetitions of a new mental sequence, this NLP pattern teaches the importance of “clearing the screen”. Breaking state allows for students to clearly identify the beginning and ending of a mental sequence, and also to generalize the new mental strategy across contexts. Hey! Do you smell popcorn?
9. Teach Anchoring
This NLP pattern installs a link between positive emotions and positive behaviors or strategies at the peak of a positive emotional state. Using sensory acuity, teachers can be alert to those peaks as they happen, and reinforce them with “yes!”, “you got it!”, “boom!”, “pow!” or some other kind of distinct cue. Soon, the emotion and the behaviors become integrated. Students can also be taught that negative anchors can be undone and replaced with positive anchors. Knowing this gives great strategies for school, home, work and life.
10. Teach Accessing Positive Intent
Disagreement and disappointment are a part of life, but this NLP pattern presupposes that we all do things for some positive reason. Teachers and students who frame disagreement and disappointment in a positive light can avoid being critical, while they keep the dialogue moving ahead. This patterns involves a line of questioning that will ask for the positive intent, and then look for a better way to achieve it.
I don’t know how or when the reader will embrace these ideas or how or when individual teachers will incorporate these ideas in their own classrooms, but I believe that these 10 NLP patterns merit consideration in every case. It is up to the reader to decide now, and apply these patterns meaningfully and successfully.