Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Education

Programming and Education

by Stephen T. McClard

You may be reading the title of this article and wondering what neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) has to do with education. You may even be asking yourself what it is. Yet others who are reading this article know exactly what NLP is all about. If you have even a vague notion of what NLP represents, then sit back and be amazed at how it can transform your classroom when used properly.

While I write this article, I have a lurking feeling in the back of my mind that at least a few readers will have a biased view of NLP and will read this title with skepticism and disdain. To say the least, NLP is controversial in nature. I can only speak about my experiences with NLP and will let you judge for yourself.

If you are the skeptic mentioned above, let me try to put your mind at ease before we get started and say this: Any teacher using NLP in the classroom will first need to take the solemn oath of Primum non nocere, or “Do no harm.” If you will take this oath, then NLP is harmless and can add many benefits to your educational process.


NLP, like anything else in this world, can be used for nefarious means. Before you set out to use any educational methodology, ask yourself one question first: Are my actions for the benefit of the student, or are my actions selfish in nature? If you answer the former, then NLP may assist you in the classroom with a variety of issues that cause you trouble as an educator.

Be warned, NLP is used for every type of manipulation you can imagine. Pickup artists, hypnotists, televangelists and shysters of all categories use NLP to cheat, steal and otherwise trick gullible people. NLP is used by the media and in advertising to convince the consumer to purchase unneeded products. NLP is awesomely powerful. When used correctly and for proper reasons, it can transform educational practice for any educator.

What is NLP?

It is hard to really lock down a good definition for NLP. This area of psychology is old, immense and complicated. If I were to give it a short definition, I would define it like this: NLP is the art of using response and stimuli for the express purpose of constructing a desired outcome. This can be done in a conscious manner or an unconscious manner. NLP attempts to find reproducible methods that anyone can use for success.

Let me give you a real world example. Teacher ‘A’ has a class that is out-of-control. When the same students go to teacher ‘B’, they behave well. It stands to reason that a method exists to control the students. If teacher ‘A’ can discover the method that teacher ‘B’ uses, then teacher ‘A’ can control her class. NLP attempts to study the method and find commonalities and best practices for controlling behavior.

Over the last few decades, many common methods for success have been found in every area of endeavor. Name the behavior and NLP has the answer. It will be impossible for me to cover the entire territory of NLP in one article, so I will merely give you a good start. My best advice for you would be to purchase Neuro-linguistic Programming for Dummies by Romila Ready and Kate Burton. It is a fantastic read and can give you a great start into the subject.


The world of NLP revolves around a few presuppositions. A presupposition is an implicit assumption. In other words, it is assumed that there is implied truth in what is stated and can be viewed as correct in every way. As we jump into this topic, prepare to dive deep and stretch your mind wide.

1. The map is not the territory. Have respect for the individual’s map.

Each of us has a map of the territory (world around us) that will be different depending on our perspective and frame of reference.  Our map of the world represents our unique view of the world, while the territory represents actual objects and events.  Your perception as an educator belongs to you and does not accurately represent the territory or the map of the student.  If you realize this difference and respect the map of your students, you are prepared to make NLP work for you.

2. People respond according to their map of the territory.

All students operate in the world according to their perception of the territory. Since each map is different, each response will be unique. Your responsibility as an educator is to discover the student’s map and act accordingly. Change the map and you change the student.

3. Meaning depends on context.

Words only have meaning when they are represented within some context. External stimuli will change internal response. If you want to change your students’ behavior or character, create context in their minds. Use metaphor when possible. Paint mental pictures and assist your students as they color in their map.

4. Mind and body affect each other.

Mind and body do not function separately. What the mind believes becomes reality in the body. What the body feels becomes reality in the mind. As an educator, you MUST respect how your actions can become emotion within your students. You have the power to affect mind and body when you speak. Choose your words and emotions wisely.

5. If what you are doing is not working, do something else.

Often, the opposite of what we think will work ends up working. Do not be afraid to make changes that are unrelated to the problem. Often this redirection solves the problem. Find out what works for others and apply these practices to your own methodology. Choose the simplest answer and you will most often be correct. Flexibility equals success.

6. Choice is better than no choice.

Your students will respect you more if you offer choices. Barking out commands and creating rules to follow will only create ground for the student to stand against you. Create a context whereby the students can operate according to their own maps. Work over time to change the map and reveal the true territory.

7. We are always communicating.

All of your actions as an educator speak loudly to your students. Tactical communication will be necessary for ultimate success. Plan your communication through wisdom and restraint while keeping effectiveness in mind.

8. The meaning of communication is the response you get.

You will only be as effective as the communication you generate. If your students do not respond according to your intentions, your communication is at fault. Improve communication to improve response.

9. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

All failure should be seen as feedback for future success. The more you open yourself up to opportunity, the more it will become available to you. Seek the opportunity in every failure.

10. Every behavior contains positive intention.

Seek first the positive intentions in your students’ behavior. Even when behavior is poor, preserve the positive intention first. Preserving positive intentions creates positive choices. A positive teacher creates a positive student. Choice creates opportunity.

11. If something is possible, then it is possible to learn how to do it.

Poor classroom management can make a good teacher feel like a failure.  If classroom management has beaten you down as an educator then this presupposition is for you.  If something is possible, then it is possible for you to learn.

Take a walk down the hallways of your school. Chances are good that you will find at least one teacher controlling your out-of-control students. It is therefore possible for you to control your students well. Twenty percent of any situation is reality. The other eighty percent is purely mental. Learn to control the other eighty percent.

12. People have all the resources they need already.

Resourcefulness is merely a state of mind. Everything you need is already available. It is your job to assemble available resources at your disposal and make the best choices possible along the way to maximize their use.

13. Resistance is only inflexible communication. The person with the most flexibility wins.

Be the bigger person. In every situation and with every student, success will only come through flexible communication. Be willing to change your educational method before you blame your students for unsuccessful situations. You already have all the resources you need to achieve success. Success comes from using your communication and resources wisely.

14. If you control your mind, you control results.

Bias is the worst enemy of an educator. Your emotion can turn a student off forever. Controlling your emotion can build rapport and help you move a student forward. Creating high expectations is a well-intended goal, but when students are motivated to create their own high expectations, real success will follow.

Article 2-NLP Continued

Indirect Discipline and Tactical Language in the Classroom Using NLP

This is a continuation of a previous article entitled, The Neuro-Linguistic Educator. Before going any further, please refer to the warning posted on the first article.

Article 2

by Stephen T. McClard

Words, actions and emotions have the power to persuade the mind and body.  They have the ability to upset equilibrium and can push a person in predetermined directions. If used carelessly, they can also produce unintended consequences.  All success and all failure in the classroom will revolve around these three forms of communication.

Our use of these three communicators has the ability to make or break our classroom management.  Carelessness with these can end a career or turn a student’s mind off like a light bulb.   If you are interested in being able to maintain a quiet class, motivate your students to create high expectations and push them beyond their capabilities, then learn to control your communication.  Using NLP is one way of achieving these goals in an indirect way and will preserve the dignity of your students.

My History with NLP

I recently published a book entitled, The Superior Educator: A Calm and Assertive Approach to Classroom Management and Large Group Motivation. This book represents what I believe to be best practices for maintaining proper discipline.  The book focuses on using a calm and assertive approach to classroom management and defines the use of precise routines for positive motivation. The ideas in this book reflect years of experience correcting my own mistakes with words, actions and emotions.

While writing this book, I was able to reflect on my own weaknesses as an educator.  Reflecting on these weaknesses helped me to make meaningful changes in my approach.  The payoff has been noticeable. My classes are quiet, controlled and engaged.  Students seem to enjoy the structure of my classes more and are highly motivated.  I attribute this to the routines I have developed through the years.  I also need to give credit to my recent discovery of NLP.

Sometime around November of this year, my assistant director and I discovered a book called Verbal Judo by George Thompson.  As we researched the topics in this book, we stumbled upon the related topic of NLP.  As a passing joke, we started using NLP wording in the opening statements of our classes.  What we discovered absolutely shocked us.

For years, I would normally start a class—band class of between 70-120 students—with the typical, “Let’s get quiet guys! Shhhhhhhhh! HEY! Quiet it down!” I would sometimes clap my hands or perform some other random act to be noticed. Although this routine was somewhat effective, NLP shows us a better way.

The first time I formed my words according to NLP suggestions, they came out something like this:

“As you continue to get settled, imagine how quiet this class could possibly become.  We are going to remain quiet now as I give you a few instructions.  You will remain quiet because this will allow us to easily communicate.  Everyone will behave and avoid getting in trouble.  Let’s all work together to be respectful.”

After saying this in a room full of junior high band students, I paused for a few seconds and scanned the class.  I was left speechless by what happened next.  The entire class eagerly sat there looking at me, hanging on what I would say next.  The class period went by without the usual redirection and threats of consequences. Creating a context for good behavior and speaking in non-threatening absolutes gave me an immediate and positive response.   Many improvements later, and I now simply raise a hand to hear the hum of the lights.

Why NLP Works

A presupposition in NLP is that communication is the response you get.  If the response you get is not what you want, your communication is at fault.  Improving communication is the key that unlocks the proper response.  Here are two simple improvements that you can start with today.

The first improvement will come from your intentions and emotion.  In the book Verbal Judo, mentioned above, George Thompson talks about the importance of removing bias in the voice.  Condescension, anger and harsh emotion can kill communication and build ground for the student to stand against your wishes.  Eliminating bias is accomplished through a calm and assertive persona, a topic which is thoroughly covered in my book.  When words are spoken in a calm and assertive manner, communication will elicit a calm response.

While harsh emotions, condescension and anger are worth avoiding, it is also worth mentioning that showing disappointment and aggravation can be a healthy way to make a point.  Using a bit of light humor can disarm the gut reaction and give you a way to turn the situation into a learning opportunity.  Aggravation and disappointment can be strong motivators when used sparingly.

Another related improvement with your communication will involve how words are selected.  Using words in a tactical manner is necessary if communication is to elicit a meaningful response.  Barking out commands to students will only elicit a gut response.  Creating context is much more powerful and brings a response from the heart instead of raw emotion.

Here is an excerpt form a recent article I posted that will relate to this idea.

Using a metaphor to further build context for proper behavior is one of the most entertaining and pleasant exercises a teacher can endeavor to accomplish. A metaphor paints a mental picture that contains all the elements of a well thought-out lesson. Evoking a previously learned metaphor can bring the lesson back to a student’s mind in a matter of seconds. The following is an example of a great metaphor that I use in my band classes:

I use a metaphor that I call the consistency principle. The consistency principle states that all people want to be seen as consistent. I ask the students to mentally place themselves in my position in the front of the room. I ask them to imagine what expectations they would have if they were the teacher needing to teach the class. I then ask them to remain consistent with these expectations. It is like a magic trick and gets them to empathize with me. All I have to do is have them imagine what it would be like to be me. The fact that I made them believe in being consistent sets up the expectation that they should. I can then continue reminding them each day to be consistent.

As you can see from this example, creating context frames the response of communication in your favor as an educator.  I hope that you are starting to realize the power that NLP can provide for education.  This field of psychology has received a bad reputation over the years.  It is my hope that I can glean out the positive aspects through this series of articles and give you a new sense of how your approach to communication can be improved.

Deepa Singh
Business Developer
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