NLP and rapport: the flip side of discipline.

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Rapport as I will be using it, is a term that I have borrowed from NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Whether you decide to spend a little time studying NLP (I would advise it) or not there are other key NLP terms that I will regularly return to in my discussion of classroom discipline. If you would like an opportunity to explore NLP further, Joseph O'Connor's standard introduction to NLP is a great place to start.

The carrot after the stick


Lets move on to another magic ingredient of great teaching: Rapport.

As an assertive status expert, who can now handle most difficult interactions with students, it is now time to examine the skill set that will prevent most of these behavior management problems from ever occurring. Firstly I'll explain the terms and then apply them to general classroom management and then to dealing with disaffected pupils.

Sensory Acuity

• Be aware of what's in front of you; of the information that your senses are providing you at each moment and being able to interpret and act on it. This kind of feedback is vital when you are first learning any skill. New teachers particularly tend to focus very much on themselves at the beginning and can feel overwhelmed by their own emotions. As you gain in experience, you will start to become more aware of the needs of the pupils in front of you and your sensory acuity will develop as will your rapport.

• Remember the popular NLP saying is that 'there is no such thing as failure; there is only feedback'. Sensory Acuity allows you to access that feedback.

• Be aware that, before they are 'schooled' children understand this idea instinctively and they learn naturally from direct experience of reality and by trial and error. If they learned to walk in the same way that we teach them at school, their parents would be drawing red crosses on their foreheads each time they fell over. Failure is a concept that schools teach all too thoroughly. As children who did well at school, we may well have internalized this concept from our own teachers and learned to 'fear' failure rather than embrace it is a vital part of learning. We may also find it hard to relate to the large percentage of children who do less well at school and who are deemed 'failures' by the system.

Behavioural Flexibility

• Remember the mantra that NLP teaches : 'if you keep doing what you've always done, you'll get what you've always gotten'.

• Think about inexperienced teachers who 'flog a dead horse' by carrying on with an activity that is obviously not working for the class. Because the teacher is so caught up in their own internal dialogue, they lack the sensory acuity to see that it needs changing. If they also lack the behavioral flexibility to change then they will not progress or learn from their experiences and they certainly will not create rapport with their classes.

• Apply the above rule to building relationships or otherwise with pupils. Be flexible and look for feedback.


• When I am with a friend and we are talking, I may realize that we are mirroring each other's body language. This phenomenon, is naturally occurring rapport between people who know each other well.

• Apply the old saying, that: 'people have a rough and a smooth edge; so that when you meet them, reach for the smooth edge and your dealings with them will be easier'.

• When you need to discipline a child or go high status in any way, it is far, far easier to create good results, rather than resistance, if you have already established a relationship with that child.

• Many children will tend to 'work' for teachers that they 'like'.

• When surveyed, most pupils report that their relationship with their teachers is the thing that they value most about their experience of school.

• Be a teacher who is aware of the importance of rapport and who knows how to create it. This will do most of your disciplining and classroom management for you in the long run. Often it is the status expert, who knows when to 'play low-status', who will get the most out of their students.

• Another useful way of looking at this is to think in terms of opening an 'emotional bank account' for each student that you come into contact with. Keep it 'in the black' by consciously creating rapport and the likelihood is that they will reciprocate.

Pacing and Leading

• This is one technique used to create a connection between strangers, particularly when one person is trying to influence another or change their behavior.

• It is much harder to lead someone if you haven't paced them first and created rapport rather than resistance.

• Pacing literally requires you to 'get on their level', this could be physically dropping down to their level, maybe even subtly matching their body language, breathing or tone of voice (see the section on the advantages of playing low-status).

• Think of creating rapport as a dance: "pace, pace, pace, lead", in that ratio.

• Build a relationship with more challenging students against their will, or at least their conscious intention, simply by pacing and leading. ‘Catching pupils being good’ is a great example of this.

• Pace your students by differentiating the work to their individual learning styles, rather than alienating your students by adopting a 'one style fits all' approach.

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Now move from Rapport to more advanced NLP Techniques

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