How to use Neuro-Linguistic Programming NLP in the Classroom

I have many teachers and graduates of my “Rediscover the Joy of Learning” certification training ask me how to use my “Joy” material and NLP in the classroom. Much of the “Joy” material is perceived to be for one-on-one interactions. Since I believe differently, the following is my attempt to answer that question. This is not restricted to the public school classroom. I suggest these practices should be used in any learning environment, including NLP workshops.

A. Practice the NLP Presuppositions

neuro-linguistic-programmingLive and breathe the NLP Presuppositions. Post them around your classroom. Point them out periodically and talk about them. When you or somebody else demonstrates one of them, point it out to the class and give positive feedback to that person. Be sure that you, as the teacher, embody them in everything you do. The ones I believe are most important to demonstrate in the classroom are as follows:

All behavior has positive intention behind it

Probably one of the most powerful and useful communication ideas, but especially for parents and teachers, is the notion of looking for and finding positive intention behind all behaviors. Even behaviors which seem bizarre, crazy, wrong, or even hurtful. Yes, I am talking about when your son or daughter or student does any of the following: throws a temper tantrum, is rebellious, doesn’t mind you, hits his brother or sister, does poorly in school, gets in trouble in school, doesn’t do homework, smokes, or does drugs. All of these examples of negative behaviors have positive intention. In fact, it’s the positive intention which drives the behavior. And, the negative behavior won’t change until the positive intention is recognized, accepted as valid, and satisfied. So, it is extremely important to separate behavior from intention and then to make sure that the intention is positive.

But first let’s describe what positive intention is. Your intention behind a behavior or communication is what you want to do or accomplish. It’s your purpose for doing the behavior. It’s your reason. Many times you have multiple intentions at different logical levels. In fact, they are sometimes embedded in each other in a kind of hierarchy. Many of the intentions are out of conscious awareness. Some of them come from our past and we have forgotten about them and where they came from. Some of them are pretty obvious. The obvious ones usually get dealt with very rapidly. The negative behaviors with hidden, unconscious positive intention are the ones that cause the chronic problems.

A part of the power of finding positive intention is in the response it elicits from the other person. If you blame, act judgmental, criticize, or otherwise attach a negative intention to the behavior or communication, you will automatically get a defensive response, or a withdrawal, or a counter-attack. You become the enemy. If you are honestly and actively assuming positive intention and looking for it, there is no need for the other person to defend himself against you or to attack you. You are not a threat, you are an ally.

If it is possible in the world for anybody else, it is possible to learn

This presupposition opens up the world of possibilities and keeps us away from limiting beliefs about ourselves and others. It leads us to openness and finding solutions rather than rigidness. It puts us in other wonderful states such as curiosity, joy, delight, and positive thinking.

Anything can be learned if it is chunked properly.

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to learning is that the amount or scope of material is overwhelming to the learner. By learning how to chunk down (or break down) the material into more manageable sizes, the task becomes more achievable.

This presupposition, coupled with the previous one, allows us to learn how to learn and succeed in any situation. Also, these two presuppositions are how we think and feel about learning BEFORE we get into school. We learn many very complex and complicated things prior to school such as talking, walking, and social skills. We do this primarily by imitating how others do it and by learning the small sub-skills first, then larger skills. The point is, in our early years, when we see and hear others do it, we figure we can learn to do it too, and this engages our wanting to learn. We need the same attitude in our students, parents, teachers, and administrators in our schools.

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

One of the biggest detriments to learning in our schools is how we give and accept feedback. When we attempt to learn or do something new, we have to stop periodically and check our progress and see if we need to make any adjustments. This progress check is called feedback and it is an essential part of the learning process–IF it is delivered and received properly. So many times, students will take feedback personally and think of themselves as a failure if they score poorly on schoolwork. So, rather than using feedback to make adjustments in what they are doing so they can do it better, they become traumatized by a feeling that they, as a person, are a failure. This then goes to their sense of who they are or their self esteem and becomes a part of their identity and personality. They tend to carry this into the rest of their life.

Unfortunately, our grading systems in many of our schools encourage these inappropriate feedback responses. So, instead of feedback being a one time adjustment to a learning activity, it becomes a life-time label. We need to have a system that will focus on the adjustments to make to be successful and only that.

We choose the best behavior we know based upon the choices we have in our model of the world.

This presupposition is closely tied to the notion of positive intention. When we are faced with a problem or task, we decide upon the best approach available to us or that we can think up. We then try it out to see if it works. If, in our opinion, it works, we keep going back to it until it becomes a habit. Rarely, do we re-evaluate. Obviously, the choices we originally had might have been limited. We intend to behave the best we know how, but because we did not have all choices available to us, others may think the behavior is inappropriate or even bad. Unfortunately, many judge the behavior and find fault with the individual rather then help find a better way to solve the problem. This presupposition frees us up to look for positive intention and help solve problems by providing choices rather than assuming something is wrong with the individual and placing blame.

More choice is better than limited choice.

This presupposition evolves out of the last one. The more choices we have, the better our ability to behave appropriately and succeed. It also directs our ways of dealing with students who are having problems–figure out their positive intention and give them lots of choices in how to solve the problem and satisfy their position intention so they can choose the best one. Some of the common ways we currently discipline students, actually limits choices and the students sometimes feel trapped and manipulated.

The way we experience the world is only a perceptual model.

Too many times we lock in a student’s way of thinking or learning or behaving as though it is some reality that can’t be changed. The student is “just that way.” We may tribute it to his or her family, genetics, background, socio-economic status or even race or cultural influences. In reality, it is only a perceptual model of their world that they have formed over the years and PERCEPTION CAN BE CHANGED. In fact, perceptions are changed naturally all the time. As we learn about the world about us, we upgrade our perceptions and outlook. It is a natural part of maturing and growth. When a student (or teacher) is stuck in a limited perceptual model, wouldn’t it be nice to recognize it and help them to change the limited perception to one that would empower the learning process.

B. Be Sure They Know How to Learn

When you present some new material to them or a new skill that they need to learn, be sure they know how to learn it in a way that works really well. In my opinion, there is a gigantic gap at the logical level of capability for many students because our schools presuppose they know how to learn in the classroom—MANY DO NOT. They have been left to their own devices to figure out learning strategies and what they have come up with are inefficient and ineffective. Learning in the classroom is not a natural phenomena. Learning from a book is not genetic or a natural process. NLP practitioners have the unique skills to show them how to learn at the process level so that learning can be successful, interesting and fun.

C. Set up and Use Resource Anchors

Much of effective learning is state control and having access to resource states of excellence. Prior to the beginning of the learning experience, decide which resource states you would like to have access to for the entire class. Depending upon the age of the students and the nature of the material to be learned, some examples of resource states might be the following: interested, focused, quiet time, motivated, curious, capable of learning, confidence, and calmness. There are many more. Decide upon a unique anchor you could use for whichever state you want to access. It might be a spatial anchor, such as a particular place to stand or sit or a gesture or a special posture. It could be a special word, phrase or tonality. Then during the first day or two of the learning experience with the class, figure out a way to get them into that state and set the anchor. If you want them to be quiet and interested, for example, read or tell them a interesting story in a soft voice from a particular spot in front of the room. Label this spot the quiet time spot. Reinforce the voice and spatial anchor several times with other interesting stories or events. After that, you should be able to access the states of quiet and interest any time you wish by going to that spot and using that voice.

D. Use the Logical Levels of Experience

As I have stated in previous articles, (Blackerby, June, 1999, pg 15-17), use of the logical levels is an important tool in the classroom. You can utilize the Logical Levels in the classroom in several ways:

Assessment of Students

I assess my students through the logical levels to make sure there are no gaps or inconsistencies among the levels. As noted previously, I finally realized that most students had a gap at the capability level in that they did not have effective and efficient learning strategies. This is because our schools presuppose that students know how to learn in the classroom and, therefore, do not have to be taught how to learn. I have also found that many students do not have appropriate ways to value school or particular subjects or homework. They also do not have appropriate ways to think ABOUT school, or learning, or some subjects. This drastically affects motivation and interest. Yet we tend to ignore this important detail at the Belief/Value Logical level. And many have limiting beliefs regarding school, teachers, homework, their own capability and even their own identity as a student. All of these gaps at all of these logical levels need to be ferreted out and dealt with so that they are all working together.

Give Empowering Feedback

Depending upon the age of the student, I recommend that the logical levels be taught to the students as a way to understand themselves and others around them. As previously noted, one extraordinary example of how logical levels are mis-used through lack of knowledge is when the student takes feedback (like a test score) and assigns meaning to it at the identity level. In other words, when they get a bad score, they take it personally and start thinking they are a stupid person or a bad student. An appropriate use of the logical levels would be to teach them to keep the feedback at the behavior level and adjust what they did so they could get a better score.

Many times the feedback giver will inadvertanetly assign meaning at the identity level by labeling the student. Labels such as “learning disabled,” “lazy,” “slow,” “ADHD” or “trouble-maker,” are but a few examples. If the feedback giver has any credibility with the student, the label will zip right in and attach itself to the self esteem causing damage to the student.

As I discussed in a previous article on how to give empowering feedback, I like to beat students to the punch when I give feedback by attaching my remarks to their criteria, identity and/or mission BEFORE they have a chance to do it. So, if a student wants to learn and do well because they want to be the best you would give them feedback like this: “So, Don, in light of your mission of wanting to learn and do well because you want to be the best…I have some feedback to help you accomplish your mission. Would you like to hear it.”

Using Logical Levels to Integrate New Learning

In the past several years, I have been surveying different groups of adults about their school experience. I would ask them to remember their best and worst year they had in school. Then I would do an assessment through the logical levels. This survey revealed the gaps in the logical levels as well as traumas. The traumas were not necessarily because somebody abused the student (although that did happen), but were there more often then not because of the inappropriate meaning that the student assigned to some incident. It could be somebody’s casual remark, or a bad grade, or not being able to do an assignment. Much of the time the incidents were just things that happened and not traumatic in nature but the meaning that was assigned was traumatic.

I am always looking for opportunities to change inappropriate meanings or fill in the gaps in the logical levels. So, if a student behaves in a way that I can use for that purpose, I jump on it. For example, let’s imagine that a student has struggled in the past but makes a good score on a test. You can help him attach the meanings at all logical levels by giving him feedback like the following: “So Don, the good grade on the test lets me know that you have the capability to be a good student. Doing poorly in the past wasn’t about your ability or intelligence, it was more about the fact that nobody had gotten around to teaching you HOW TO LEARN. Now that we have done that, you can also learn to value school and learning so that you can become that kind of student that you always wanted to be. Can you imagine what your family and peers will think about you when they realize that you are as capable as anybody else. They will be amazed at the new ways you behave in the classroom. Knowing how to learn allows you to become whoever or whatever kind of person you have always wanted to be. Think of all the new ways you can think about school, learning, being successful, your teachers, and your fellow students now that you know you have the capability to become a really good student. It opens up all sorts of future possibilities for your life that you can begin thinking about now.”

If I have rapport and credibility with the student, this type of monologue gives the student new ways to think about his or her self throughout the logical levels. This does not leave it to chance for the student. It assists him or her in finding top quality and well formed meanings and beliefs at all logical levels that will empower the student in the future. In fact, you can and should have monologues like the above with groups of students or even the whole class on a regular basis. You are teaching them how to value and believe in the various facets of school life. You are teaching them how to give meaning to learning and school in a way which is empowering.

Use NLP Modeling and Communication Skills

It seems to me that the most common practice of NLP in education is when NLP practitioners attempt to teach NLP to teachers. And, from what I have seen and heard, they mostly seem to teach it to teachers like they learned it in their NLP Certification programs in that they run the teachers through much of the same exercises. I also think that sometimes it does not take very well with the teachers because they have trouble making it fit with the way they run their classrooms. I think a more powerful use of NLP in Education is to use it in the classroom in the ways outlined in this paper.

Too many times, in my perception, practitioners of NLP have not utilized all of their powerful NLP skills with their students. Sure, they can read eye accessing cues and listen for predicates. They know how to get rapport and match body and voice patterns. And, those are important things to do.

By knowing that students need help in developing themselves at all the logical levels, you can utitlize the NLP modeling skills to know precisely what to do at a more powerful level. The use of the NLP presuppositions demands that we know what the student’s model of the world is as we are helping them. Figuring out where they are and how they are limited as to behaviors, capabilities, values and beliefs and then using the powerful and precise NLP communication skills to help them is truly transforming of the student’s life.

Communication skills such as: Reframing; Sleight of Mouth; Meta Programs; hypnotic language patterns such as Embedded Commands, Presuppositions, and Metaphors along with the simpler Rapport skills, etc. gives NLP practitioners a massive array of usable skills. Knowing how to use anchors and submodalities to solve problems such as test and performance anxiety, to reprogram behaviors, to deal with traumas, and to change limiting beliefs and install strategies just adds to our abilities. There is NOTHING we can’t do to help students—and the students deserve our commitment to the cause.

Many times I get complaints from teachers that it is too much to require them to be NLP certified before they can take my “Rediscover the Joy of Learning” Certification program. They want to know if I can offer them a “bare bones, watered down and shortened” program. Some other NLP Practitioners have advised me that I could get higher enrollments if I did not require NLP Certification. It seems the teachers want to be able to do what I do without NLP. Well, …DUH… I couldn’t do what I do without NLP. It is because I practice NLP with my students that creates the successes. What I would like to see is more NLP Practitioners take up the cause while those non-NLP teachers are arranging to become certified in NLP. It is time for us to quit apologizing for using NLP and to stand up for what differences we make with it.


NLP Practitioner, Life & Family Coaching,

Phone Stavros on +357 99 626069