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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds During later steps in this week we’ll be looking at different methods that you can use to manage and modify behaviour without a confrontational approach. Before we do that, I’m going to try and convince you that it’s worth spending the time and effort to implement these strategies and in order to convince you I’m going to use a little bit of basic neuroscience. It’s my belief that there’s no place for confrontation in the modern education system, but there are hard-wired systems in our brain that militate towards the use of confrontation. If we understand them, then we can better avoid them.

Skip to 0 minutes and 37 seconds There are several models that we could use to understand these types of behaviour; the one I’m going to use is The Triune Brain model by Dr. Paul MacLean and I’d like to say right from the outset, there are some parts of the model that have been superseded because he developed it in the 1950s and of course neuroscience has moved on since then. Still, it’s a good working model for understanding human behaviour and is used across the globe by psychologists and psychiatrists and that’s where we’re going to go; The Triune Brain theory by Dr. Paul MacLean. Dr.

Skip to 1 minute and 9 seconds MacLean was a neuroscientist and physician in America in the 1950s and the first person to really consider the brain in terms of its evolution and that’s what I’m going to talk about and to do that let’s imagine you’re spending a considerable amount of time with a crocodile. After a while you’ll notice that the activities you indulge in are going to be somewhat repetitive; there might be a bit of basking, there might be a bit of lurking, there might be a bit of ambushing, there might be some sex and there might be some interspecies aggression.

Skip to 1 minute and 42 seconds That’s about it because that’s what the crocodile can do, it’s brain is hardwired to do that because it’s only got certain things which in humans we would call the basal ganglia and the brain stem the cerebellum. Dr. MacLean referred to it’s a reptilian complex and that’s what I’m going to refer to as.

Skip to 2 minutes and 1 second The reptilian complex is responsible in in crocodiles for the basic things that keep the animal alive and it’s important to realise that all of these functions are automatic; they are unconscious; there is no conscious thought taking place in the crocodile so the crocodile has a heart rate; it has temperature; it has the desire to feed; all of these things, the autonomic functions of the body are controlled by the reptilian complex. Crucially, other behaviours that enable the crocodile to survive are also controlled by this system and those behaviours you can quickly sum up as the fight-or-flight reflex. Now, if the crocodile experiences threat, thatpart of its brain will drive the behaviours.

Skip to 2 minutes and 49 seconds This part of the crocodiles brain structure has been conserved over 5 million years of evolution Now, nature doesn’t keep things around for very long unless there very useful and that teaches us that this part of the anatomy is very, very useful indeed and it performs the same function in us, today that is performed in the crocodiles and other reptiles 500 million years ago. Let’s consider another animal; let’s consider a dog. Now if you spend some time with a dog, you will see it’s behaviours are very, very different to that of the crocodile and there’s a very good reason for this because it’s got different parts of the brain.

Skip to 3 minutes and 24 seconds The dog possesses something called the Limbic system and we’ll talk maybe later about the hippocampus and the amygdala which are part of the Limbic system. The Limbic system drives behaviours that you could categorise as an emotional response. So, for example, the dog can feel reciprocity; it can feel love; it can It can nurture it’s young; all these things it can do and all these behaviours you see as a result of it happen because it possesses a Limbic system. Humans and other primates can behave differently again. This is because the evolution’s given us a different part of the brain to play with. This is called the neocortex.

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds Now the neocortex is responsible for abstract thought, for language acquisition and for learning and as educators, that’s the part of the brain that we want to engage with. What we don’t want to do is being engaging with the the reptilian complex and I’ll tell you why shortly. In summary, inside your head if you can imagine we’ve got three brains; of course, they’re all interconnected, but crucially each has their own agenda, the reptilian complex’s is agenda is to keep you alive in the face of threat. There’s some things you need to think about one is, if there is a real threat, then the reptilian complex will be activated.

Skip to 4 minutes and 42 seconds That threat can be a tiger walking into the room for example; if there’s a real tiger walking into the room then things will happen; reptilian complex will take over it will suppress the activity of the limbic designed to allow you to survive that stressful situation. designed to allow you to survive stressful situation the threat doesn’t have to be real the threat can be was real. The behaviours might be less your body will react and measurably in exactly the same way as if the threat was real. The behaviours might be less pronounced, but measurably they will be the same. Even more crucially perhaps for us; the threat can just be remembered.

Skip to 5 minutes and 24 seconds If you remember an occasion where you were under threat from the tiger, your body will physiologically react in a measurably similar way as if the threat was real. You’ll see why this becomes crucial later on. Aggression, dominance territoriality; they’re behaviours that make sense if you’re a crocodile, they help you to survive they helped you to get mates. There are behaviours that are less important in the classroom, in fact, positively unhelpful. Personally, I pay a lot of money to keep those behaviours out of my classroom and therefore it’s good if I can keep the reptilian complex of my students inactive as possible. The fight-or-flight reflex.

Skip to 6 minutes and 0 seconds The fight can be real it can be oppositional behaviour; the flight can be real, or it can be some on line with their head on the desk because the threat that they’re under, which happens to be the work that you’re given them is just too much for them to cope with. Fear, anger, aggression; all behaviours which are unhelpful; all behaviours driven by the reptilian complex and which we will address in later steps. The student who acts in an illogical way when confronted with problems. Of course they do, the activity of the neocortex has been suppressed by their reptilian complex. It’s important to keep the reptilian complex switched off.

Skip to 6 minutes and 38 seconds Think about it, we’re educators If we switch of a child’s neocortex, what effect is that going to have on learning?

The Triune Brain

When people experience threatening situations, the types of behaviour they present with can seem erratic but actually fall into categories which are entirely predictable. This is because the way that the brain responds to threat is governed by systems that are ancient, even on an evolutionary timescale, and have survived the transformation from reptile to bird, mammal and ultimately primate. We are beginning to develop a greater understanding of these systems and the types of behaviour they are likely to promote

There are several useful working models that can be used to describe these systems and explain the behaviours they drive. The one we will explore is the Triune Brian Theory, which was developed by Dr Paul MacLean. Dr MacLean first started to consider the brain from the perspective of evolution during the 1950s. The model became widely accepted by the 1990s and is used in many fields to explain the types of behaviour we see when people are in actual danger or otherwise feel threatened.

Watch the video above to see our course educator, Mick Simpson, outline the basic principles of the Triune Brain Theory. It is the foundation for everything that follows this week. If we understand the way our students and colleagues are likely to respond to threatening situations, we will be able to anticipate and plan for them. If we understand the type of situation that our brains perceive as dangerous or threatening, we can plan to use strategies that mitigate their effects.

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This video is from the free online course:

Challenging Behaviour: Strategies for Helping Young People

Ambition School Leadership