NLP in Education Practitioner Programme


This paper is based on our experience at People Positive Associates of delivering NLP programmes within secondary schools, working with teachers and student support staff and upon a range of publications referred to in the text.

Please do feel free to contact us for any further information. We are always happy to provide taster sessions on NLP for FREE because we understand that you may want to sample the experience before you make the commitment to bringing NLP into your school

What is NLP?

NLP is about how we communicate, how we process information and emotions, and how we learn. It is variously referred to as the ‘technology of excellence’ and more academically as ‘the study of the structure of subjective experience’.

Our favourite definition is that NLP is the ‘difference that makes the difference’. This means we are constantly on the look-out for what specifically makes one student or teacher successful where others have so far been struggling. By identifying excellence and eliciting the structure of how successful students and teachers think, feel and behave differently, we can replicate excellence in other contexts and with other individuals and groups. NLP also encourages us to really seek out areas, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, where students are succeeding and then help them to apply their own strategies for success in other contexts where they may previously have been struggling. NLP provides teachers and student support staff with the means to do this very effectively.


In NLP the term ‘learning’ means more than simply the acquisition of knowledge. It refers to the process of acquiring habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving (TFB’s). Learning in NLP also refers to the beliefs and attitudes we adopt in any given context.

In a sense NLP provides the key to whole person development, beyond mere knowledge and skill acquisition, although there are numerous NLP strategies for enhancing this narrower kind of learning as well.

NLP encourages teachers, students and support staff to look at the world afresh. In NLP there is a famous saying, ‘the map is not the territory’. In other words, our current perception of reality is a merely a limited map of reality and not reality itself.

This is highly significant in teaching and learning because we want our students to grow up believing that they can achieve whatever they set out to achieve. It is not, however, a recipe for mindless optimism. The NLP model of learning emphasises that there is work to be done too.

The NLP model of learning focuses on four factors:

1.    State of Mind

All learning is state dependent. This means that whenever we learn something new we not only acquire information and/or skills, we also learn to attach the associated state of mind. So for example, if you were stressed when you were first taught algebra, you will almost certainly experience stress whenever you subsequently attempt to use algebra.

This is highly significant for learning because when people are stressed their cerebral cortex tends to function less well as we go into more of a flight or fight mode of operation which is better suited to survival than to complex analytical processing.

Getting students into a positive, receptive, state of mind, aligned with an absolute belief in their capacity to learn and process information is crucial to effective learning. NLP consequently invests a great deal of time and practice in learning how to engender positive states of mind. In fact we often say, state of mind is everything. In addition we train teachers to generate unerringly positive states for themselves; no matter what the challenges are. This is based on the well-established principle that the strongest state in the room prevails.

2.    Strategies

In NLP a ‘strategy’ is a specific sequence of thinking feeling and behaving (TFB’s). Strategies consist of the images we generate inside our minds, the internal dialogue we engage in, the physiological changes we generate in our bodies (i.e. the emotions, the chemical changes in our brains and our state of mind) and the behaviours we engage in.

And because learning takes place quickly, once we have adopted a given strategy, generally outside of conscious awareness, our brains tend run this strategy automatically in all similar subsequent situations.

If each unconscious strategy delivers the outcomes we want, then this is good and if the strategy delivers a poor outcome then clearly this is bad.

The point is that once a strategy is learnt it runs automatically outside of conscious awareness.

This has huge implications for our effectiveness as learners. For example, if we have acquired an unconscious strategy which leads to a point where we make an internal image of ourselves failing to achieve, tell ourselves we can’t do it and then go into a kind of blank panic state, our cortex shuts down and inevitably, we fail. The fact that this is an unconscious process means it will just go on running forever unless something or someone spots the process, and helps us to re-design it.

This is effectively what the ‘programming’ in ‘Neuro Linguistic Programming’ is designed to help us achieve; the installation of strategies for success.

Having a strategy that works is critical to success in effective learning and achievement. In the early days of NLP, the originators, Richard Bandler, John Grinder and Robert Dilts all ‘modelled’ strategies by eliciting them from high achievers in specific disciplines and professions and then adopted their strategies with appropriate modifications, for their own use. This is where the idea of ‘modelling excellence’ comes from. Roberts Dilts’ ‘Disney Strategy’ is a classic example of this.

Clearly, to engage students in eliciting and re-designing their learning strategies takes skill and confidence and this is what NLP programmes aimed at teachers are designed to provide. There are numerous ways this can be achieved but primarily it can be done through the use of anchors (see below), through learning to manage our own state of mind as educators first, and through the careful use of language and sequencing of information and instructions (this is the linguistic element of Neuro Linguistic Programming).

Ultimately, teachers and learning support staff who use NLP in a highly effective way to help install strategies for success, do so by using strategies for success themselves. They effectively model the strategies to the students. Once teachers master this process it becomes automatic and unconsciously driven, just like driving a car. This leads to the third element of what constitutes effective learning in NLP.

3.    Practice, Practice, Practice

Because neurologically coded, unconscious strategies (habitual ways of thinking, feeling and behaving) are so powerful in influencing our outcomes, we need not only to check and adapt the strategies from time to time; we also need to practice the new strategies.

In NLP there are ways of speeding up the process of practice. These are akin to the notion of ‘mental rehearsal’ popular in sporting disciplines. Effectively NLP trained educators can use physical movements, language patterns and sequencing to help students rehearse the desired strategies. One of the major benefits of NLP is that this can be done both overtly and covertly. The value of covert approaches is that these do not generate resistance. With a little imagination, the mental rehearsals of desired, success-oriented strategies can be installed and practiced in a way which students really enjoy and often this leads to really powerful learning without the more resistant students even noticing that they are learning something they might previously have struggled with or objected to.

Clearly, what goes with this element of NLP training is a careful discussion about the ethical use of such powerful influencing tools. In a teaching environment this is not generally an issue but there have been criticisms of NLP elsewhere on the basis that NLP practitioners seek to manipulate others. In a sense all teachers are manipulators. What makes a difference is whether the manipulation is positively focused and ethically bounded. An electric drill used to drill holes in a wall is a useful tool. An electric drill used to drill holes in people’s skulls is a murder weapon! NLP is potentially powerful so we constantly challenge people to check what they are doing within the context of the appropriate ethical boundaries.

4.    Positive Beliefs and Attributions

This is perhaps the most important aspect of NLP in the context of education. Students of pre-school age right through until 18 and beyond are very susceptible to ‘attributions’ and ‘injunctions’. These are statements and beliefs about what they are like (she is not academic) and statements about what they can and cannot achieve (he is never going to be more than a level 4 student in Maths).

Students will readily take on board commonly held notions and beliefs about the world, about themselves and about others even if these are expressed with good intentions or just in the heat of the moment. In fact, in NLP we often say ‘you cannot not communicate’. Just holding a negative belief about a student means that teachers are liable to betray this belief through their approach whether they express it explicitly or not. The capacity of young people to write themselves off from whole areas of possible achievement should not be under-estimated and it is here that NLP has a huge positive contribution to make.

As students develop and especially once they reach adolescence, they begin the process of separating from the adult world of their parents, guardians and teachers and start to formulate their own unique identities and sets of beliefs, especially about themselves and their place in the world.

They form their own ‘map of the world’ – the set of beliefs through which they filter all their subsequent experiences. Often this map is influenced by their peer group as well as by adults.

The aim of education, in our view, is to provide   students with the richest, most life enhancing map of reality we can as they   grow and develop into adults.

Adolescents, in particular, are excellent modellers. They do not, however, model what we as adults tell them to do. They model what we do and what we believe and either accept or reject these models which we provide unconsciously through our own day to day behaviours and through the beliefs we convey through our unconscious use of language.

What NLP provides, crucially, for teachers and support staff, is an understanding of the nature of beliefs, the flexibility to develop and modify unhelpful or self-limiting beliefs and the awareness of the importance of language as well as the skills to use life enhancing language patterns.

In NLP there are dozens of specific language patterns which we train teachers and support staff to use which facilitate the maximum degree of positive self-belief and flexibility in students. NLP also uses a range of useful and powerful presuppositions designed to build a set of beliefs that anyone can achieve anything if they really want to achieve it. NLP tends not to focus on limitations but as NLP practitioners we do take great care to differentiate our approach according to the response we get from individual students without making any unhelpful generalised attributions.

It is interesting to note, for example, how many successful people, especially in the world of business, actually fared badly in education. There are also many examples of students who achieved academic success yet who subsequently did not develop the positive beliefs required to succeed in the outside world. Clearly achievement in education is critical to many students but there is more to success than attaining levels, grades and exam passes and there are risks inherent in the way such measures are communicated to those who have other, less conventional ways of achieving success.

In Creating Learning without Limits (OU Press),based on the experience of head teacher Alison Peacock,who turned a school in special measures into an outstanding school by making positive assumptions about the infinite capacity of children to learn, the authors ask the following question…

‘What if, instead of being constantly compared,   ranked, and fettered by labels, children’s learning capacity was enabled to   flourish and expand in all its rich variety and complexity?’

NLP in education starts from a similar basis, not by assessing the limitations and limited expectations about levels of potential achievement, but from the basis that if one person can do something anyone can learn to do it. This is not to say that there are no differences between students but simply that positive beliefs about what is possible are more important than categorisation of students by so-called ‘ability’ criteria. Clearly these criteria which are monitored by OFSTED and HMI for Schools need to be addressed but assessment should never be confused with the process of learning. Alison Peacock achieved stunning results with the support of OFSTED. We believe all schools should be places ‘to help realise human potentiality’ and NLP has a significant contribution to make in this respect.

NLP encourages everyone involved in education to frame everything positively. This means focusing on what we want to achieve, making the basic assumption that anything is possible, and adopting infinitely flexible approaches to how we can achieve our desired outcomes. One of the fundamental presuppositions of NLP is that you get what you focus on. You still have to take the necessary actions to fulfil your aspirations and this does involve effort. What happens all too frequently is that many students write themselves off before they start.

Why would any student invest effort, energy, enterprise and enthusiasm, and why would they engage in something if they did not believe that they could achieve it? These ‘e’ factors, by the way, come not from NLP but from a well-respected authority on Leadership and Organisational Development, Charles Handy (see ‘Understanding Organisations’ and also ‘Understanding Schools’ for Handy’s theories on motivation and e-factors).

There is independent evidence for the power of beliefs from outside the world of NLP in the form of the famous Rosenthal and Jacobson effect in which teachers were told that students selected at random were high achievers, based on an aptitude test. Subsequently these randomly selected students increased their performance by a greater factor than other students in spite of the fact that they were randomly chosen. The only variable in this experiment was the belief the teachers held, that these were high achieving students.  Subtly and unconsciously this affected their approach to the students and the students concerned therefore achieved better results. You get what you focus on.

Spatial anchors

An ‘anchor’ is an NLP term for the start point of a strategy (an unconscious sequence of thinking, feeling and behaving). In behavioural psychology this would be referred to as a stimulus or trigger. Anchors can be set using a visual, auditory or kinaesthetic cue. Once the anchor is ‘fired’ the strategy runs automatically.

‘By consistently adopting a particular behaviour or approach when you stand or sit in one place, your learners will begin to associate that space with what you are about to do and what will happen next. Your learners’ own internal state will change in anticipation for what they know from experience will come next. As their internal state changes so will their behaviour. This works for adult learners in a training environment just as well as it does with children in the classroom’. (Churches & Terry 2007 p.110 NLP for Teachers)

Recall via Association

One of the first things teachers learn in NLP is about modalities of thought. These are visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, olfactory, and gustatory. By using sensory rich anchors students acquire vivid and memorable internal associations and representations of the material they are studying. This facilitates not only recall but also the assimilation of one idea or concept with another. On our NLP training we always incorporate elements of Tony Buzan’s material on mind mapping and memorisation through association.

NLP goes beyond simple recall. It is also possible to use sensory associations to develop highly effective learning strategies. Perhaps the most famous of these in NLP is Richard Bandler’s spelling strategy in which there is a strong emphasis on carefully structured internal visualisations and subsequent kinaesthetic responses. Combined with positive beliefs and precise use of language, Bandler’s approach allows students who may have been labelled as poor spellers to become expert spellers within just a few hours.

Flexibility of Attitudes and Engagement

One of the joys of NLP is its rich use of metaphor and story-telling to develop powerful learning. Teachers learn not only how to enhance learning through these approaches but also how to embed ideas and commands into their stories and how to use their voice and their body to accentuate and install key learning messages.

Teachers develop exceptional influencing skills and as a consequence engagement improves, even with so-called ‘hard to reach’ students.

The process of engagement is not based on any one specific approach and it certainly is not formulaic. Rather NLP requires practitioners to adopt an attitude of total flexibility. There are another two key presuppositions of NLP which make a huge difference when it comes to engagement. These are that the message you communicate is the response that you get and that if what you are doing is not working then it is time to do something else. In combination with really engaging approaches on the part of the teachers and learning support staff, this total flexibility leads to a much deeper and more enjoyable learning experience for staff and students alike.

Performance and Well Being

One of the most immediate benefits for teachers in learning how to use NLP is in self-management. Many people believe that teaching can be a stressful job. In NLP, however, we start from the premise that anyone can learn to do anything and that anyone can learn to do anything in a positive, sustainable and enjoyable manner.

Stress is a consequence of limiting beliefs and habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. As such it is amenable to positive modification. At People Positive we have found many teachers, especially those who are perhaps under pressure to perform as a consequence of persistently satisfactory ratings, rather than good or outstanding ratings, suddenly discover a new lease of life. Outstanding teachers find new ways of extending their successful strategies into an ever widening range of contexts.

We also have experience of NQT’s developing a significant boost in their confidence levels within the first one or two NLP sessions.


What is NLP?

NLP is the ‘difference that makes the difference’.


In NLP ‘learning’ refers to the process of acquiring positive, habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving (TFB’s) and to the beliefs and attitudes we adopt in any given context. NLP provides the key to whole person development, beyond mere knowledge.

The NLP model of learning focuses on four factors:

  1. State of Mind. State of mind is everything. The strongest state in the room prevails.
  2. Strategies. Once a strategy is learnt it runs automatically outside of conscious awareness. We can re-design strategies to achieve greater success by ‘modelling excellence’.
  3. Practice, Practice, Practice. ‘Mental rehearsal’ helps students install the desired strategies. This can be done both overtly and covertly. Covert approaches do not generate resistance. In NLP within Education, such manipulation is positively focused and ethically bounded.
  4. Positive Beliefs and Attributions. Because we ‘cannot not communicate’ and because all people operate from within their own ‘map of the world’, NLP places great store on the beliefs and attributions we communicate to students through careful use of language.

The aim of education, in our view, is to provide   students with the richest, most life enhancing map of reality we can as they   grow and develop into adults.

Spatial anchors

An ‘anchor’ is an NLP term for the start point of a strategy. Once the anchor is ‘fired’ the strategy runs automatically.

Recall via Association

By using sensory rich anchors students acquire vivid and memorable internal associations and representations of the material they are studying. This facilitates not only recall but also the assimilation of one idea or concept with another.

Flexibility of Attitudes and Engagement

The message you communicate is the response that you get. It follows therefore that if what you are doing is not working then it is time to do something else. NLP encourages teachers and students to break out of unsuccessful unconscious strategies and approach challenges with the positive belief that there will be a way of achieving the desired outcome. This mind-set builds engagement from the students’ actual experience rather than from teachers’ limiting beliefs about what is possible or about the ‘right way’ to achieve.

 Performance and Well Being

Many teachers, especially those who are under pressure to perform as a consequence of persistently ‘satisfactory’ ratings, rather than good or outstanding ratings, suddenly discover a new lease of life. ‘Outstanding’ teachers find new ways to exploit their successful strategies in an ever widening range of contexts. NQT’s developing a significant boost in their confidence levels within the first one or two NLP sessions.

Making Learning Fun

This is perhaps the part of NLP which we at People Positive Associates feel most passionate about. As parents of three feisty teenagers, we know that our children have always been capable of learning, of creating their own identities and of forging their own path in the world. What is so sad is that they have frequently come home from school having picked up some negative association or belief about learning. This is not necessarily because of teachers. Often these negative beliefs have come from within their own peer group. Seeing a child with his or her head down despondent about what was originally a joyous activity in their early infancy is depressing beyond words.

There is, however, a wonderful tradition in NLP of making learning fun, even outrageously so at times. Children are born with an infinite capacity to learn and they start from the moment they arrive in the world. In a sense, all NLP does is look for ways to nurture and foster this innate ability. By constantly striving to find new ways to enjoy and improve the effectiveness of learning, we believe we can make a really positive difference in the world.

For More Information and FREE Taster Sessions

Please do call us on 01202 265594 or 07974 2228396 or e mail

We are always willing to provide taster sessions for FREE and we will work with you to address specific school improvement goals through NLP.

The NLP in Education Practitioner Programme

First of all we wanted to make our NLP in Education Practitioner Programme so much more than just an NLP practitioner programme. So below you will find that many of the sessions are centred on creating links between NLP and other mainstream and innovative educational theories and practice.

Secondly, we want the programme to be HIGHLY practical and INSPIRATIONAL. As a consequence delegates get to work on a practical project of their choosing. The project will make a significant contribution to future career development for both teachers and students support staff. It will create real added value in terms of student development, however you want to define that. The project will also be published by us, with your permission, as part of our on-going drive to expand thinking about the purpose, value and means of educating young people so that they take over the world and transform it in positive and inspirational ways for future generations.

Thirdly, the programme is highly flexible because we know that teachers and student support staff have very demanding careers and need to be able to develop at their own pace and in their own way. Part of the programme now provides for one to one coaching. These sessions focus on supporting delegates’ project work and also on dealing with individual learning, teaching and student support challenges.

Duration and Timings

The sessions outlined below are assumed to be approximately 4 hours in duration including a break part way through. The assumption is that schools and colleges will want to run these sessions from around 3.30 pm until 7.30 pm once or twice per month. We recommend twice per month to maintain momentum.

We have run shorter sessions but it takes longer to complete the overall programme and we have found we need to set aside a day somewhere in the middle of the programme to really consolidate the learning.

We can also combine sessions into whole days where schools want to use INSET time as part of the programme.

NLP in Education Practitioner Programme

The following outline gives an idea of what an NLP Programme in Education consists of. Programmes can be adapted to create a focus around a specific set of issues such as engagement or learning strategies.

1.    Introduction to NLP. What is it? How is it defined? NLP and ethical practice. To what practical purpose can NLP be applied in Teaching, Learning and Student Support? Managing you State of Mind and setting anchors.

 2.    How People Think. Most of us are too busy thinking to notice HOW we are doing it. Whenever we ask the question ‘HOW are you thinking what you are thinking?’, people invariably tell us WHAT they are thinking. In NLP we pay careful attention to how you are doing it because this allows you to make changes! This session explores practical applications of core concepts including modalities, sub-modalities and drivers.

 3.    Learning and NLP Part 1. In this session we begin to explore knowledge and memory and make links between the work of Tony Buzan (mind Maps) Dominic O’Brien 8 times world memory champion) and anchoring. All learning starts with ASSOCIATION. Learning is not just about facts it is also about the acquisition and modification of habits and strategies. Consequently we explore how NLP can help you to enhance and modify your own habits and help your students do likewise.

 4.    Your Unconscious Mind. Most people think that thinking is primarily a conscious process but actually much of what we think and especially those thoughts which most influence our behaviour continue outside of our conscious awareness. In this practical session we explore ways of utilising the unconscious mind through SWISH patterns, anchor chaining and future pacing (mental rehearsal).

5.    Reading and Responding to Others. Can you really tell what other people are thinking? Well not exactly, but you can develop your capacity to calibrate others and use this skill to help people to make positive changes, to influence and to engage. Forget about simplistic and generalised interpretations of ‘body language’, calibration is the process of really paying attention on several levels. These levels include eye movements, state change, language and breathing. Calibration is about working out how another person ’works’ and how they are uniquely different from all other human beings. This is a crucial skill for anyone who is serious about differentiation and student engagement. We also explore what it means to ‘pace, match and lead’ others in any context and why everyone lives on their own planet.

6.    Mental Geography. One of the definitions of NLP is that it is the study of the structure of other people’s subjective experience. This may seem a little challenging at first but actually once you realise that there is an internal structure to all of your thoughts and feelings then you become free to create new structures and adapt existing structures at will. We look specifically at how people structure time and how you can use this process of time structuring to help students create an appropriate balance between long term and short terms needs, wants, aspirations and concerns. We also show you how to use the language of time to build inspirational visions and values for your classes and individual students.

 7.    Working with Maps of Reality 1. One of the most exciting aspects of being involved in education is that you get to help students formulate the broadest most aspirational and ambitious maps of possibility imaginable. In this session you learn how to spot 15 simple language patterns (the Meta Model) and how to challenge these patterns positively to enhance each student’s self-belief and sense of their own infinite capacity to achieve whatever they want to achieve. This session is pivotal in developing your professional ability to really inspire and build the confidence of developing young people. In particular we emphasise the importance of the process of making attributions and how this relates to assessment regimes and the communication of student progress to students and parents.

 8.    Learning and NLP Part 2: Bloom’s Taxonomy. Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy of learning states that there are three domains of learning which can broadly be described as Skills (Psychomotor learning), Knowledge (Cognitive learning) and Attitudes (Affect based learning). Each domain consists of a hierarchy of increasing proficiency and complexity, for example, ranging within the cognitive domain from simple knowledge acquisition right through to analysis, synthesis and evaluation. In this session we show you how you can use NLP to help students work through the levels within each domain. Further we discuss the whole notion of ‘intelligence’ and recent research demonstrating that intelligence is far more dynamic than traditional educational methods and assessment regimes have previously allowed for.

 9.    Working with Maps of Reality 2 – Myths, Intelligence, Attributions and Beliefs. What we attribute to individual students as a consequence of assessments and their responses to the way we teach and support them has a massive influence over their subsequent beliefs about themselves and about the way the world is. These beliefs are a greater determinant of ‘success’ than any other factor in our view. In this session we focus on two core elements of the Meta Model which relate to this process of attribution – The causes to which we attribute given effects (cause/effect thinking) and the way we interpret consequences and make meanings (in NLP terminology, complex equivalence). In addition we look at the work of Guy Claxton and 8 aspects of Real World Intelligence. We explore how NLP Meta Model interventions can help to dispel myths about limitations and build liberating and empowering beliefs about the personal capacity of all students.

 10.  Language Patterns and Intuitive Thinking One of Guy Claxton’s 8 elements of Real World Intelligence is intuitive intelligence. In this session we go into more depth about how we can help students to access and utilise intuitive thinking through altered states of mind. We explore situations in which intuition could usefully be encouraged and also the relationships between intuition and more rational conscious cognition. As with all sessions the aim is to learn practical skills and discover and plan for practical application within the classroom. NLP has much to offer on this respect providing the language structures and practices which trigger and facilitate purposeful intuitive thinking.

 11.  Strategies and Meta-programmes In NLP a strategy is an unconscious pattern of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Strategies either produce a positive or negative outcome. NLP provides a process for eliciting strategies, making us consciously aware of how we are doing what we are doing. We can then re-design strategies and reinstall them to achieve better outcomes. This approach can be applied in both learning and a behavioural context. Strategies often vary according to context and there are over-arching patterns which influence which strategies we run. These are called meta-programmes. The implications for learning and personal development are huge. Once we understand that we can manipulate our own strategies we also realise we (and our students) are capable of learning anything.

 12.  Delegate Presentations and Review. In this final session delegates have the opportunity to present their projects in whatever format suits them. We also review learning and agree how we will maintain and develop our NLP skills and awareness. Delegates are encouraged to set up practice groups and to become involved in supporting future groups of delegates in their own and other schools.

For more information and to discuss programmes without obligation, please call Harvey Taylor on 07974 228396 or e mail

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