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In 2012, a book titled The Chimp Paradox by the consultant psychiatrist Professor Steve Peters outlined a distinctive model of mind management.
The book invited readers to consider the different ways in which their calm, orderly and rational thought processes could be hijacked – by sudden bursts of impulsivity, inattention brought on by stress, displays of aggression towards colleagues, or inaccurate assessments of one’s own abilities.
Readers were then encouraged to see their brains as a machine with three core operating systems. The Human, a conscious thinking system which works with facts and logic; The Chimp, an emotionally- driven system working on instincts and drives for survival in the jungle; and The Computer, a programmable reference source for both the Human and Chimp systems.
Whilst all three systems are there to help and protect us, they regularly come into conflict with one another to create unwanted thoughts, behaviours and emotions, which can affect our psychological wellbeing and performance.
Using the Chimp Model, individuals can gain insight into their own unique mind and adopt skills to rationalise and manage their minds more efficiently. The model helps us to reflect on our own individual behaviours – to recognise how and when our Chimp is in control, and how we can be affected by our Chimp.
Being able to conceive this insight then equips us with tools we can use to manage our Chimp, helping us become less stressed, anxious and worried, and more confident, happy and resilient. Given the demands and behaviours found within school settings, it’s not surprising that schools have started drawing on the Chimp Model via Chimp Management – a charitable training provider set up by Professor Peters.
Here, two school leaders tell us about their experiences of using the model so far, and the extent to which it’s likely to shape their practice in future.
Deputy Headteacher, King Edward VI School Lichfield
Having come across The Chimp Paradox, I subsequently saw Professor Peters at the Hay Festival in 2018. The school later received an email promoting a free Chimp Management CPD course taking place at another Midlands school, consisting of eight sessions, and we ended up sending along three members of staff.
They returned from the training feeling that it had been quite primary-focused, but believed it contained some great elements that we could use as a school. We discussed exploring the Chimp Management process further with the course leader – but then came that rather large, COVID-shaped hole that ultimately prevented any further training from taking place.
However, we continued to discuss internally the different Chimp Management training opportunities available to us, and eventually concluded that we could adopt the model for our staff support and development.
Being a fairly traditional school, we’ve been on quite a journey in terms of our remote learning provision – from initially using a platform to share worksheets, to adopting Teams and Office 365 Education.
There’s been extensive staff CPD focusing on the use of those platforms over the past year, which has informed the ‘blended’ approach to staff training we now use, where some sessions are held in person and others are hosted online. That newfound flexibility has enabled us to spread things out and use our training time over the coming year more effectively.
Our hope is that the model can help some of our staff think more carefully about how they react to certain situations, and encourage them to pause, take a breath and react in different, more positive ways instead.
We can also see its scope for improving staff interactions with students – like many other schools, we’ve observed the rollout of the government’s new behaviour hubs, and reflected on our current approaches to encouraging positive behaviour.
Longer term, there may be the opportunity to give our students first-hand experience of those reflective moments, but for now, our plan is for the model to have an impact on staff – particularly their abilities to look after their wellbeing and manage their workload.
Deputy headteacher, designated safeguarding lead and mental health lead at The Manchester Grammar School
There are many things about the mind management model outlined by Professor Peters that are attractive to us as an institution.
We’re currently looking at collaborating with Chimp Management long-term to embed the approach into our PSHE programme, and have identified many areas in which we can use the model in an effective way – such as helping teachers better understand the way children relate to each other, and in teaching children how to reflect on their own internal thought processes.
As a very academic grammar school, we’ve seen how the model could work well with our students, who tend to be highly driven, high functioning and very goal- orientated, and therefore likely find themselves having to manage stress, the fear of failure and desire for success and achievement.
So far, we’ve delivered a staff training session that was very well received. On one level, it’s helped colleagues retain their sense of balance – these are individuals who have been working extremely hard and putting a great deal of pressure on themselves to support our young people – by helping them self-regulate and maintain a clearer sense of purpose.
It’s helped many colleagues recognise that some aspirations simply aren’t realistic, and therefore not worth beating themselves up about.
It’s also been useful where our interactions with children are concerned – helping us attain a more nuanced understanding of what those interactions involve, and the mental processes at play on the students’ part that are going to be slightly different to ours.
We’ve worked with other trainers in the past who have been very good, but focused more on understanding mental health in terms of ‘malfunction’ – situations in which people become depressed, anxious or mentally ill.
What the Chimp Model is very good at addressing is ‘dysfunction’ – within my normal mental bandwidth, am I managing my own emotions sufficiently well? Looking ahead, I can see the model as being hugely helpful for our staff, though not necessarily something we’ll embed in a series of formal school policies. It’s not about ‘indoctrinating’ people, but rather adopting the model as an overarching way of governing everything we do.
That said, I see the most fertile territory for the model as being among pupils – helping them understand the workings of their minds, and regulate their emotional responses to the conflict that can arise from being in a competitive environment.
I’ve already used the model in PSHE lessons to help children understand the nature of bullying, within the frame of evolutionary psychology and neurology. The scientific underpinning makes it a very informative model that kids can quickly grasp – ‘This explains what happens when I’m being challenged’; ‘This is why things get out of control’; ‘This is why I feel a certain way in particular situations.’
For more information about Chimp Management and its bespoke training services, visit chimpmanagement.com or follow @chimpmanagement
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