NLP in Education – A Magnificent Opportunity by Don Blackerby, Ph.D. & John Bartlett, B.A.

by Don Blackerby, Ph.D. & John Bartlett, B.A.


Many times when I used to teach mathematics, I would notice that some student would be staring out the window daydreaming. I would wonder what was going on in their mind that they would not be turned on to math. I often wished that I could “open up their heads and look inside to see what was going on.” I couldn’t then but I can now–metaphorically. I do it with Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP).

The fact that I can do this now opens up many magnificent opportunities for myself and the students I work with. Students no longer have to be unmotivated in school–they can be motivated with their own natural motivation strategies. They no longer have to be dis-interested by certain subjects–they can learn the structure of interest and apply it to any subject. They no longer have to not know how to learn–they can learn world class learning strategies for ALL academic tasks. They no longer have to be traumatized by bad test scores–they can learn to accept feedback for improvement purposes rather than feel like a failure. They no longer have to be labeled as having a learning disability–we can figure out how their mind works differently and teach them how to use their mind in school in a way that really works.

Prior to NLP, these kind of opportunities were hit or miss. Perhaps some intuitive or psychic teacher would get an idea and teach it to a student and it would work. But then it might not work with all students. So, the idea might get lost or it would lose it’s credibility. And, since the teacher could not codify the structure of the idea at the process level, it was hard to teach it to others in a way that would give it some credibility. NLP gives us the technology to elicit all of these learning patterns and codify them and teach them to others. NLP gives us the technology to find out, AT THE PROCESS LEVEL, how any student is blocking his or her self and to figure out how to help them. It is an exciting time for those of us who care about students and who want to be a positive influence in their lives. It is also an exciting time for those of us who want to strengthen our educational processes and systems. NLP offers us the magnificent opportunity to positively affect childrens’ lives forever by working with NLP in the school systems.

We are now in the process of setting up a NLP in Education Network which will attract NLP practitioners who share this dream. The primary force behind this network is from the United Kingdom. His name is Jeffrey Lewis and his e-mail address is: His web site is:

Applying NLP to Education–How it Works

Probably the easiest and most succinct way to explain the application of NLP in education is through the use the skills of NLP modeling and the use of Logical Levels of experience. When I am working with a student who is struggling in school, I use my NLP modeling skills to elicit the subjective experience of the student–logical level by logical level. If you will recall, logical levels of experience are as follows: Spiritual/Greater System; Identity; Beliefs/Values; Capability; Behavior; and Environment. Logical levels can be detected by the language patterns of the student. So, for example, if a student is complaining about his or her spelling lessons, it would sound like the following depending upon which level the student was focusing.

Logical Level Statement

Spiritual/Greater System “The school is dumb for making us learn spelling words.”

Identity “I am dumb.”

Beliefs/Values “Learning spelling words is dumb.”

Capability “I don’t know how to learn my spelling words.”

Behavior “Should I write my spelling words 5 or 10 times?”

Environment “The classroom is too noisy.”

So, as the student is describing his or her school struggles, I am listening through the logical levels template to discern at which levels the issues are. Once I determine that, then I use my NLP modeling skills to determine more specifically what the subjective experience is that needs adjusting. What I found with many students who struggle is a large void at the capability level. The void is there because most schools and teachers presuppose that students know how to learn academic subjects. The students are left on their own to figure out HOW TO LEARN. A large number come up with learning strategies that don’t work or they are inefficient and ineffective. Since we presuppose that they know how to learn we donât offer alternative ways and they keep doing what they have always done and keep getting the same bad results. Many take this personally and assume something is wrong with themselves. They start to devalue learning and school. Or, they move it to the identity level and start to believe that they are dumb or a bad student.

Help is available at all logical levels with NLP. It is precise and powerful. We know how to teach them learning strategies that really work at the capability level. We know how to positively affect attitude at the value level. We also know how to change beliefs at the top three logical levels. The changes are swift and transforming. It clearly fits the old cliche “Give a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for the rest of his life.”

NLP and Learning Disabilities

NLP offers VERY exciting opportunities for students who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. The NLP modeling skills offers the very precise tools that are needed to figure out the different style of subjective experience of this group of students. Many times the difference is at the capability level in the form of thinking or learning strategies. Much of the time the only thing that is needed is the addition or deletion of a simple step in their learning strategy. Once the step is dealt with, learning can occur.


One example occurs in the learning disability called Dyslexia. In this learning disability, one of the complaints is that the student will not be able to discern the difference between a b and d, or a 6 or 9 or a p or q, as examples. What I found many of them doing was not connecting the sound of the letter or number with the image. When somebody would say “Draw me a b” the sound did not pull up the image for the student to copy. It is a simple matter to teach the student to connect the sound to an image now that we know what is needed.

Another example was with a 9 year old boy who was having a difficult time learning to read. He also had been diagnosed with several disabilities including Dyslexia. The parents’ complaint was that they would read with him every night and when he would hit a word he did not know they would pronounce it for him. But then 2-3 paragraphs later he would not be able to recognize the same word. As they demonstrated this to me, it became very apparent to me what was causing the problem. For most students, when they are learning to read new words, they will look AT THE WORD as they pronounce it. This connects the image to the sound. What the 9 year old did was watch his father’s mouth as he pronounced the word. He wanted to make sure that he pronounced it right so he would watch his father’s mouth and imitate the mouth movement. This obviously would not connect the image to the sound and he would not be able to recognize the word later on. Again, the solution was very easy to teach to the young man and his parents.

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)

About 4 or 5 years ago I took the NLP Health Training developed by Robert Dilts, Suzie Smith and Tim Hallbom. My project was to model the subjective experience of Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD. ADD creates much havoc in our schools–particularly if hyperactivity is one of the symptoms. I recently heard a psychologist refer to ADD as “The great dumping ground for all complaints about students”. I tend to agree with him.

Attention Deficit Disorder is a condition that some people experience which manifests itself through numerous symptoms which may include one or more of the following:

* Hyperactivity – They can’t stay still. They are constantly moving and fidgeting. They are under chairs or tables or climbing over furniture.

* Impulsiveness – They move or change directions too quickly. They will be doing one thing and then suddenly start doing something else. They “act before they think!”

* Distractibility – They can’t stay focused on one thought or task. They will be doing a task and the smallest noise interrupts them.

* Lack of organization – They cannot do the more complex tasks which requires them to organize the larger task into a series of steps. Somebody has to tell or show them each step.

* Forgetfulness – They forget instructions. They forget to do things or tasks they have been told to do. They will start to do something and forget what they were supposed to do.

* Procrastination – They have trouble starting and completing tasks or assignments. They are constantly putting off doing things. They can’t seem to “get started.”

Often these behaviors surface in school, frustrating both the teachers and the other students who are trying to learn. A child with the ADD symptoms can be extremely disruptive in a classroom situation. The current widespread, accepted treatment is medication. Although, for some it may be the only treatment, there are those parents and professionals who question the advisability of putting a child on drugs. Notice that most of the symptoms are at the logical level of behavior. Most of the treatments are at the environment or behavior level. Besides drugs, behavior modification and space and time management are some of the skills taught to the person diagnosed with ADD.

I was wanting to model the subjective experience through the logical levels. It was my belief that their subjective experience was driving the symptoms. What I found was a wonderful, creative mind, in most cases, THAT WAS OUT OF CONTROL! The perception on their part was that they either could not control their mind or their mind controlled them. After awhile, this became a belief about their capability. Later on they would start to devalue school and learning. By the teenage years they would start to develop beliefs about their own identity about being “weird” or “different”.

I found that work was needed to be done at many of the logical levels instead of just at the behavior and environment. In fact, the interventions at those two levels would not hold in the face of limiting beliefs at the higher levels of capability, beliefs/values, identity and Spiritual/ greater system. This explained why it was so difficult to work with ADD in the traditional ways. They were trying to solve the problem at a lower level than where the “real issue” was. Albert Einstein once said “You cannot solve a problem at the same level it was created. You have to go to a higher level.”

Knowing that the “real issue” was the feeling that the mind was out of control and that, therefore, they would not to be able to succeed in the normal classroom, led me to develop ways to teach them to control their mind. Once I could do that, I could then teach them effective learning strategies. As I work with them, I am also sensitive to ferreting out any limiting beliefs that they may have fallen prey to and help them change those beliefs to beliefs that were more empowering. The results have proven to be absolutely astonishing.

The transformation of these much maligned students is a joy to see. In my opinion, they are genius or near genius anyway. They have the kind of mind that we want when we want creativity or when we are in brainstorming sessions. They just canât control their mind and take advantage of their own potential. So, once they know how to use their mind to their advantage, they unleash that tremendous potential to become whatever they want to be.


In my opinion, we in education spend too much time and effort in theorizing ABOUT education and get away from the actual learning process. We pile words upon words, bigger words upon bigger words and bury what has to happen in the subjective experience of students in order for successful learning to occur. These theories sound good, and are needed, but don’t translate into action at the level where help is needed–at the subjective experience level. The good news is that NLP operates at the subjective experience level. THAT IS WHAT WE PRACTITIONERS OF NLP DO! Therefore, the application of NLP in education IS a magnificant opportunity for practitioners of NLP. We have the attitude, the unique and specific set of skills, and the beliefs and presuppositions that will help solve the persistent problems in our educational systems. The need is great. The results with students are transforming. Once these students graduate, the effect on our cultures and societies will also be transforming. We will truly be using NLP to make the world a better place to live.

About the Author

Don A. Blackerby, Ph.D. is founder of Success Skills, Inc in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA. He is a former math teacher and college dean and founded Success Skills in 1981 in order to focus on using Neuro-Linguistic Progrmming (NLP) to help struggling students in school. In 1996, he wrote a book “Rediscover the Joy of Learning” in which he describes his NLP based strategies and processes on how he helps struggling students including those who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Don is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor, he is an educator who is certified in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and practices as a Personal Development and Academic Coach. On a spiritual path he is an ordained minister and registered in the State of Oklahoma.

2017-08-01T14:56:37+00:00 Articles|Comments Off on NLP in Education – A Magnificent Opportunity by Don Blackerby, Ph.D. & John Bartlett, B.A.