Teaching is getting harder, not easier. This despite the fact that teachers have never been more educated, technology has never been more advanced, curriculum has never been so refined and pedagogy has never been so honed. Although these factors are important, the true problem in learning lies elsewhere – in the teachability of our students. This material will resonate with teachers’ experiences and point to a way through that is as powerful as it is surprising. This material is useful for all those involved in a child’s learning.

Course Description

The teachability factor refers to those determinants of learning that are psychological in nature, that is, developmental, relational and emotional. There are signs that the teachability of students is on the wane. The implications for education are profound. To the degree that this is true, teaching is becoming harder, despite our being the best equipped and most educated ever. Furthermore, the gap between our students’ potential and their achievement is widening. Teaching 'harder' is not the answer; enhancing teachability is.

What drives the engine of learning are the two basic psychological processes of attachment and maturation. There would be no reason to lift the hood on this engine if everything was working as it should. For an increasing number of students, this is not the case. For the sake of these students, it is necessary to become acquainted with these basic driving forces and their involvement in learning and behaviour.

The maturing processes play a critical role in learning and behaviour. Instead of one singular growth force as was formerly believed, there appear to be three distinct maturing processes. Another misconception, previously held, was that these maturing processes were active in all children and could be engaged by developmentally-friendly teaching. For example, all children were assumed to be interested and curious about their world; the teachers challenge was to tap into it. This optimistic view has turned out to be hopelessly naive. It is true that all children possess the potential to mature, but these processes need to be active in the child BEFORE they can be engaged for the purposes of education. When children are missing these processes, teachability is restricted accordingly.

For example, it is the maturing process of integration that enables a child to experience inner conflict and that equips a child with self-control. Students who lack integrative functioning are impulsive in behaviour, black and white in their thinking, egocentric in their relating, know better than they behave and are unable to benefit from confrontation. Teachers are handicapped severely when dealing with a nonintegrative child.

Likewise, it is the adaptive process that enables a child to learn from negative experience including failure and mistakes. If this process is missing, the student will not learn by trial-and-error or benefit from correction. These children make the same mistakes over and over again, failing to learn from the error of their ways. One of the primary instructional tools of any teacher is correction and over eighty percent of learning is believed to be through trial-and-error. Furthermore, when it comes to teaching lessons in behaviour, consequences are lost on these students. The implications of being nonadaptive are ominous for both teacher and student.

Unfortunately, our curricula and pedagogy assume adaptive, emergent and integrative functioning, setting us up to trip all over the students who are deficient in these processes. These students require an alternate approach, both to engage them as learners and to deal with their behaviour.

Students who are not maturing psychologically are rendered creatures of attachment by default. In other words, these children, regardless of age, are only equipped to learn from those they are attached to or about that which serves their attachment needs. Anything else is psychologically irrelevant. This would not be a problem for education if these children were attaching spontaneously to their teachers or using their teachers as their compass points. There have always been children who failed to grow up and still are very capable of learning. In fact, attachment-based learners are highly motivated in ways that other students are not. For example, attachment-based students are much more predisposed to learn through imitation, modeling, memorizing, cue-taking, mapping, orienting and classification. Attachment-based students are also more likely to be motivated to measure up and to compete as well as to learn for reasons of recognition and status.

The problem is that our current culture does not facilitate adult-orientation or student-teacher relationships. Recent societal change is eroding the traditional adult-orientation of students and making connection to teachers much less automatic. When saddled with students who are not maturing, we are left only with attachment to motivate yet often without the prerequisite relationships to do so. When children who are failing to mature are also failing to attach to their teachers, it renders them virtually unteachable.

The answer to the waning teachability of students is not to teach harder but to teach differently. It is more important than ever to become conscious of what renders a student teachable and to use this knowledge to create a context within which to teach. There is no doubt that attachment is the most powerful motivating force of all but it must be harnessed to be used for teaching purposes. In a culture that is failing to keep attachments aligned, we must compensate by taking the initiative to collect these attachment-based students and render them teachable. Unless we win the hearts of these stuck students, we are unlikely to have much influence on their minds.


This material is applicable and suitable for all those involved with students in an educational setting, from kindergarten to grade 12, teaching assistants to administrators, classroom teachers to school counselors, family workers to psychologists, mainstream educators to those in alternate education settings.

This material is also very appropriate to home educators. Homeschooling material tends to champion one pedagogical approach over another and often neglects to take into consideration the teachability factors of the individual child. Students who are not emergent will not benefit from idealistic approaches that focus on interests and put the child in the driver’s seat. Children who are not adaptive will not benefit from correction or trial-and-error learning. Defended learners are very sensitive to attachment factors and require a great deal of structure and familiarity in their learning environment. Understanding the factors that determine teachability should enable homeschooling parents to choose an approach that best suits their child.


Course objectives include:

  • to increase a consciousness of the role of attachment in learning and behaviour
  • to appreciate the crippling effect of immaturity on learning and behaviour
  • to provide the conceptual underpinnings to the importance of relationship in teaching
  • to provide an appreciation of the four natural contexts for learning and why these contexts are being eroded in contemporary society
  • to provide an explanation of why so many children are failing to develop into adaptive, integrative and independent beings
  • to make sense of why teaching is getting harder, despite the advances in curriculum, technology and pedagogy
  • to cultivate an appreciation of the emotional factors in learning and behaviour
  • to elucidate the condition of being defended against vulnerability and the impact on learning and behaviour
  • to reveal developmental stuckness as the most common problem of childhood.
  • to outline the foundations of an attachment approach
  • to expose the problems with using consequences and sanctions with stuck kids
  • to elucidate the role of emotion in learning & behaviour
  • to provide ways to soften defenses against vulnerability
  • to provide developmentally friendly strategies for dealing with problems that result from stuckness

Course Outline

Session 1 - Teachability Introduced

This session begins with an introduction of the teachability factor, including the problem and the thesis. The session then looks at the role of emergent functioning in learning and behaviour, including curiosity and sense of agency. When this maturing process and its fruit are missing, the impact on functioning is significant. Children must come to school with some modicum of emergent functioning for our typical pedagogical methods to be effective.

Session 2 - Teachability & the Adaptive Brain: correction, resilience and neural plasticity

This session covers the role of the adaptive process in learning and behaviour. When this maturing process is stuck, children fail to learn from mistakes, transcend disabilities, or benefit from correction. Aggression is best understood in this context. This material sheds light on the difficulties we experience with non-adaptive children as well as reveals the way through. Children must come to school with their adaptive functioning intact for teachability to result.

Session 3 - Teachability & the Developing Brain: problem solving, self discipline, and the capacity to process conflicting thoughts and feelings

This session deals with the role of integrative processes in learning and behaviour. Key to making sense of this is an understanding of the role of the cerebral cortex and corpus callosum. We trip all over the deficits resulting from non-integrative functioning when we don’t understand the cause. Once again, some modicum of integrative functioning is required for learning to result from our teaching.

Session 4 - Teachability & the Heart: stuckness and defendedness

This session deals with the role of emotion in learning and behaviour. When the vulnerability is too much to bear, the resulting flight from vulnerability greatly impacts their development as well as the learning and behaviour. The impact on teachability is profound.

Session 5 - Teachability & Relationship Part I: empowered teaching and the desire to be good

The immature are not receptive to being taught outside the context of a working attachment. The empowering effect of student-teacher relationships is explored. This session explains why alpha children are so difficult to teach and how the dynamic of counterwill cripples the learning process. Peer orientation also is introduced together with its devastating impact on the teachability of today’s students.

Session 6 - Teachability & Relationship Part II: how attachment is meant to develop and what hinders its formation

This session looks at how attachment is meant to happen and how the capacity for relationship requires six stages to fully develop. An understanding of how attachment develops and what impedes this development, provides the keys to fostering healthy student-teacher relationships. Also discussed is the role of the various pursuits of proximity in learning and behaviour.

Session 7 - Raising Teachability through Attachment: overcoming students reticence to attach and cultivating a context of connection

This material is developed through the constructs of collecting, bridging, and matchmaking. Suggestions are made for overcoming shyness and competing attachments, including peer orientation. This material is applicable to developing working relationships with individual students, as well as creating a context of connection in the classroom and the school.

Session 8 - Raising Teachability with Stuck Kids

Stuckness is looked at as a primary source of learning problems as well as troubling behaviour. Stuckness also renders conventional discipline ineffective and even counterproductive. Alternative methods for dealing with behaviour are introduced. Six ways of compensating for stuckness are reviewed. Suggestions are given for keeping students safe and for softening their hearts. Included in this session are the keys to caring and considerate students, and how this attachment-based developmental approach differs from other approaches.

Registration Details

The tuition fee for taking The Teachability Factor through continuing education is $200. This includes a virtual campus student pass of three months to access the videocourse material as well as other supporting materials. If a personal copy of the DVD set is desired, the tuition fee is $275.

The tuition fees for live courses arranged by individual Neufeld Course Facilitators or by other agencies are set independently and may differ from course to course.

Course Coordinator

Neufeld Institute Faculty member Tamara Strijack is acting coordinator for this course. She is also the director of our continuing education program and an experienced university instructor.

© 2016 The Neufeld Institute
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