We’re All OK

Author/Producer Jane Seabourne/ Pat Shepherd
Published in Bulletin 38, April 2008
Date Published 17 April 2008
Pages 2


A Small-Scale Study Using Transactional Analysis to Modify Behaviour in 14-19 Year Olds at a Further Education College


We are lecturers at City of Wolverhampton College. Between us we have 20 years experience teaching on the In-Service Certificate in Education franchised to City of Wolverhampton College by Wolverhampton University.

We are also interested in transformative nature of Transactional Analysis. Eric Berne developed TA as a method of dealing with behavioural disorders. In TA terms, our personality is structured into three ‘ego states’: Parent, Adult, Child. If we can identify which ego state is triggered in our communications with others, we can understand more about the interaction, and, crucially, we can change unsatisfactory transactions. In TA terms, we can all be ‘OK’.

As the number of 14-19 year old learners increased in our college, we became aware that we were being asked for emotional support by a greater number of Cert Ed students than usual. A common thread was that they could not cope with the behaviour of their younger learners. We reflected that the Cert Ed does not prepare teachers for the seemingly different demands of younger students. We set ourselves the task of finding out if teaching the basic principles of TA to our Cert Ed students could help. The University supported our research project with a bursary.

As this was to be a small scale project, we aimed to work with six Cert Ed students. We offered to teach them basic TA – how to analyse transactions and change ego states. We wanted participants who could be available for occasional meetings; would be prepared to video and analyse two lessons, and lastly, to be willing to change.

In spite of our best efforts, out of 29 Cert Ed students, we only recruited four participants, and by the end of project only two of those were left. ‘T’ is an art teacher with 27 years teaching experience. ‘C’, is a Beauty Therapy teacher in her twenties, in her first year of teaching.

As this was an enquiry to test our hunch that TA would be of benefit to students, we decided upon an Action Research approach to allow us the flexibility to evolve a method of work.

We settled on the following cycle:

  1. Initial meetings to agree a contract (in TA style).
  2. Participant to record a problem group
  3. Participant to watch video
  4. Researchers to watch video and analyse transactions
  5. All three to watch together, to analyse, participant to lead
  6. Researchers to teach basic TA, supported with notes in booklet form
  7. Action Plan agreed
  8. Participant to practise TA skills
  9. Participant to video second session
  10. Repeat of cycle

T, chose to focus on a sub group of a BTEC Art& Design learners she called ‘the Fruits’ because they were influenced by Japanese manga comic book fashion. They were, in T’s view, unacceptably boisterous; she said she spent her time running around after them because they were ‘vocal and immature’. She felt tearful whenever she thought of the chaos of her classroom.

C wanted her NVQ group to be more responsive to her teaching methods and to hand in work.

Within moments of T and C watching their videos they identified their ego states and those of their learners. Both were struck by the extent to which they approached their classes in their Child ego state, T twirled her hair like a little girl; C blurred the line between personal and professional in disclosing confidences. They were both able to see how they were hooked by their learners’ Child ego states, and had, in effect, diminished their Adult and Parent ego states.

Once T & C acquired the basic TA concepts and terminology, they knew to change. By walking into the classroom in a consciously Adult ego state, and moving her desk so that she was the focal point on the room, T was able to regain authority. She also stopped labelling ‘the Fruits’. C gave clear instructions for assignments and deadlines in Adult ego state, by using professional language, and providing written lists of dates.

Both reported a positive change. From this, we concluded our hunch was correct, TA can make a difference to classroom behaviour: although the behaviour in question was that of the teacher.

Our project was not without problems: as well as a disappointing start recruiting participants; the video equipment proved unreliable, and arranging meetings between three people, on a three campus college, seemed almost impossible.

Although the research is too narrow to be conclusive, we think the results are interesting enough to develop our inquiry. We would like to include the TA in Cert Ed sessions: it gives a language to talk about, and reflect upon, problems, and it assumes problems can be solved autonomously.