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Leading Lessons with Love and Limits

Updated: Oct 14, 2023



Don Macmannis workshop for teachers

March 28, 2023


Dr. Don MacMannis is a well-known psychologist and family therapist who has developed innovative approaches to parenting that have important implications for teachers in a school setting. With over 50 years of experience in family therapy, Dr. MacMannis emphasizes the need for a balance between love and structure in raising children.


Tuesday, our staff participated in a workshop with Dr. MacMannis to learn more about maintaining clear and consistent boundaries for students while at school. For teachers, Dr. Mac suggested creating a warm, supportive classroom environment while also maintaining consistent rules and expectations could set the stage for striking the right balance between love and structure. He emphasized that teachers need to set clear boundaries and expectations for their students, and provide clear and consistent consequences for misbehavior. At the same time, teachers need to show love and support for their students, providing emotional security and building strong connections with them.


Some specific tools Dr. MacMannis gave our teachers are the following concepts:

  1. Thinking systematically

    1. It is easy to develop tunnel vision when thinking about a child, especially a problem behavior. However, getting focused on one problem can limit us from seeing the whole picture. We need to continually be looking at the whole system a child participates in to accurately assess the whole child’s needs.

  2. Addressing feelings first and problem-solving second

    1. When under stress, the amygdala (small, almond size part of the brain that controls fight or flight responses) sounds the alarm that danger is near. This decreases the rational part of the brain’s ability to respond in a measured way. By addressing and acknowledging a child’s feelings first, we can then more productively reason about a solution.

  3. Mirror-Neurons

    1. Mirror neurons are a type of brain cell that respond equally when we perform an action and when we witness someone else perform the same action. They also help us empathize with others. They are the neurons in the brain that cause feelings to be contagious. Dr. Mac emphasized the importance of noticing our own feelings. When we are angry/upset, we’re communicating nonverbally and kids are likely to respond in kind.

  4. Setting effective limits

    1. Dr. Mac also discussed the importance of balance between providing a loving environment, but maintaining clear expectations and providing consistent consequences for certain behaviors.

  5. The “Key” to success

    1. There are ten major keys or common factors for building a happy and loving classroom:

      1. Talking and listening

      2. Expressing feelings

      3. Adapting to change

      4. Sharing time together

      5. Appropriate hierarchy

      6. Balancing closeness and distance

      7. Accepting differences

      8. Seeing the positive

      9. Effective problem solving

      10. Acting as an adult “team”


We’re thankful to Dr. Mac for spending the afternoon with us, and we look forward to continued conversations around maintaining a joyful classroom.


How can you help?

​One of the eye opening topics that Dr. Mac shared with us was the effect of lack of sleep on children ages 5 through 12. For more information, please look into his book, 'Who's the boss?'​. The importance of sleep in replenishing serotonin in our brains is significant and, unlike adults and teenagers, kids are unable to 'catch up' on missed sleep. Learn more at https://ftisb.org/articles-and-resources/ .



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