Friday, August 18, 2017

Neural Ed Summit: Building a Greenhouse for Orchids

I've always been that "odd" kid. Growing up I was so anxiety ridden I worried when other kids' names were written on the board (true story). So I get it when my kindergartners, or any students, suffer from extreme shyness, anxiety, worry, or difficulty with attention span. To me these kids are not odd, but just like me. We are all unique. Which is why students do not need a factory model of education: where everyone gets the same thing at the same time, in lockstep, until graduation. They need a personalized model: as individuals they deserve to learn at their level, at their pace, with curiosity and creativity in play.

This, of course, means change for many. Change is hard. It makes us uncomfortable, but with it comes growth and all that is good. And to put it in the words of  Adam Welcome & Todd Nesloney, "Kids Deserve it." We didn't become teachers to listen to ourselves talk, rather, we became teachers to inspire learning.

During the Neural Ed Summit (last week) at PLU we learned about Dandelions and Orchids: Kids that are unfazed by stress and those that are highly sensitive. Not knowing research had been done in this area I had been milling along, attempting to find ways to connect with my sensitive students. I even garnered a small trampoline at the end of this last school year, not positive where I would be using it, but knowing it felt right.

But it all fell together during a presentation by Mary Snyder where she discussed ways her school was approaching the Orchids, who are many times seen as the "trouble" kids, by building a greenhouse for them (in school supports). My heart kept yelling "YES!" every time she spoke of a way to help, rather than punish, the child.

What's Happening at Mary's School:
 The school provides a place for kids to go to diffuse and regain calmness; A place that has tools for students to use to reenter their Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) and leave the fight/ flight/ freeze response set in motion by the amygdala when they hit stress in the classroom.

Tools like a lava lamp, fish tank, plants to water, jigsaw puzzles, and drawing/coloring can allow overstimulated kids to relax. While kids in fight/flight can play ping pong (with a student or teacher, to build empathy/ relationships, *3Ft size), balls to bounce/catch (to get back in the PFC by focusing on a skill), use a stationary bike, bounce on a yoga ball, shoot hoops, or use a personal size trampoline.  And get this: the students have the right to walk several laps around the school to regain a ready to learn mindset, without being interrupted by teachers asking where they are going and why. Because movement, in itself, is the most effective way to change mindset.

As our leader, trainer, "Yoda," Kieran O'Mahoney pointed out, there is a need for the students, not the teachers, to be in control of their situation. For students to go from a point of resistance to a point of resilience when allowed to make choices based on what they know about their brain. Therefore, students should not be questioned in the hallway by other teachers as that only escalates the current emotional state, rather than negate it. It makes me think about how allowing some of my Orchids to walk to the office and retrieve my mail (I'm in a portable) is fabulous for me AND them. It allows movement, time to refocus on a task, help others, and be in control. However, if teachers think students shouldn't be in the hallway without a teacher, and interrupts the student to ask why, it ruins the purpose of the exercise.

As a parent of an Orchid I was hoping this type of mindset space would come into fruition at my school, however, time and space are both issues. Yet when placed in comparison to the number of hours admin deal with student problems, wouldn't it be worth it? Students would spend more time learning, and teachers would spend more time teaching, instead of managing behaviors.

2 Strong Takeaways:
Train students on how to understand their brain.
Train teachers on what students need.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Manic Monday: 5 Takeaways from the #NeuralEd Summit

On Monday I hiked on over, 2.5 hours, to head to a Neural Education Summit at Pacific Lutheran College. I gotta admit, I was excited, but hesitant...did I really want to drive that long, be away from my daughter, and, let's admit it, leave my comfort zone for the unknown *Introvert Alert*.

But I have always been overly FASCINATED with the brain. It all began when my grandmother gave me a model of the brain in 3rd grade. It was a model that was in her husbands office (he was a doctor, she a nurse). I toted that brain model to school for sharing, so proud of it. So intrigued.

What I have learned has been phenomenal, amazing, life altering and I want to share some of it with you.

5 Amazing Takeaways

1. The brain learns best through use of SENSES. Want to cement something to memory? Associate a scent to it. This would explain why the smell of grape stickers transports me back to second grade (my award for excellence contained a grape scratch and sniff sticker).

2. If you want kids to retain info, you need to make sure the pre-frontal cortex is ENGAGED. Engagement occurs when you care about your learning, are actively involved, and experiencing dopamine through the happiness or elevated mood present.

3. Brain breaks need to involve activity AND fun AND occur frequently: this will result in higher dopamine/higher levels of engagement. Think you are an adult and subsequently don't need a brain break? Think again. Everyone needs brain breaks in order to stay engaged. Think of those long college classes where you would zone out after an hour...

4. Dandelions and Orchids are two types of students we see in the classroom. Think about dandelions: they are hardy, nothing bothers them, they float with the breeze. Now imagine an orchid: it is amazingly beautiful yet fragile, needy, and can barely be kept alive. Consequently, Dandelions in our class will be able to roll with the ups and down, while our Orchids need greenhouses to ensure success. Greenhouses are the stable adults that help them to continue to grow. Johnny doesn't care what happens in class, he adapts to what is presented. Joseph shuts down when faced with a challenge, or change, he is reactive & ends up in his amygdala thinking about flight, fight, or freeze. He needs a place/activity to refocus and get back to his pre-frontal cortex.

5. Everyone's brain continues to form neurons: new neuroscience shows that as adults we still take in information and grow neurons. That said, the best way to learn is through novelty (something new is added), movement (your pre-frontal cortex/working memory is engaged), scent (orange and peppermint are 2 great choices), and music (we all know why--just play Journey and listen to everyone sing along).

I am so excited I will be continuing to share great epiphanies in the upcoming days. Be sure and check out the website in the meantime: