Children at 12 Years of Age Must Not Be Tried as Adults

This is in response to Indiana Senate Bill 279

I am so exhausted from how so many of our policy leaders and government officials create laws, make decisions, and ignore research and the implications of that research as we continually perpetuate more of the same trauma and toxic cycles within our communities.

Waiver to adult court for attempted murder. Provides that the juvenile court shall waive jurisdiction if it finds that: (1) the child is charged with an act that would be murder or attempted murder if committed by an adult; (2) there is probable cause to believe that the child has committed the act; and (3) the child was at least 12 years of age when the act charged was allegedly committed; unless it would be in the best interests of the child and of the safety and welfare of the community for the child to remain within the juvenile justice system.

Testimonial and Research to Contest the Passing of Senate Bill 279 / Legislation

The adolescent brain begins entering a stage of extreme vulnerability and fragility around nine to ten years of age. This chaotic development can linger through mid to late twenties and is compromised and critically stagnated by high numbers of adverse childhood experiences. This period of erratic brain development coupled with a significant number of childhood adversities, often produces an adolescent brain that is functioning from a survival brain state, a state of constant fear, anger, turmoil, and violence which is characterized by pain based behaviors, a response to life events that has been in part neurobiologically created by personal , environmental, and life experiences that produce toxic and distorted levels of brain development and functioning.
Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have been identified as a key risk factor associated with a wide range of negative life outcomes, including juvenile delinquency. Research has demonstrated a strong relationship between ACEs, substance use disorders, and severe behavioral problems. When children are exposed to chronic stressful events, their neurodevelopment can be disrupted. As a result, the child’s cognitive functioning or ability to cope with negative or disruptive emotions may be greatly impaired. Over time, and often during adolescence, the child may adopt negative coping mechanisms, such as substance use or self-harm or harm to others. Eventually, these unhealthy coping mechanisms can contribute to disease, disability, and social problems, as well as premature mortality.
Prior research on adverse and traumatic experiences, as well as mental health problems of juvenile justice– involved youth, has revealed higher prevalence rates of adversity and trauma for these youth compared to youth in the general population (Dierkhising et al., 2013). Furthermore, compared to youth in the general population, juvenile justice–involved youth have been found to have a greater likelihood of having experienced multiple forms of trauma (Abram et al., 2004), with one-third reporting exposure to multiple types of trauma each year (Dierkhising et al., 2013). Placement in Child Protective Services and foster care due to parental maltreatment made unique contributions to the risk for delinquency in 99,602 officially delinquent youth, compared to the same number of matched youth in one study (Barrett, Katsiyannis, Zhang, & Zhang, 2013). In the realm of criminology we know that among offenders, experiencing childhood physical abuse and other forms of maltreatment leads to higher rates of self-reported total offending, violent offending, and property offending, even after controlling for prior delinquent behavior (Teague, Mazerolle, Legosz, & Sanderson, 2008). Experiencing parental divorce has also been well documented to have a strong association with delinquency, with meta-analysis on the topic showing moderate effect sizes (Amato, 2001). Even with the increased social acceptability and increased prevalence of divorce in recent decades, the differences in delinquency between youth exposed to parental divorce and those from intact families has not decreased (Amato, 2001; D’Onofrio et al., 2005).
In conclusion, the emotional age of a youth who has experienced significant adverse childhood experiences with cognitive functioning greatly compromised, equates to approximately half the chronological age of that adolescent. To waive to adult court for attempted murder or probable cause, with a child identified at 12 or within the early adolescent years is inhumane and grossly contradicts the research of adverse childhood experiences and brain development. ACE’s and brain development are deeply affected by environmental, community, and generational experiences and trauma cycles. This bill unacceptably and inaccurately contradicts the brain and psychopathology research purporting how we must approach and identify our youth who have committed these unbearable and pain driven crimes. These children must be assessed for the emotional and toxic adversities they have experienced with a community outreach that bridges the gaps of what we know through new neuroscience research and how we have traditionally practiced, imparted and recycled the family to school to prison pipeline with our nation’s and state’s youth. The Indiana Youth Institute recently published the 2019 data on the mental and emotional challenges of our state’s children and the statistics are sobering and eye opening with Indiana scoring higher than the national statistics on many if not most of the at risk indicators from this study/ survey for childhood well-being. When we know better, we can do better.

Dr. Lori Desautels
College of Education
Butler University



Applied Educational Neuroscience/ Brain and Adversity Survey for Classrooms, Schools, and Districts

Dr. Lori Desautels
Assistant Professor
College of Education
Butler University

(C) 2018
Adversity/ Trauma and Brain Aligned School Assessment

An adversity sensitive and educational neuroscience informed school/ district is a safe and cohesive environment that embraces attachment and emotional regulation brain aligned strategies in all classrooms. The school deeply considers the brain state of all educators and staff who serve the students. This district, school and/or classroom embrace the emotional, social, l and academic health and challenges of all students. Than Adversity and Brain Aligned environment prepares students to understand their own neuro-anatomy along with brain aligned strategies implemented as procedures, routines and structure dampening the stress response systems when activated. In this environment, the language of applied educational neuroscience and adversity is implemented school wide.

Please use the following scale when rating your school in the different components involved in creating an adversity and brain aligned informed and responsive school.
1. Not yet
2. Emerging
3. Developing
4. Established

School- wide Policies and Practices

1. To what extent do schools/ districts contain predictable and safe environments ( classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, lunchrooms, bus) and are attentive to the sensory, emotional and present moment needs of students as they transition through their days. 1 2 3 4
2. To what extent does your school have a strategy or plan in place for a student who may present harm to staff or another student? In other words, do you have backup systems that are created for co- regulation if the removal of a student is necessary within a safe and connected environment? 1 2 3 4
3. To what extent has your staff been trained in regulation and attachment brain aligned practices which make up the prevention strategies that provide predictability, routine and connection? 1 2 3 4
4. To what extent do your discipline policies balance accountability with sensitive students who have been exposed to significant adversity? 1 2 3 4
5. To what extent have teachers been trained to provide emotional support to students following a traumatic event? 1 2 3 4
6. To what extent has all staff been trained to provide emotional support to students following a traumatic event? 1 2 3 4
7. To what extent is the healthy brain state of all staff and teachers addressed in this school? In other words, is the emotional and social well-being of staff a priority?
8. To what extent has the staff been trained in identifying ACE’s and stress response systems of both staff and students? 1 2 3 4
9. To what extent has the staff been trained on how adversity and trauma impact brain development, behavior, learning and life perceptions? 1 2 3 4
10. To what extent does your school / district train all staff in brain aligned strategies for attachment and regulation? 1 2 3 4
11. To what extent do these educator preparation trainings enhance the culture and climate in every classroom? 1 2 3 4
12. To what extent has school staff been trained in identifying potential triggers of students and ways to effectively de-escalate and regulate emotions when a child or adolescent has been triggered? 1 2 3 4
13. To what extent are classroom guidelines procedures, routines and discipline procedures implemented in cohesive brain aligned systemic ways? 1 2 3 4
14. To what extent do teachers consistently provide and model positive behaviors and coping strategies that can replace negative actions? 1 2 3 4
15. To what extent does the school utilize morning meetings, bell work and times of transition to consistently implement brain aligned strategies THAT REGULATE AND USE ATTACHMENT? 1 2 3 4
16. To what extent are classrooms implementing organic consequences that are aligned to how the brain feels, learns, and behaves? 1 2 3 4
17. To what extent are schools including parent involvement in adversity and brain aligned learning? 1 2 3 4
18. To what extent are their positive supports, resources, and procedures for staff and students who need regulation and some time to repair and make a new plan of action? 1 2 3 4
19. To what extent has your school created a team of staff (ENAT) Educational Neuroscience Adversity Teams to be prepared and called upon during growing emotional crises? 1 2 3 4
20. To what extent is the leadership in the building and district informed and responsive to adversity / educational neuroscience? 1 2 3 4
21. To what extent does your school/ district engage community partners, organizations and families in the preparation of applied educational neuroscience/ brain and adversity? 1 2 3 4
22. To what extent has the school/ district developed “touch points” for students who carry in pain based behaviors/ trauma? These touchpoints are dyadic conversations and check-ins by a variety of educators and staff each day connecting with students. 1 2 3 4
23. To what extent have students been given a voice and choice in sharing their emotional, social and academic needs?
24. To what extent have office and discipline referrals decreased because of these adversity / trauma and brain aligned practices and instruction? 1 2 3 4
25. To what extent does your school/ district provide opportunities for all school, grade levels, and classrooms to provide collective brain aligned strategies throughout each day? 1 2 3 4
What are your concerns and challenges?

What specifically are your students and staff doing well? How can you build upon this?


“Eyes Are Never Quiet” / The Tragedy and Loss of Our Nation’s Children and Their Innocence

“Eyes Are Never Quiet” / The Tragedy and Loss of Our Nation’s Children and Their Innocence

A hurtful child is a hurt-filled child. Trying to change her behavior with punishment is like trying to pull off only the top part of the weed. If we don’t get to the root, the hurtful behavior pops up elsewhere.
-Pam Leo

Eyes are never quiet. The eyes of a troubled youth are communicating in all moments. Hurt people hurt people. Our children can become violent, detached, or shut down when early development is toxic, severely disrupted and is met with significant adverse childhood experiences. This was the early life of Nikolas Cruz the gunman in the Florida high school shooting. This writing is not condoning, excusing or diminishing the extreme violence and pain this youth created in the lives of literally thousands. But we must begin to ask the questions and learn about the brain’s development of those children and youth who grow up with extreme unbuffered adversity. They can become children without a conscience.

There is no dispute in the pervasiveness of gun violence and its devastating impact on children and adolescents, our future world citizens. A recent report from the World Health Organization data base published in the American Journal of Medicine has found that, among high-income nations, 91 percent of children younger than 15 who were killed by bullets lived in the United States. And this is not slowing down. The World Health Organization states on average , two dozen children are shot every day in the United States, and in 2016 more youths were killed by gunfire — 1,637 — than during any previous year in this millennium.

It is February, 2018 and our nation may set a new record for gun violence this year! I am angry, sad, disillusioned and yet, hopeful. I am not hopeful that gun laws or changes to make these laws safer will happen anytime soon, but I am hopeful that schools will begin to be a place of connection, identification and safety. This might sound irrational following the events of this week, but I have already witnessed and read accounts and stories about schools, educators and families reaching out to one another with questions, ideas and plans for resiliency.
I don’t think any of us can afford to wait on congressional laws to change, although we can keep pushing for these critical amendments. I do know that children are our nation’s greatest natural resource and their emotional, mental and physiological well-being are at stake. I cannot even imagine the shock, the post-traumatic and ongoing levels of chronic stress, alongside the crippling fear that our youth and families are experiencing in this time from yet another deadly school shooting in Florida this week.

The call to action is now and this will happen across many disciplines, programs, and within the creative compassionate presence of all communities. The change I am writing about this afternoon is the work of brain science, development, and the science of adverse childhood experiences coupled with the awareness of these adversities and how they affect the developing minds and bodies of our students.

There are ten types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study. This study is the largest most important public health study in our time! There are other adversities not mentioned in the study such as social rejection, accidents, and natural disasters, among many others. But the study does include physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of adversity counts as a score of one. So a person who’s been emotionally abused, grown up with alcoholism in the home and has been neglected has an ACE score of three. The Center for Disease Control’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study uncovered a stunning link between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional challenges. Among these diseases are heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and many autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, significant anxiety, violence, being a victim of violence, alcohol and drug use and suicide. Many of our students attending our nation’s schools have been given a classification of emotionally disturbed, attention deficit disorder, or developmentally disordered and often times, the root of all of these labels and classifications is a young life filled with violent, debilitating and toxic disruptions. What science is sharing is that once the traumatic event is over, it continues to live in the nervous system of each individual and if there is not a healthy caregiver present in a child’s life to cushion and help to regulate these adversities, then the brain literally wires and then fires , forming neuronal connections and strong circuits in lower brain regions where empathy, compassion, emotional regulation and collaboration are not structurally or functionally present in brain architecture.

The good news for our children and adolescents is the brain’s ability to rewire with healthy attachments and opportunities and experiences to build relationships and regulation skills that were missed in early development. It is much harder to reach an adolescent than it is a five year old but it’s not impossible. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s miraculous ability to change structurally and functionally with every experience.
Students spend 1,000 hours a year in our nation’s schools and these environments could one day be places of healthy attachment and breeding grounds for resiliency and compassion.

What can we do? We can do many things.

1. Can we begin to identify the number of ACES a child brings into our schools? We don’t have to even know what the specific ACES are, just the number. This identification process will begin to target those students who are in need of early interventions and attachments.

2. Change how we punish- When we understand that a student is coming into the third grade with four or more ACES, we begin to shift how we discipline! Discipline is proactive and works before there are problems. It looks to see conflict as an opportunity to problem solve. Discipline…
1. Provides guidance
2. Is prevention focused
3. Enhances communication
4. Models Respect to the child
5. Teaches fairness, responsibility, life skills, and problem solving
6. Embraces natural consequences
Punishment is designed to cause hurt, exclusion and pain. It is used to try and force compliance. The vast majority of school discipline procedures are forms of punishment that work best on the students who need them the least and work least on students whom adults think need them the most!

3. Could schools begin to create “Adversity Teams?” Many negative behaviors that students exhibit throughout a school day are symptoms of the pain of adversities that has landed in their brains and bodies. A well designed school environment puts procedures, routines and transitions in place that account for student dysregulation and takes steps to provide accessible resources for students to regulate and regain control of their emotional state.
An Adversity Team is a group of trained staff members that have a defined protocol and can assist students as they begin to learn how to regulate their emotions. I am learning that an educator today must begin to meet students where they are in brain development, and not academically. Students hijacked by ay a chronic an inflamed stress response system can become triggered throughout a school day causing violent aggressive or defiant behavior. The ultimate goal of the Adversity Team is to help the student calm down, regulate and begin again without the punitive discipline measures that unintentionally expel and suspend our students to nowhere! Prevention is key and we have not been prepared to deeply understand how early development triggered by chronic stressors compromises brain regions reprogramming how our stress response systems respond to life!
Adversity Team Members:
● Principal
● Assistant Principal
● 2 Counselors
● Athletic Director
● School Resource Officer
● School Nurse
● 3 Special Education Teachers (TORs)
● Learning Lab Coordinator

4. Our school community is filled with school staff who may not be classroom teachers, but they are present in our children’s lives every day! Sometimes the school secretary, bus drivers, custodial team and cafeteria staff may see patterns and incidences we could never detect inside our classroom walls. Relationships matter, and resilience research shows that one caring adult within the education system can make a huge difference to a student. I want to share how bus drivers, who are our initial and final school responders for students each day, can create attachment first thing in the morning and as students return home.

Safety on the bus matters most, and these strategies attend to this factor and don’t interfere with the physical well-being of students. But transportation personnel have a powerful opportunity to help students regulate their emotions by creating a safe environment while building relationships. Just “feeling felt” by another person builds cognitive function, and bus drivers can often see environments, patterns of behavior, and aspects of a student’s social and personal life that may be difficult to detect and understand in the classroom.
This past summer, my graduate student and I trained transportation personnel in northern Indiana on how to build strong relationships and help students to emotionally regulate when they stepped onto the bus each morning. We’ll continuing this training next year with a large school district in Indianapolis: Washington Township Schools serves over 11,200 students, and 175 transportation staff members will attend this training in November 2018.

Six Helpful Strategies

There are several brain-aligned strategies bus drivers can implement with all students before and after school. These strategies promote relationship and emotional regulation, creating a culture of unified support for everyone on the bus. On bus 60, for example, creating a special name or hand signal could help a child “feel felt” first thing in the morning.
1. Three buckets: At the front of the bus, the driver can keep three buckets. The first can be labeled: “What do you need today? Grab a pick-me-up!” The second: “What’s on your mind?” The third: “Celebrations!” Each day a student can reach in the first bucket for an affirmation, a book, a sudoku, a coloring book, or a cotton ball with lavender, for example. The second bucket is a place where students can leave a note or drawing with a worry, problem, or concern, to help get it out of their system—the driver can check in later with any student about a worry if that seems warranted. The celebration bucket is a wonderful way to mention daily or weekly successes: Students announce the celebrations—which can include displaying special projects or other student work—of the students on bus 60 on a Friday afternoon. Announcements can happen either when the bus arrives at school in the morning or in the afternoon after everyone has boarded but before the bus leaves the school.
2. Student mentors: One of the most effective ways to help students regulate their negative emotions is to provide leadership opportunities. Bus drivers can show older students how to act as mentors for younger students—the mentors can model how to take deep breaths (focused attention practices) and help younger students with redirecting negative emotions through a healthier channel such as drawing, coloring, or creating a new solution to any problem the younger students might have.
3. Catch me! Drivers can “catch” students doing or saying something kind. Notes of gratitude, messages of noticing, and stickers contribute to students’ feelings of purpose and connection.
4. Thumbs up, thumbs down: Each morning and afternoon, students can check in with drivers to share how they’re feeling through a quick thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or neutral show of emotion. This is a great way to check in and notice patterns while creating a connection.
5. Little breaks: The driver can play calming music, or the driver or a student can lead call-and-response songs. And Friday celebrations are a nice short break as well.
6. Bus newsletter, website, or a social media outlet: Share news with parents and educators to recognize the familial tribe of connection on the bus in this group of students and transportation leader.

4. Leadership Matters – This letter was written by a principal of high school in Indiana the day after the Florida shooting. Michael is a graduate student of mine and an educator who has embraced educational neuroscience and the power of regulation and relationship with his students and staff. Here are his words to his faculty.

Dear Faculty,

As I reflect on the tragic events from Florida this week it makes me even more resolved to make sure North Montgomery is a place where teachers, custodians, administrators, cooks, and bus drivers build connections with students. To make sure this is a place where safety is our first priority and our staff is so in tune with our students that we recognize the warning signs when someone is headed down a path that could lead them to violent actions.
We have security plans and protocols in place to help minimize the damage in the event of a school shooting but school shootings are not prevented by these measures. School shootings are not prevented by apprehending the perpetrator on the day they plan to kill.
They are prevented by caring adults who build a lasting connection that turns a student’s life around or is able to identify a student in need of intervention and refer them to the proper place. Rest assured that Jon, Brooke, Jill, A.J. and I will take every referral seriously and work tirelessly in concert with you to keep all of us safe.
Thank you for dedicating yourself to our students and to making this a school with a true culture of caring. It makes a difference in the lives of our students and our community.

Michael Cox
North Montgomery High School

5. Pre-service Educators- We must begin to prepare our pre-service educators in educational neuroscience! Our new and veteran teachers are not struggling with the content they teach, they are struggling with behaviors that originate from pain and trauma.

My hope for our nation’s children and our families is that we come together and recognize that each of us can hold a child’s heart and mind from many different perspectives and angles. We cannot afford another tragic loss of so many young lives! We can begin with the growing awareness and research that adversity just doesn’t happen to a child , it attacks and hijacks a child’s brain , body and nervous system function reprograming how we react and respond to all life.

Dr. Lori Desautels
Assistant Professor
College of Education
Butler University


20 Principles of Educational Neuroscience

Why Applied Educational Neuroscience in the Classroom?
Dr. Lori Desautels
Assistant Professor
College of Education
Butler University

After completing several semesters of our educational neuroscience graduate courses at Butler University, sitting beside educators from Indiana and across the country, and co-teaching in 11 different classrooms two mornings a week (K-12) for the past five years, I wanted to reflect in this post how this discipline / framework cannot be implanted, memorized, scripted or turned into an acronym! Educational Neuroscience embraces attachment, engagement and a deepened understanding of brain development as it relates to the teaching and learning process. People change people, not programs! To create a program or label and limit this emerging discipline, would be disrespectful and inaccurate.

What am I so excited about? What are educators so excited about after being introduced to this practice? Many educators are motivated and enthused because there is science and emerging research that aligns with how they are already engaging and connecting to students. They are excited to see how students respond with brain aligned strategies that energize and rejuvenate learning. They are excited because students are responding in positive ways to the new understanding of how attachment and brain development are opening doors to academic achievement, and positive emotion. There are many social and emotional mindfulness programs that are clearly enhancing social and emotional student well-being, but the core of all these programs is grounded in the brain science beneath them . It is time to begin mentoring and training our pre-service educators in brain development, as it relates to sitting beside 21st century brains who walk through classroom doors with an exorbitant mount of emotional social and cognitive adversity. High achievement, academic success, and closing those learning gaps occur when we “prime” the brain for regulation, connection and purpose because many of our youth are coming from environments where emotional connection with a significant other and a sense of purpose have been lost, denied, or buried. Adversity hijacks learning. Adversity occurs along a continuum and the experiences of adverse events and experiences are personal and perceptions. Adversity and trauma reprogram our brains and bodies perceptually!

The human brain is wired for relationships! The human brain loves to learn. But if the conditions for these neurobiological states are not attended to, we all experience the negative effects of a compromised nervous system which correlates with everything we do and are.
“If you lack a deep memory of feeling loved and safe, the receptors in the brain that respond to human kindness fail to develop.” (Van Der Kolk)
If we feel safe and loved, our brain specializes in cooperation, play, and exploration! If we are constantly feeling unloved, frightened or unwanted, the brain specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment.”

The 20 Principles of Educational Neuroscience

1. Educational Neuroscience helps us to understand the private logic and worlds of one another. We are feeling and social creatures who think. Adversity and trauma live in the nervous system and not in the event itself.
2. Attachment to adults is a prerequisite to learning from them! Attachment is the carrier of all development.
3. Brain Development is hot, messy, chaotic and anything but linear.
4. Students and adults who are angry, anxious, depressed or feeling negative emotion struggle with learning!
5. Environment intimately affects our neurobiological states and we need to attend to the outer and inner environments of one another.
6. Emotion is critical to the learning process.
7. Movement, breath, and healthy sleep patterns intimately affect learning.
8. Serving students begins with teaching them about their neuro-anatomy! When we do, children and adolescents are able to begin self-regulation habits while priming their own brains for engagement and learning connections.
9. Our behaviors are driven by how we see the world. When you walk through life with a guilt or shame based lens, you recycle the negative feelings and behaviors you are trying to lessen!
10. Children and youth want their own power and control, not another adult’s. Create islands of forced success and help them to discover their strengths, expertise and interests! Self-reflection is intimately connected to high levels of learning. Every child unconsciously creates a “social map” “How I see myself, becomes my experience.”
11. Shame is beneath all acts of violence. Violence is the absence of love… for children; they make a clear connection between violence, neglect and rejection!
12. Humans are nurtured by love- this comes from two sources- self and others! If love cannot be experienced from one of these two sources, it cannot flourish! A person who has not felt loved, has no reserves of love or kindness to give and this leads to a lack of empathy!
13. Many of our students walk into our classrooms and schools attuning and living in the brain stem areas! Relationships don’t matter as much from this brain state as regulation strategies!
14. Brain aligned discipline is about prevention and engagement! We must teach the behaviors we want to see and this occurs through daily routines, rituals, transitions implemented individually, whole class and whole school.
15. All discipline issues with pain based behavior are regulation issues!
16. Hurt people hurt people!
17. Development of behavior, learning and relationships align with the development of the brain (Brain stem to Limbic System to Cortex) which equates to the language of sensations, feelings and words!
18. What do babies and toddlers and preschoolers need to feel safe? What do they need to trust, to move to the next stepping stone? We have to begin in the brain stem!!!
1. Routines
2. To have patterned repetitive experiences
3. To be held and SEEN!!!
4. To be soothed and reassured
5 To be given the opportunity to begin again after they fall- do overs!!
6. To explore with boundaries –
7. To know if they make a mistake they are safe and
Can vent and express sensations and feelings
8. To play and laugh and create movement! –
9. To create!
10. Relationships that are steadfast and unconditional!! (staying connected through the conflict!)
These are the same needs of our students of all ages who walk into our schools, classrooms and districts!!! 18, 13, 10 or 8 years of age… we can meet these needs in community meetings, bell-work, procedures, and during transitions.
19. As there is biology of stress, there is biology of hope! We have the inborn capacity of resilience.
20. Four questions that drive our deepened understanding of educational neuroscience in schools.
A. Am I important to someone here?
B. Am I good at something here?
C. Am I able to affect change or my world in here?
D. Can I share my gifts with someone here?


Addressing Adversity through Sensations, Emotions, Art Movement and Breath! Dr. Lori Desautels College of Education Butler University

Addressing Adversity through Sensations, Emotions, Art Movement and Breath!
Dr. Lori Desautels
College of Education
Butler University

Trauma/ Adversity and Education is changing in that educators are required to attend to much more than teaching reading science and math. This time calls for a deeper understanding of how our brains develop, respond to adversity and how every experience changes the structure and function of brain architecture. Educators have the ability and honor to address the science of adversity and the biology of stress that hijacks the brains of so many of our students across all schools in our country.
We know that children and adolescents are carrying into their classrooms and buildings chronic levels of anxiety. Fifty-one percent of children in public schools live in low income households, equating to over 47,000 schools. When poverty rates are less than 10% the United States ranks at the highest levels of any country in the world in reading, math and science. But when the poverty levels exceed 50%, there is a significant drop in academic performance across all grade levels and this is where the media distorts how the students in the United States are performing overall! In this time, 25% of all adolescents are experiencing anxiety disorders and this number actually climbs to 30% with adolescent girls.
Up to one in five American youngsters — about 7 to 12 million, experience a mental health disorder each year, according to a new report billed as the first comprehensive look at the mental health status of children in the country. And the rate is increasing, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which produced the study in 2014.
Significant poverty, anxiety, and other adverse childhood experiences compromise and impair the systems in our brains that are intimately connected to learning, behavior, and positive emotion. In particular the limbic system has an affinity for cortisol, a stress hormone produced in our bodies and brains when we need to be alert and pay attention. When children are exposed to unbuffered chronic levels of stress, cortisol is overproduced and can actually kill off receptors in the hippocampus, an area in the limbic system responsible for learning and memory. When adversity and trauma have been present throughout a young child or adolescent’s life the sensory and motor areas and the right hemisphere in the brain are compromised from a lack of maternal input and emotional regulation during critical periods of development. The right hemisphere comes on board the first year of life and holds negative emotion, visual images and implicit memories. Adversity can become stuck in this area as students move through development.
Many children and adolescents carrying in adversity and trauma struggle with processing, organizing and expressing incoming stimulation which can impede higher cognitive learning! When we activate the right hemisphere through sensations, movement, art, music, connection and play, we help our students to regulate negative emotions, feel connected and integrate left and right hemisphere where connections between verbal and nonverbal communication strengthen.
Just as there is a neurobiology of stress and adversity, we also have uncovered a neurobiology of trust and connection which helps mediate the adversities so many of our students carry into the classroom. We are now called as educators to understand the malleability of the brain and the power of relationships that can safeguard and heal the interconnections between various areas of higher cortical thinking and the emotional centers of the brain.
Why does all of this matter? In today’s world, teachers are not only facing significant challenges within the fragile brains of students that directly impede learning but more important, our educators are experiencing second hand trauma from the pressures of being unprepared to address the emotional and social challenges of a child’s well-being.
Students “carry in” their experiences, private thoughts, cultures and a continuum of feelings that change often! Students who carry in pain based behaviors sometimes need for us to enter the back door of their brains (the brain stem area) as the frontal lobes are often shut down and not able to process words, logic and challenges. The back door is where we can address the lower parts of the sensory and motor systems that are often compromised when chronic stress is present.
Teachers who can step out of a disruptive pattern of communication and behavior with salient tasks, have a much better chance of attaching and connecting to the students first thing in the morning and throughout the class period or day! There is an area in the brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) and this area in the brain stem is always on alert for salient information in the environment. It is a primitive filter and when sensory information comes in that is pleasurable and motivating …even for a few minutes, the higher brain has a better chance of processing cognitive tasks and academic assignments.
Regulating brain states is not a warm fuzzy extra. Our students are walking into our classrooms and schools with significant anxiety and negative emotion! The impact of stress and adversity on the brain and body intimately affect our emotional physiological and cognitive health. When the stress response is chronically activated there is decreased volume in the hippocampus which affects memory, irregular levels of neurotransmitters, an overproduction of neuronal connections in the limbic areas of the brain affecting fear, anxiety, and impulsive responses.

The following strategies and activities are intended to assist with emotional regulation, build attachment and connection in the classroom, as most of our troubled students are operating from the lower structures of the brain with reactive cognition. When we can support these lower structures there is a much better chance for information to reach the Prefrontal Cortex which is attached to all parts of the brain.
Adversity intimately affects development of the Right hemisphere and this right hemisphere is the locus of control over emotions and behavior.

Addressing Implicit Memory, Emotions, Images and the Sensations Resting in the Brain Stem and Limbic Structures of the Brain

1. Sensation awareness can be introduced and shared each morning during the morning meeting or community time.
Adversity and trauma reside in our biology not our psychology!! The amygdale is our emotional switching station but the stress response begins in the brain stem!!!
The language of the amygdala is feelings!
The language of the prefrontal cortex is words!
BUT the language of the brain stem is sensation!
To begin the day, have students share with a picture or description how their bodies feel. Examples are jittery, tense, pressure, cold , tingly, like jell-o, butterflies, hot, chilly, shaky, icy, weak, empty ,full, tearful, goosebumpy, heavy , open, etc.
Here is a Sensation Word Box –
Cold/ warm/ hot/chilly
twitchy/ butterflies
sharp/ dull/itchy
hard/ soft/stuck/jittery/icy/weak
relaxed/calm/ peaceful
empty/ full
strong/ tight tense
dizzy/ fuzzy/ blurry
numb/prickly/ jumpy/owie/ tearful/ goosebumpy
light/ heavy/open
Tickly/ cool/ silky
Still/clammy/ loose
Sensations are different than emotions! They describe the physical way the body feels. Children who are struggling with speaking can point to places on their body that hold a sensation. Sensory awareness promotes cognitive growth and self-awareness.
When students can begin to identify their sensations, they begin to tap into the body and brain where the negative feelings and images are!
Questions to ask!
1. What are you sensing? As the teacher begin sharing and modeling your own sensations!
2. Where is this in your body?
3. What might be the reason for these butterflies?
4. Thank you for sharing as it is so important to know how you feel in your body as this helps reduce some of the negative feelings!
5 What would feel better to you? How can we or I help?
What helps?
1. Just sharing can reduce and dampen the stress response
2. A Focused Attention Practice- breathing and some movement
3. Take a few minutes and draw on a sheet of paper what your sensation looks like!! What color would you give to (itchy, tense, fuzzy, or clammy (for example.) Are they small or large? Does this sensation feel friendly or angry?
From the research of Dr. Peter Levine
When we tap into sensations then we can attach emotions to them and finally when we’re ready, we can provide words or the story!!!
Just as the brain is built from the bottom or back to front, our experiences of adversity begin in the brain stem and can become stuck! This is true for all of us. As Dr. Dan Seigel states, “What is shareable is bearable and what we can name, we can tame!”

Animal Totems
Students will view pictures or figures of animals. They will then choose an animal that they are most conned to either positively or negatively.
After exploring their animal the teacher asks the following questions and these can be answered during a whole class exercise or students can share their responses with a partner, through a picture or they may write down their responses.
A. What is it about this animal that you like or dislike?
B. How is this animal like you in any way?/ How is this animal nothing like you?
C. What are the two best qualities about tis animal? What are the two worst qualities?
D. What would the home of this animal look like?
E. Who is in this animal’s family and do they get along with one another?
F. If you could give this animal magic powers, what would they be?
From Linda Chapman’s Work with troubled children and adolescents
2. Bi-Lateral Scribbling
A. With a large sheet of paper and two different markers in each hand, students will follow the directive of the teacher.
B. Make random marks up and down
C. Make horizontal marks across your paper
D. Make large arcs across your paper
E. Make large circles
F. Make circles fast
G. Make circles slow
H. Make dots all over your paper
Questions to Ask!
Is there anything about this scribbling that resembles you or any part of you?
Is there anything about this scribbling that is nothing like you?
Are there any pictures or designs you see in this scribbling?
What word comes to mind as you look at your scribbling?
Would that word describe something about you or someone you know?

3. Filling up the page with shapes and colors! This activity will explore a child’s feelings! Are they aware of their feelings and what might be his or her perception of self? Please select the colors of markers or tissue paper that represent your feelings and begin to draw and color his or her feelings filling up the paper as much as he or she wants! Feelings can overlap, run together or are displayed in any way the students choose. Questions that follow.

A. What color is the largest? If it had a voice what might the color say?
B. What color is the smallest? If it had a voice what might this color say?
C. What color gives advice?
D. What color would like to be in charge? What color is in charge?
E. Which color would like to hide?
F. Which color would protect the hiding color?
G. Which color is most peaceful?
H. Which color is least peaceful?
I. Is there anything you would like to change about the image?
4. Create Your Own Room and Place
Imagine having a room or space that is all yours! They can decorate it and furnish it anyway they would like. You have complete control to decide who is allowed in the room and who is excluded.

1. How would you spend your time in this room?
2. Who is allowed to visit? Who is not allowed to visit?
3. How would you care for your room?
4. What person, object or decoration makes this room the most special? Why?
Linda Chapman/ Neurobiological Informed Trauma Therapy for Children and Adolescents
These activities build sensory and motor systems to develop the mind, body, self, activating the right hemisphere with visual and sensory experiences! They also address the missed opportunities of emotional –regulation aiding in neurological development which leads to cognitive development!


Brain Aligned Preventive Systems / Replacing Behaviors we Don’t Want to See!!

Brain Aligned Preventive Systems

These systems are designed to replace old behaviors and unlike backup systems, they are to be permanent! They are student driven, collaborative and filled with choice, novelty and natural ways the brain learns, behaves and engages!

These Preventive Systems are taught just like we would teach procedures, transitions and class agreements. The purpose of these systems is to assist and model ways to regulate our fight flight freeze systems and to place connection and relationship at the forefront of all we are and do in our classrooms and buildings and districts.

Small Preventive Systems
1. Student directed focused attention practices
2. Brain Intervals
3. Journal Writing
4. Create trigger lists
5. Use of Questions/ What do you need? How can I help? What can we do to make this better?
6. Noticings
7. Take Your Order!

Medium Preventive Systems/ Whole Class

1. Focused Attention Practices led by teacher and students
2. Brain Intervals/ Spend some time at the beginning of the year and periodically throughout to create homemade brain intervals
3. Brain Aligned Bell Work/ Service to others in the building
4. Class Roles and Responsibilities, such as: Kindness keeper, Researcher, Story Teller, Helping Hand, Inspirer
5. Class Newsletters or Web site
6. Class Trigger Lists and Coping Strategies
7. Design Bulletin Board

Large System Preventive Systems

1. All School Focused Attention Practices/ Brain Intervals
2. Convocations with topics each month!
3. Setting up all school Amygdala First Aid Stations
4. Brain Labs in your classroom
5. Common Language is so important!
6. Teacher Brain States and Modeling for our Students

August- What is the brain? Survival, Emotions, and then Thinking! “We are Feeling Creatures who Think!” How do I develop? Neuroplasticity/ Teacher Brain States

September- Brain’s Stress Response System/ Amygdala/ Adrenaline, Cortisol, Triggers/ Prefrontal Cortex/ Focused Attention Practices

October- Hippocampus and Learning! Focused Attention Practices

November- Mirror Neurons and Emotional Contagion

December- Power of Reflection, Drawing, Scribbling, Art, Movement and Breath!

January- Student led Focused Attention Practices/ Brain Intervals/ Brain Stem Activation

February- Teaching others about their neuro-anatomy/ neuroplasticity

March – Use our skills during testing/ Cognition/ Memory/ Sleep/ Nutrition

April – Neuroscience Fair/ Projects

May- How will I use this at home over the summer? Project to take home and share through the years to come!

Lori Desautels, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
College of Education
Butler University


Samford’s Education School Hosts ‘Neuroscience of Learning’ Conference

Original Article Published on May 03, 2017 at by Sara Roman

Neuroscience 2017

More than 120 superintendents, principals and teachers throughout Alabama attended the May 2 conference, “Neuroscience of Learning: A Follow Up to the Finland Summit,” presented by Orlean Beeson School of Education in partnership with the Goodrich Foundation. Attendees represented more than 20 school districts as well as several private schools, Alabama State Department of Education and Alabama Department of Public Health.

According to David Finn, Samford professor and member of the event’s planning committee, the goal of the conference was to continue the conversation about factors that positively impact student achievement. “The philosophy and practice of educational neuroscience embraces those factors, and has caused contemporary educators to consider ways of incorporating those principles into the daily lives of all children,” said Finn.

In the interactive morning session, Lori Desautels, assistant professor at Butler University, shared her passion for engaging students through neuroscience in education. She integrates mind brain teaching and learning strategies into her courses.

Desautels asked participants to place one hand on either side of their head and connect their pointer finger and thumb to make a circle around their temple. “This is your amygdala; this is the place that holds emotion,” said Desautels. “When a student enters your classroom wired up or shut down, oxygenated blood flow is going to this area, thus decreasing the blood flow to the frontal lobe.”

The frontal lobe’s function includes problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, impulse control and social behavior. According to Desautels, these are skills necessary for a child to learn in the classroom. Instead of asking, “What is wrong with this student?” Desautels encouraged teachers to ask, “What happened to this student? What is the story of this student?”

Desautels said it is crucial for educators to provide students with all the tools they need to learn in the classroom. Those tools can be better identified when there is an understanding of what the brain needs to learn.

Attendees participated in breakout sessions were based on one of seven key points identified in the fall 2016 Finland Summit conference. In one session, participants discussed the need for movement in the classroom.

“Keep your students engaged and ready to learn through what I call brain breaks,” said session facilitator Chelsea Byrd, a teacher in Jasper City Schools. She showed a video that used a dance and rap to explain the water cycle from a website that holds hundreds of videos created to activate students’ bodies and brains.

April Brand from Helena High School led School Based Time—Pack 60. “Pack 60 was instituted to provide students with a break from academics through a variety of scheduled options during their lunch period,” said Brand. Students are given 30 minutes to eat and 30 minutes to meet with extracurricular clubs and to build student relationships.

Superintendent of Fairfield City Schools Walter Gonsoulin believes in the importance of students having basic needs met in order to learn. “We want to remove barriers to student success by helping students and families access comprehensive wrap-around services,” said Gonsoulin. “These services include, but are not limited to, primary health, dental care, vision care and mental health care.” The services are offered at or near the school site.

In addition to her conference presentations, Desautels met with Orlean Beeson School of Education undergraduate and graduate students in the afternoon. “I am so excited to share a couple of things that I wish so desperately someone had shared with me when I was a new teacher,” said Desautels.

Desautels then asked a Samford student to hold a water bottle high in the air while she continued her lecture. A few minutes later, Desautels asked the student how she was doing. “That was tough. My arm hurts,” replied the student. Desautels asked her how she felt her listening was affected by holding the water bottle. The student laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t know that I heard a word you said. I was so focused on my arm.”

Desautels explained that this is what happens to students when they walk into a classroom with baggage or a weight over their heads. Students often shut down and are unable to learn.

Students and conference participants were asked to remember three key points. First, neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning or experience. Second, students respond to someone they feel cares and is someone they respect. Third, teach and model the behaviors they want to see. “Think of teaching behavior like you would think of teaching someone to ride a bike,” said Desautels. “Don’t punish; the brain learns from repetition.”


Educational Neuroscience/ Brain and Trauma Summation of first semester Dr. Lori Desautels 12/13/2016

The purpose of this summation is to share with educators, faculty and students how educational neuroscience was implemented in grades three, four, five and six at the Butler Lab School in the fall of 2016. It is my intention to outline not only the activities, strategies and feedback, but to share how the brain states of curiosity, anticipation, novelty and prediction were embedded in our time together. This summation will also support the strategies we implemented in de-escalating the stress responses both in students and in educators. I want to thank Mrs. Heather Williams for supporting this work as she assisted in these classes with co-teaching, feedback, and yoga instruction.


Fall 2016

Butler Lab School  

August- December

I began in two 5/6 classes this semester and ended the year in a 5/6 and ¾ class. The purpose of this summation is share the educational neuroscience topics and lessons that were introduced and hopefully these strategies and lessons will be further explored and differentiated this second semester. The staff at the Butler Lab School was wonderful to work beside and always open to new ideas! We encountered a challenging beginning to the academic year with two of the three 5/6 teachers leaving six weeks into the school year. It also became very apparent early on, that many of the students were struggling emotionally with a variety of significant adversity and the emphasis of my time in the classrooms each week was helping both teacher and student to understand the science  beneath behaviors, calming the stress response, and engaging those students who entered school internalizing behaviors or hyper sensitive to their environment, instruction and to school relationships.

In the first weeks, I introduced the “brain” and why I was there.  The students seemed very interested in this discipline and before we can ever truly model brain intervals, focused attention practices or engagement of standards and content, they needed to understand what was happening inside the science of their brains! Actually this age is ripe for the learning as their brains are developing in the most complex ways. To understand and have the awareness of why we feel the way we do is further calming and regulates the stress response system. In each of the three classes, there were approximately five to eight students who were not walking through the Lab school’s doors with a brain primed to engage emotionally, socially or academically. There may be more that are challenged, but consistently I observed about 18 to 20 students who are daily reactors to their environments. I know that the teachers are deeply aware of this. This makes our job even more important!

Topics from the First Semester



Prefrontal Cortex



Mirror Neurons/ Empathy


Core Memories

Islands of Personality

Focused Attention Practices

Brain Intervals

EFT Practices/ Tapping

Brain as a Social Organ

Myelination/ Repetition and Emotion

Multiple Intelligences

Images and Stories

90 second rule

Adolescent Brain


August/ September 2016

  1. In the 5/6 classes we observed paintings of  neuronal connections and the students predicted, discussed, and shared what they had learned about neuroplasticity, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex. I wanted to see what they had retained from the first few weeks following an introduction of this discipline. I brought in almonds on a few occasions that resemble our amygdalae. They loved the treat and comparing the size and shape of this limbic brain structure.


  1. We know the brain learns best through visual images and stories so I implemented these brain aligned strategies weekly. Joseph was especially intrigued by the paintings and loved guessing what they resembled and the association to what was happening in his brain.  I shared the story of Nellie, our rescue dog, and how the brains of dogs in stress resemble our brains in stress… they made several connections and loved the framed picture of Nellie and the story I wrote about her.


In early September, in Courtney’s class, we also reviewed what the students had taken away from the past two weeks. The discussion was rich and engaging from this group as we focused this discussion on our feelings and how contagious emotions. We implemented the Sentis videos that discussed the working parts of the brain!   Courtney began teaching about magnetic power and this was a great introduction with :


  1. realia- magnetic objects from my house as they were amazed how my Butler name tag bar could pick up an entire picture frame!
  2. We used prediction, questions, discussion, and analogies as they made guesses and predicted the biggest magnet in the world and the smallest. They also discussed common every day magnets or occurrences that we all use, i.e. cell phones, electricity, (we talked about our recent storms and power outages). This discussion led to the HUMAN MAGNET!! We talked about how we too are magnets and we attract unintentionally the feelings of others because emotions are contagious. It was a simple but enjoyable introduction to the standard of magnet charges, poles, and the intricacies of what they would learn that week.
  3. In all classes, I introduced a new brain interval/ focused attention practice that combined movement and breath! We called this the domino effect…we breathed through our noses (warming up our bodies and brains)  as we began wriggling our toes, ankles, legs, shoulders, and arms;  then proceeded to do the reverse as they mimicked me. I will continue to help them to understand that the only ways we are able to calm down in negative emotion is through breath, movement and some space and time.


  1. In the 5/6 classes we honed in on “feelings.” We are feeling creatures that feel first and then think… Each day I invited students to lead with me and will continue this procedure next semester. We passed out colored straws that represented our feelings and chose various classmates to answer the questions based from the Inside Out curriculum. As they shared the questions they chose and their responses, there was lots of “red anger straws”   but also much joy and disgust shared too! I noticed fear and sadness were not mentioned much often. This was strong perceptual data for me as well. They were given six colored M n M’s representing the feelings in their prefrontal cortex. I modeled this exercise with photos and a story- two brain aligned strategies that stick to the brain like Velcro.
    1. In  the 5/ 6 class we took educational neuroscience into memoir writing. Here is an example we could use to teach the details of a memoir or story. When introducing this concept (details) we have one large piece of colored construction paper in the center of our group and hidden in the hands of the teacher is the same piece of colored construction paper that has been torn into 25 to 50 pieces!  We then begin the few minutes of direct instruction with a question: What would this large piece of orange paper (and then we toss into the air the tiny pieces) and these small pieces of orange paper have to do with our memoirs and the details that we write into our wonderful stories?  The students take a minute and share out their guesses with a partner and then we predict. We come to the conclusion that we would not have a story without all these wonderful details! Then we can begin showing the contrast.


    1. I brought in almonds, a pair of torn jeans, a hand written ten word poem. The students reviewed the amygdala and prefrontal cortex while we ate salted almonds. I then explained that we would move to our PFC as we predicted what was in the brain bag, observed the jeans and “wondered” about how the yellow poem, the torn jeans, and red sheets of paper could help us to think clearly. We reviewed details by having them listen to the words in the poetry and then after listening and observing… they took 30 seconds of quiet and returned to their seats where they tried to remember all the details from the poem and/ or the details observed from the pair of jeans! They wrote their details and words on red paper with black pens and then shared all the details of the observations. We honed in on active listening, details, prediction, analogy, working memory and even raised lots of dopamine as we guessed, laughed and shared!


    1. “How to Train Your Dragon” – we shared in this film clip and talked about trust and how we earn one another’s trust… these were questions for the teachers and students!



    There are so many ways to watch and implement this video clip! For me as a teacher… studying this, I am learning:
    1. Trust takes time and space with students who come into our classrooms not trusting adults!
    2. I am unable to connect with a child or adolescent until I have provided some modeling of calm predictable behavior! Mirror Neurons!
    3. I don’t always have to have a child look at me when I am redirecting or communicating!

    When I show this to my students this week, we will talk about the power of connection, empathy and mirror neurons!
    We will discuss the power of nonverbal communication and being patient with differences! Where are amygdalae in this clip? How do you know? How do Toothless and Hiccup move to connection in the prefrontal cortex? What did you notice about neuroplasticity from this clip? How can you apply the creation of this new friendship in your own life?


    Our circle times were spent together greeting one another, but also focusing on a topic or a question. Below are a few of our questions for community circle.


    1. What are your strengths?
    2. What triggers you?
    3. What do I do well now that I wasn’t able to do well in the past?
    4. What did I use to do that I don’t do much of anymore?
    5. Are you more like a cracker or a cookie? Why?
    6. When were you in your PFC recently?
    7. When were you in your amygdala?
    8. Which emotion from Inside Out do you relate to the most? Who shows up in headquarters more often?
    9. Name one personal goal you will change to show neuroplasticity? How will you do this?
    10. What is one school goal you will change to show plasticity in the brain? How will you do this?



    October/ November


    1. In these months, we took a hard look at the amygdala, memories, and neuroplasticity and our triggers. We also looked at how the brain is a social organ and we need each other. We revisited “Inside Out” and core memories discussing how many of our core memories are sad and filled with joy, but what makes them “core” are the emotions tied to these memories. The students were also given glass marbles as these represented their “sparks” their passions, interests and areas of expertise. Next semester, we will focus on creating “Islands of Future Personalities” keeping neuroplasticity in mind.
    2. Students created candy models of neural connections and we even made human models with students lying on the floor representing axons and dendrites connecting which shows learning in the brain.
    3. We delved into Multiple Intelligences and I hope next semester teachers will take off with this activity creating an MI wall reminding students of all the ways we are smart… focusing on the question- “How are you smart?” rather than “How smart are you?”
    4. Academically, in the ¾ class, Kate and I co-taught with great success (we laughed a lot too!) When we co-taught in writer’s workshop, we acted out immigration, fracking, and healthcare when students were creating their “candidate for presidency” work. Each candidate held a different stance on these issues, so Kate and I acted out the issues, while the students took notes, predicting, making associations, while excited to give us feedback. We did the same co-teaching model for teaching punctuation and editing. I wrote up a horribly misspelled paragraph with all kinds of punctuation errors and as we read this to the students, they assessed the work we had done! They loved finding the errors and sharing those with us.
    5. In teaching memoirs, we compared the main idea to the meat inside a cheeseburger! We discussed what might be the meat, what represented the cheese, lettuce and other toppings. We began to see how details do support the main idea.
    6. We also incorporated a brain interval and a focused attention practice each time I came to This is very important for teachers to implement every part of the day when I am not there. We taught the students (EFT, tapping), which they loved! In one format, they mimicked me and had to pay close attention to the areas I tapped so they would not get lost (mirror neurons). This went so well, that I began incorporating student leaders to lead the “Tapping” during each class. The students loved this leadership role.
    7. In our last week, I cut sentence strips into 25 questions for a review of the semester and hid them in stockings. The students broke into small groups and answered these with personal examples. I was happily surprised at how much they had remembered and shared during our last time together this semester.


    Goals for Spring Semester/ 2017

    Educational Neuroscience/ Brain and Trauma



    As we talked about the second half of the school year, we discussed creating a neuroscience fair for the younger grades, and a team of student leaders visiting classrooms to teach the lower grades about their brains. I am so excited to continue at the Lab School as take this work further into the students’ lives and into classrooms.



    Below are links to videos we used and Edutopia articles that include brain intervals, FAP, and brain aligned bell ringers.


    How we are born for kindness!!



    Brain Intervals and Focused Attention Practices

    Brain Lab in your Classroom!



    Sentis Videos



    With great respect,

    Dr. Lori Desautels

    College of Education,

    Butler University





Focused Attention Practices and New Research on the Stress Response System

Research from Dr. Bruce Perry

“Resilient children are made, not born!” 

Those 49 techniques that promise to get you into college are meaningless and short lived if we are not emotionally connected to one another meeting the student where the brain development has landed! 

The below research and strategies are not just for some youth…although critically important for those children and adolescence walking in with pain and adversity… but for all students and educators! 

As this summer season of presentations, teaching, and researching comes to a close… I have and am learning more about negative behaviors than I could have imagined. As I have delved into the pain and perceived stress beneath the oppositional, defiant, shut off, and apathetic brain states, I am beginning to understand that behavior management is about me!  It is not about our students and when I lead, mentor and sit beside students that carry in their worlds- their social maps; I am responsible for placing myself in a brain state that is co-regulated and coherent ready to explore the complexity of those maps. If I find… inside a tenuous encounter with another… that my resting heart rate is elevated, my fight flight freeze response can become activated and I can become and have become a clear unscathed mirror of the antagonistic and angry behavior in front of me. I can also unintentionally begin to personalize that which can only escalate the conflict that is budding!  I lead the way when disruptive behavior is present. Fear literally arises from the core of the brain affecting all brain areas and their functions with neurochemical activity. Two significant brain regions involved with the fear response are locus coeruleus- this is where the majority of noradrenaline neurons are located (brain stem area) and the popular amygdala located in the limbic area, the emotional center of the brain.     

More than desiring compliance and obedience, I want to stay emotionally connected with my students through the discipline process.  This is why understanding a child’s brain is critical to the teaching and learning process! 

Early childhood experiences (positive or negative) have a far greater impact than later ones and in the first years of life. If we have not developed the healthy neural circuitry that allows us to reach out and connect with others or to self-soothe inside acute negative experiences, we can easily become hard-wired and habitually reactive in those older and lower parts of the brain where the stress response system is chronically activated. One of the most important characteristics of memory, neural tissue, and development, is that they all change with patterned repetitive activity!   So the systems that are used the most will change and those that are not activated will not! What does this mean for many of our most troubled youth who are consistently being met with an array of discipline and punishment sanctions? Because our brains create unconscious implicit memories and make associations of our earliest experiences, we then subconsciously begin to predict what the world is like based on our personal schema and social maps. If those early experiences are negative and toxic to forming the healthy neuronal networks that breed connection and safety and the ability to self-regulate, our predictions can then guide us to very dysfunctional ways of relating to others, and being in the world in healthy purposeful ways.    

If you lack a deep memory of feeling safe and loved, the receptors in the brain that respond to human kindness fail to develop!


If we feel safe and loved, our brain specializes in collaboration, play and cooperation.

If we are constantly feeling unloved and unsafe, then our brain specializes in managing feelings of fear and abandonment

Brain Development – we have to know as teachers and administrators!

Early neglect and other environmental and relational adversities cause a dysregulation of body rhythms and a stress system that is overly sensitized to even minor stressors. Just the thought or memory of an aberrant childhood experience can trigger a hyper-aroused alarm in the emotional centers of our brains and this trigger can come out of nowhere because it is an internal perception of the past!    In many instances, this stress system can actually interfere with the other systems compromising the brain’s ability to regulate mood cognitively process and relate to others. What does this look like? In a classroom both disassociation and hyper-aroused responses can look like ADHD, ODD and anxiety. We can also see depressive symptomology.

What I am learning today is that at birth, human touch is not innate to the brain… it feels novel and can be perceived as a stressful stimulus! Only when consistent human touch or contact is provided does the brain respond in positive ways, but if this physical and emotional contact is not experienced, the brain stem sets off a stress response. If children especially in the first year of life are not given that human tactile connection consistently, they learn to numb and are unresponsive, creating associations in the brain that embrace toxic memory templates stagnating the later developing skills such as empathy and the ability to create options, be creative and employ cognitive flexibility. For when one lives in a survival brain state… one is very centered on the “Me!”   The survival brain state can look selfish, aggressive, violent and shut down!  And in the classroom what we forget as educators, is that harsh discipline, sudden movements, and yelling feels familiar to the student, and although it could escalate the conflict… there is certainty in misery because we have begun to associate these negative feelings with safety and the known! The survival brain has three components.

  • When we are living in survival mode, with our stress response turned on all the time, we can really focus on only three things!
  • Body- Am I ok?
  • Environment-Where is it safe?
  • Time- How long will this threat be hanging over me?

 Think how often, with especially younger children we have unintentionally  (during bouts of bad behavior) have escalated the encounter asking for eye contact, or brusquely and physically turned a child toward us or an adolescent desiring respect?  In our discipline systems, we have to remember that the language of the amygdala is feelings. The amygdala can only be regulated through movement, breath, and space. When both teacher and student have upshifted to the prefrontal cortex where are thinking is clear, we feel emotionally calmer, and we can listen to one another to learn… 

Within the Discipline Process…all children need

  1. Slow approaches
    2. Gentle movements
  2. Very little to no eye contact
  3. Teach a child or adolescent how to calm the amygdala… modeling techniques that use movement or breathing. These strategies from Psych Central could be incorporated into an Amygdala First Aid Station. We could also use a metronome to help to mimic a heartbeat that has become sporadic! 

Hand Massage

I learned this one in both the MBSR program and in Brukner’s book. What’s great about it is that you can do it while attending a lecture, listening to your kids fight, or sitting at your desk working. No one will notice. Simply use the thumb of one hand and press around the palm of the other hand. It’s very soothing.

  1. Palm Push

By pushing your palms together and holding for five to ten seconds, you give your body “proprioceptive input,” according to Brukner, which “lets your body know where it is in space.” I like this one because it reminds me of tree position in yoga, which is the last of the standing series postures in Bikram yoga. By then, I am quite happy to hold the tree position. The palm push is like a mini, portable tree position I can pull out any time to calm down.

  1. Close Your Eyes

Aron says that 80 percent of sensory stimulation comes in through the eyes, so shutting them every now and then gives your brain a much-needed break. She also says that she has found that highly sensitive persons do better if they can stay in bed with their eyes closed for nine hours. They don’t have to be sleeping. Just lying in bed with our eyes closed allows for some chill time that we need before being bombarded with stimulation.

  1. Mindful Sighing

During the MBSR class, we would take a few mindful sighs when transitioning from one person speaking to another. Basically you breathe in to a count of five through your mouth, and then you let out a very loud sigh, the sound you hear your teenager make. I was always amazed at how powerful those small sighs were to adjust my energy level and focus.

  1. Mindful Monkey Stretch

A couple of times during the MBSR class, we would stand in back of our chairs, move at least an arm’s length from each other in a circle, and do these exercises that I call mindful monkey stretches. We brought our hands, arms extended, in front of us, then brought the arms down. Next we brought our arms (still extended) to our sides, and then down. Next we brought our arms all the way past our heads and then swooped down, our head dangling between our knees, and hung there for a second. This exercise is extremely effective at releasing the tension we hold in different parts of our body. Our teacher said she does it before her lectures and it works to release the jitters.

  1. Hug Yourself

Did you know that a ten-second hug a day can change biochemical and physiological forces in your body that can lower risk of heart disease, combat stress, fight fatigue, boost your immune system, and ease depression? You can begin by giving yourself a hug. By squeezing your belly and back at the same time, you are again giving yourself proprioceptive input (letting your body know where you are in space), which can help stabilize you.

  1. Wall Push

Another great exercise to ground kids (and I add adults) with sensory integration issues, according to Brukner, is the wall push, where you simply push against the wall with flat palms and feet planted on the floor for five to ten seconds. If you’ve ever experienced an earthquake, you can appreciate why this gesture is calming … placing the weight of our body against a solid, immobile surface and feeling the pull of gravity is stabilizing, even on a subconscious level.

  1. Superman Pose

If you do Bikram yoga, the superman pose is basically the full locust position (airplane position), except the arms and the hands are stretched out in front of you, not to the sides. “Lie on your belly on the floor,” explains Brukner. “Extend your arms in front of you, and hold them straight out. Extend your legs behind you and hold them straight out.” Hold that pose for ten seconds. It’s a great exercise if you are groggy, overexcited, distracted, or antsy.

  1. Shake

Did you know that animals relieve their stress by shaking? Lots of animals like antelopes shake off their fear after being frozen in panic to escape a predator. In the MBSR program, we practiced shaking, for like 15 minutes at a time. I can’t say it looked all that pretty, but neurologically, I do believe it was beneficial.

  1. Bubble Breath

My favorite exercise in Brukner’s book is the Bubble Breath, because it is so simple and calming. Brukner explains:

Breathe in for five seconds, out for five seconds.

Imagine you have a wand of bubbles. When you breathe out, be careful not to pop it.

Place one flat palm on your heart, one flat palm on your belly.

Breathe in through your nose and hold your breath for five seconds.

Breathe out a large “bubble” though pursed lips, blow out for five seconds.


  1. Routines and procedures that are created for the specific negative behavior and are put into place each time to calm the stress response system.
    5. A rocking chair in the amygdala first aid station with an option of gentle movements and breathing as these experiences will regulate the brain stem and limbic brain for positive emotions and the ability to respond.
  2. Teach children and adolescents about their neuro-anatomy as this will bring relief to misunderstood behaviors and responses while also empowering students that they have the neuroplasticity to change old worn out ways of reacting and relating!

  1. Trauma is carried through for three generations and because of our growing understanding of epigenetics…we know that trauma can be inherited like eye color but we also know that our genetics is not our destiny!

As educators when we ask these questions setting up a proactive discipline/ brain system… we begin to help students to discover their well-being!

Purpose + Connection = Well-Being

  1. Am I important to someone here?
  2. Am I good at something in here?
  3. Can I affect the world here?
  4. Can I share my gifts here?

Adversity Trauma and What we Can do in the Classroom!!

Trauma, Adversity and the Stress Response Systems!

Brain Hijack!

Dr. Lori Desautels

College of Education

Butler University

Spring 2017

Trauma often times occurs in the context of relationships, disturbing people’s relationships long after the trauma while landing in the body. The body acts as the unconscious mind holding these negative emotions and sensations long after the adversity has passed.

Trauma fundamentally changes the brain. The front part of the brain is where we develop socially, where we pay attention and emotionally regulate and the back of the brain is about taking care of the body. Sleeping, sexual drive, eating, heart rate, breathing and all of the automatic functions that occur without conscious thought are held in the back parts of the brain. In times of adversity, the back of the brain becomes agitated and active and people literally begin to feel uncomfortable in their own skin! Bodies develop a new normal where they are on constant alert scanning the environment for danger.

In this type of trauma, the front part of the brain becomes sleepy- not fully online ( like ADD) For many people, this unsafe feeling feels like living in a room with the lights turned off!

Trauma creates a disturbance in perception. People will superimpose their own perceptions of the world on everything! There is a fundamental reorganization of how the brain perceives which leads to an impairment of imagination and mental flexibility!

People affected by significant or chronic adversity live “halted lives”… where it is difficult to learn from past experiences becoming stuck, and replaying the same experiences over and over again!

Trauma changes the brain so much that many people do not feel fully alive in the present moment! We completely lose our sense of present moment living!

To change the brain, we have to understand the importance of how adversity is held in the body and words are not heard! When we move, breathe rhythmically, act, and use art,  these bring us back to the present moment.

The essence of trauma is physical immobilization and helplessness because our brains and therefore our bodies are neurobiologically wired to fight back or flee! This immobilization becomes a conditioned response as brain circuits become rewired causing panic, fear anger, and feelings of being paralyzed. Trauma is stored in the deep sensations of the body, the unconscious mind.

The insula and mPFC which is responsible for our feelings of self-awareness goes offline. This part of the brain is necessary for healthy living because it helps us to understand what is going on inside of us! It is through these brain parts and functions that we learn to pay attention to ourselves and begin to self-reflect.

In trauma, the rational brain cannot quiet the limbic brain! There is not a smooth circuitry going from the prefrontal cortex back to the limbic brain! We cannot talk ourselves out of hunger, sleeplessness, agitation and uncomfortable primal feelings that have become embedded in circuits that have become reactive in the brain. We cannot own and be in control of ourselves without feeling a sense of self-awareness.

Trauma is a reaction to the event! It isn’t out there somewhere looming in our environment. It is held in our perceptions and the stories we keep retelling ourselves day after day, hour after hour! It is held in the body. Treatment begins when we begin to integrate the different parts of the brain! When we bring back the communication between the front of the brain and the back of the brain, healing occurs.

A traumatized brain can be tired, hungry, worried, rejected, or detached, and these states are often accompanied by feelings of isolation, worry, angst, and fear. The neurobiological changes caused by negative experiences trigger a fear response in the brain. When we feel distress, our brains and bodies are flooded with emotional messages that trigger the question, “Am I safe?” When will this end? We react physiologically with an agitated limbic system that increases blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration as the levels of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline increase in our bodies. Chronic activation of the fear response can damage those parts of the brain responsible for cognition and learning.

What can we do in our classrooms?

We have to begin the day or class period with a releasing exercise that primes the brain for cognition, attempting to bring the PFC back online!


How do we begin to control the reptilian and limbic brain? We enter the back door!   

  1. Teaching our students to take deep intentional breaths with longer exhales begins to quiet the limbic and reptilian brain.
  2. Movement and massage- hand lotion and hand massage
  3. Tapping on acu-points quiets the limbic brain- will be explained
  4. Movement – each day, we could incorporate specific movements through dance, exercise or even chair dancing!
  5. Talk in a funny voice for 30 seconds. This could be a deep, high slow drawn out, laughing, or voice with hiccups interspersed, etc. Let the students decide!
  6. Art and writing for 90 seconds before the day begins. I am going to have students draw and paint with their eyes closed this semester as this brings attention back to the present moment!
  7. Drumming- on our laps, with cups, etc.
  8. Stretching exercises- hold and breathe!
  9. Talisman/ and object to hold and remember
  10. Yoga movements / holding postures increase endorphins- there are certain postures that can trigger the feelings of trauma so we need to be aware. Warrior is excellent as are seated postures with twisting, and standing postures where we can see our environments.
  11. Legos and building materials


  1. Inhale four counts, exhale with lips pursed through the mouth for 8 counts—initiating the parasympathetic stress response.
  2. Place your fingers in front of your mouth just an inch or two. As you breathe in through your nose and breathe with your shoulders in a shallow breath feel the air… Now breathe in through your nose and exhale through your mouth as you blow up your belly with a deep diaphragm breath. Feel how much warmer this air is against your fingers.
  3. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Breathe in and out normally and see which hand rises and falls… how do you normally breathe? Deeply or in a shallow way?
  4. Inhale and lift your forefinger of your left hand and lower this finer as you exhale. Go through these breathing movements raising and lowering each finger on both hands. You can use other parts of your body to match the inhale and exhale with 10 deep breaths always exhaling a bit longer than the inhale!
    • Movement is critical to learning, as it activates several areas of the brain at once while calming the brain. I will usually lead with a rhythm, using a plastic cup or my body, and students will mimic me by drumming the pattern on their legs and arms. The collective sound brings a sense of community to the classroom.
    • Once a day, I pass out a drop of lotion, and for 90 seconds students give their hands and fingers a massage, noticing their palms, fingertips, and any sensations that feel uncomfortable or stiff. We always reflect afterward.
    • For a few minutes, I have the students rock along their spine to help them feel present in their bodies. This also provides a soothing rhythm that subtly grounds them with sensation and movement.
    • Placing our fingers on our throats, we begin the day with a sound or class chant and feel the vibration of our vocal cords. This gives everyone a chance to participate and to see how we can mimic different animals, instruments, and random classroom sounds such as papers crinkling.
    • The students sit with their legs straight out and begin wiggling their toes and ankles, shaking knees and thighs, rotating shoulders, arms, and finally their heads, keeping all body parts moving at the same time. Then we reverse the process and stop our heads, arms, shoulders, and on down. This gives children a great body scan and a sequence for working memory.
    • Sometimes I’ll put on music and give the students old scarves, and we’ll dance around the room waving the scarves and feeling the soft sensation as we dance and pass by one another. When the music stops, we freeze and notice our postures and movements. This strategy can be led by the teacher or a student to see if we can mimic a movement or create our own.
  • Noticing Sheets–  ( I can send you an example of a Noticing Sheet or there is one on my facebook.)  With older students, this “noticing can be reciprocal with ground rules. If you notice details, behaviors, moods, students can mark on your sheet too! Students love homemade worksheets from their teachers! Even if there is an off day with many challenges, we can always notice very specific behaviors moods or actions!! This also allows us to track patterns of behaviors! Very simple but very effective when we pass these out each day! Even with 30 students as we walk the room we can jot down a quick note or even a “thank you!” When we see a positive in the moment!
  • Ultra Natural Pain Relief Gel- when we place a drop in an area on our bodies that feels tense, anxious, tight or uncomfortable, we teach our students how to pay attention to one particular spot and notice sensations! This is a great way to prime the brain for attention as we hold a quiet time for about 2 minutes while students smell, feel the texture and place a drop on their hands, arms neck, or shoulders. These two minutes integrate the senses, bring us to the present moment and rejuvenate our frontal lobes so they are ready to learn!
  • Write a letter to someone who has been especially kind. This could be once a day, once a week or whenever the time feels right. This doesn’t have to be a fully written letter, but a few sentences that can be shared after they are written! Nothing moves us so swiftly and steadily to positive emotion more than gratitude!




Park Tudor - Mental health and taking care of the whole student The Heart and Brain of the Matter Keynote: ISTA Early Educators Conference. Part 1.
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A message from the Authors of Unwritten, The Story of a Living System

Mark your calendars and come learn with us!
2019 Schedule
  • August 1 - Vincennes Community School Corporation - Vincennes, IN
  • August 2 - Scecina - Indianapolis, IN
  • August 6-8 - Atlantic County - Atlantic City, NJ
  • August 12 - Clark-Pleasant Community Schools - Whiteland, IN
  • August 13 - Hobart Schools - Hobart, IN
  • August 14-15 - Vincennes Community School Corporation - Vincennes, IN
  • August 19-20 - Warsaw Schools - Warsaw, IN
  • August 21 - St. Anthony's - Indianapolis, IN
  • September 3 - Neighborhood Charter Network Schools - Indianapolis, IN
  • September 4 - Terre Haute Principals
  • September 5 - Washington Woods Elementary - Westfield, IN
  • September 10 - Pike Township - Indianapolis, IN
  • September 10 - Caresource - Indianapolis, IN
  • September 11 - Community Schools of Frankfort - Frankfort, IN
  • September 12 - New Castle Schools - New Castle, IN
  • September 13 - North Gibson School Corp - Princeton, IN
  • September 16 - Crown Point Community Schools - Crown Point, IN
  • September 19 - St Pius Catholic Church - Indianapolis, IN
  • September 21 - Educational Neuroscience Symposium - Indianapolis, IN
  • September 23 - Wabash District Schools - Winchester, IN
  • September 25 - Mt Vernon Community School Corp - Fortville, IN
  • September 26 - Northwest Allen County Schools - Ft. Wayne, IN
  • September 27 - St. Mary's Child Center, Indianapolis, IN
  • September 28 - Frankfort Schools - Frankfort, IN
  • October 1 - Vincennes Community School Corporation - Vincennes, IN
  • October 2 - La Porte High School - La Porte, IN
  • October 3 - Fort Wayne Conference - Fort Wayne, IN
  • October 4 - Ray Pec-Kansas City - Peculiar, MO
  • October 8 - School Administrators of Iowa - Clive, IA
  • October 10-12 - Virginia Education Association - Richmond, VA
  • October 14-15 - Ignite Achievement Academy - Indianapolis, IN
  • October 17-18 - Lake Central School Corp - St. John, IN
  • October 21 - Richmond High School Career Center - Richmond, IN
  • October 22 - Wabash Valley Education Center - West Lafayette, IN
  • October 25 - Arizona ASDB - Tucson, AZ
  • October 28 - McCordsville Elementary - McCordsville, IN
  • November 4 - Indiana Social Work School Assoc - Noblesville, IN
  • November 5 - Wayne Township - Indianapolis, IN
  • November 6 - Indiana Wesleyan, Marion, IN
  • November 7 - Richmond - Richmond, IN
  • November 7-8 - AACTE Conference - Butler University, Indianapolis, IN
  • November 12 - St. Anthony's - Indianapolis, IN
  • November 15 - Indianapolis Classical Schools - Indianapolis, IN
  • November 20 - Anderson Community Schools - Anderson, IN
  • November 21-22 - Richmond High School Career Center - Richmond, IN
  • November 27 - Central Rivers Education - Cedar Falls, IA
  • December 2 - St. Mary's Child Center - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 3 - Pike Township Schools - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 4 - Pleasant Run Elementary - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 5 - Indiana Association of Superintendents - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 6 - Indianapolis Classical Schools - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 9 - Carroll High School - Carroll, IA
  • December 11 - Guion Creek Elementary - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 12 - Abbett Elementary - Fort Wayne, IN
  • December 13 - OMNI Hotel - Indianapolis, IN
  • December 19 - Early Childhood Education - Indianapolis, IN
  • 2020 Schedule
    • January 2 - Iowa-Williamsburg Community District, Williamsburg, IA
    • January 6 - Carmel High School, Carmel, IN
    • January 7 - St. Lawrence Catholic School, Indianapolis, IN
    • January 8 - Early Learning Indiana, Indianapolis, IN
    • January 9 - Richmond High School, Richmond, IN
    • January 13 - Madison Schools, Madison, IN
    • January 14 - Pike Township (morning), Indianapolis, IN
    • January 16-17 - Cape Assist - New Jersey
    • January 21 - Madison Community Schools, Anderson, IN
    • January 22 - Community Schools of Frankfort, Frankfort, IN
    • January 23 - Crown Point Community Schools, Crown Point, IN
    • January 27 - Madison Consolidated Schools, Madison, IN
    • January 29 - IPS New Teachers- Indianapolis, IN
    • January 30 - Anderson Community Schools, Anderson, IN
    • February 4 - Vincennes Community School Corporation, Vincennes, IN
    • February 5 - Ignite Achievement Academy, Indianapolis, IN
    • February 7 - Wausaukee High School, Wausaukee, WI
    • February 10 - Northwest Allen County, Fort Wayne, IN
    • February 12 - Ignite Achievement Academy, Indianapolis, IN
    • February 13-15 - Learning and the Brain: Educating Anxious Minds Conference, San Francisco, CA
    More to come!
    “This book is a refreshing look at our philosophy of education and a reminder of what is most important in teaching."

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