Breaking Open and Feeling Felt!

lori-TED Talk

As I prepare for the TED X INDY presentation three weeks from now, I am overcome by a deeply felt brokenness, observing so many new and veteran teachers during the past six weeks. This is an historic time in Indiana with school reform and take over schools deperately trying to uncover and discover success through engaement of students and teachers so that test scores will rise, achievement gaps will begin to lessen and the state department can breathe a sigh of relief… But what is benenath the “no excuse cultures” rigid behavioral systems, and overall school grades awaiting their “mark” as parents, students and educators try desperately to manage and live inside these changes?

I listened to economist James Heckman from the University of Chicago and author Paul Tuft, of “How Children Succeed” dialogue on Chicago radio this weekend. Their notions and research rang true to the experiences I am encountering on a daily basis inside a plethora of schools.

Longer school days, increased testing, and effective teacher evaluation models are not addressing the chronic stress levels faced in our urban and impoverished school cultures! When author and economist looked at GED and High School graduate cognitive abilities… there were few differences! The contrast became apparent in the non-cognitive skills ( the emotional and social skills) that those who had dropped out of high school were lacking! They not only quit school but gave up on jobs, marriages and life experiences in general. The skills of self-regulation, self-control, delay of gratification, emotional regulation, were lacking in students who had experienced chronic stresses and there is a poignant and researched reason(s) for this!

When the brain is stressed, when there are adverse childhood conditions, the brain goes to the fight or flight emergency response, and this happens over and over again in homes where children are witnessing violence, trauma and adverse conditions on a daily basis! They react and this midbrain system engages unconsicously so that neural pathways are developed and there is a circuitry of hardwired reactive responses! We need the non-cognitive skills that take place in the pre-frontal cortext to develop, guiding us in areas of overcoming challenges, thinking through consequences, and planning through our thought processes, but this cannot occur when we are in the fight, flight and freeze response. Students are literally and functionally unable to “pay attention” which is the gateway to creating learning connections when they are sitting inside this reactive thalamic response system!

We keep pushing and promoting students into college but school reformers in the K-12 grades are not addressing and discussing this most recent research… 42% of college freshman drop out of college in the United States! We have the highest drop out rate across Universities and Colleges inside the Industrialized World! We can do better, because getting to college is only a small percent of the emotional, higher cognitive and social skills that are needed once students begin to independently manage, problem solve and critically think through presented daily occurences.

What can we do? We can do so much and the non-cognitive skills can be learned , even in the adolescent and young adult years!

Building trust, creating relationships and “feeling felt” begin the process of working with students who dare you to teach them!” Please have a look at the above power point as the link will be shared over the next few weeks and months.


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