Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Coming in 2024 – Body and Brain Brilliance 

When we and our children and youth become aware that our nervous systems are working for us and not against us, we begin to feel relieved and empowered with a greater understanding of why we sense and experience the world in the ways we do. 

– Lori Desautels

image noting body and brain brilliance is coming soon

Why Is This Neuro-Educational Social and Emotional Manual Critical Right Now? 

Although the teachings from this manual would have been applicable years ago, and most certainly will be for many decades to come, a confluence of signs suggests that the country and the world are at a critical point in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Facing an inevitable shift, what can we do differently as educators in this time? So many staff are feeling stressed and demoralized. Educators are feeling the heaviness from adversities inside the profession of teaching.  

Some of these teaching adversities include feelings of isolation, lack of building-level support, and inadequate resources to care for students who carry in pain-based behaviors. These teaching adversities are compounded on top of our ever-changing lives and challenging experiences that our nervous system states hold each day. This manual begins with the adults! This is a mindset shift, because most social-emotional learning (SEL) and mindfulness programs are scripted for students, adding yet another initiative for adults to integrate when they already feel overwhelmed by additional responsibilities and tasks. The student behavioral challenges we’re seeing are signals that children and youth have been reaching out for emotional safety and connection, but staff shortages and the tenuous focus on academic assessments and curriculum have stripped our schools of healthy reflection and discussion times. This manual addresses, first and foremost,  adult social and emotional health that will help us embody the practices we will eventually share with our students. Ensuring this level of health will require administrative leadership, collaborative preparation, and allowing time for restorative and reflective conversations. In the following chapters, we will share a variety of practices that can be integrated into our classroom every day. At the same time, we will address building-wide procedures and inconsistencies that can wreak havoc on adult nervous systems, throw us into survival states, and compromise our ability to deeply listen to one another.

 Our children and youth feel the contagion of this current societal unrest. We also have the opportunity and ability to share contemplative and thoughtful grounding practices that carry positive contagion inviting more ease and awareness inside our personal and professional lives.  

This manual is designed as an anchor for staff and students as they integrate practices that focus on the awareness and health of the nervous system. It will serve as a touch point for staff and students to learn together throughout the days, weeks, months, and years to come. Traditionally, we do not think of education as a place where adults and students join up and learn from and with each other. This is a departure from conventional teacher-led pedagogy-informed practices, but one I feel will empower our students with a sense of autonomy and agency as they learn with their teachers and classmates.

 Body and Brain Brilliance is not a scripted program or SEL mandate that we check off after 11 AM. Living in a cognitive world where word talk is dominant, we have lost touch with the miraculous superpowers of our nervous systems. This manual focuses through the lens of learning differences rather than learning deficits. When we provide practices that embrace and honor the individual, their identity, and their interests, we recognize that nervous system functioning is unique, and acknowledge that differences in brains are a normal part of humanity.     

Our children and youth are not okay. They are not feeling safe, because they are not safe.  This generation of children and youth have never experienced the societal layers of trauma and adversity as they are in this time. The Covid-19 pandemic only added to the existing mental and emotional health crises that our children and youth were encountering in 2020. They feared the worst as the pandemic took the lives of so many family members and friends, and created lasting rifts of economic insecurity across the globe. Along with the tremendous physical and felt isolation, coupled with chronic unpredictability, social media use by children and teens rose tremendously with youth navigating online rejections, criticisms, and pressures from peers through the likes and dislikes that filled up the lonely hours each day.

 In this time, there is also great divisiveness across our country and inside our communities, as we face an increase in political discord, racial injustices, school shootings, and massive refugee crises occurring all over the world. 3  Emotions are contagious, and our children and youth are picking up on the tenor and heightened survival states of their adults living in marginalized conditions, trying to care for families with job losses, illnesses, and housing and food insecurities. Researcher and writer Donna Jackson Nakazawa shares, “17 million children in the United States go to bed hungry, and 2.5 million children do not have a bed to call their own. When we consider the array of adversities today’s children face, it might seem that certain types of chronic toxic stress are more potent than others, but this is mostly not true – all forms of chronic adversity can affect a child’s nervous system and biology.”   Our children and youth need to understand that their emotional stressors work along the same brain pathways as our biological stressors, and trusted adults can help to mitigate this felt stress in ways that can enhance psychological, mental, and physical safety. I am not asking educators to be therapists, but I am aware of how accumulating “therapeutic moments” in our classrooms can build emotional safety and connection, growing and nurturing a sense of purpose and autonomy in our children’s and youth’s lives.    

Body and Brain Brilliance is  a neuroeducational manual for social and emotional development embracing all ages and developmental levels – including educator nervous systems – and will address the science and language of our nervous systems as educators and students learn together. When adults become aware of their nervous systems, they can recognize their emotional triggers or activators, sense the dysregulation in their bodies and brains, and respond accordingly. This allows adults to lean into proactive empathy when encountering a dysregulated child, empowering them to respond with compassion and connection instead of control, escalation, and enforced compliance. Our nervous systems are continuously storing, metabolizing, and conserving energy, and this is why it is so critical to integrate neuroeducational practices into our schools at this time. When our nervous system reserves are low or empty, we observe, label, and discipline behaviors as aggressive, defiant, or apathetic, to name a few, but we miss the dysregulation and pain lying beneath those behaviors. This is what the Body and Brain Brilliance manual will address. 

This manual emphasizes Tier One practices for all students, but it can be adapted to serve our children who need more support, accomodations, and adjustments when they are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and dysregulated. When applying these practices with our children and youth who carry significant developmental and complex trauma into our schools, we can modify the practices to small groups and one-on-one therapeutic practices and activities with increased  intensity and frequency. These practices support the developing nervous systems of our children whose embodied experiences have compromised their development and social-emotional growth.  

The human nervous system has evolved over time to respond to the needs, strengths, and environments of our ancestors. What kept them alive was a vigilant system that prioritized safety while redirecting energy in moments of danger. If a predator appeared, the body would focus its attention on getting oxygen and blood to the muscles and away from the internal organs so that they could fight or flee. After the threat was gone, they could then rest and recuperate. Through the process of evolution, human beings inherited three building-block nervous system states that became our autonomic hierarchy: the 500-million-year-old brainstem; the 400-million-year-old sympathetic system; and the 200-million-year-old ventral vagal hierarchy.   Through the lens of Polyvagal Theory, we recognize that these older pathways are still in place, and that we continually integrate this hierarchy of systems in present-day situations every time we encounter stressful conditions, whether perceived or real. By understanding how these nervous system pathways developed, when they engage, and how they impact our bodies and minds, we can better understand how we interact within our environments and why we feel and experience the world in the ways that we do. 

 Nervous systems primarily focus on our survival as our brains predict experiences based upon past experiences, and this is why so many of our children and youth carry a hypervigilant or immobilized disconnected autonomic nervous system state into the classroom, based on the embodied experiences they have encountered in their developing years. When children and youth learn the language of the nervous system and begin recognizing and becoming aware of these sensations and feelings, there is growing relief and ease as they realize that they have some control over how experiences impact them. Educators can begin to share the resources and practices that can incrementally create this growing awareness, helping students to acquire felt safety while feeling protected and capable. 

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Verified by MonsterInsights