Explore Nueroscience in Education with Dr. Lori Desautels

Student Led Reform, Envisioning and Personalizing Education in its Finest Moment

Student Led Reform, Envisioning and Personalizing Education in its Finest Moment




I am constantly amazed and equally enthused at the continual media attention embracing education reform in Indianapolis, the surrounding areas, and throughout the nation. In yesterday’s Indianapolis’ Sunday Star, Kelly Bentley wrote a succinct and  moving article about recognizing the broken state of our local IPS school system as she briefly discussed a desire for the community to become aware and invested as a part of this systemic change. To recognize and claim awareness is key to any robust and lasting shift, and I am in complete agreement with Kelly. 


What is the next step and why should we all care? The chronic stress and depression levels inside our classrooms seem to have been forgotten or pushed aside in recent months as political and educational reformers are creating increased assessments, videos of effective teachers teaching based on rubric requirements, educator rubrics and teacher and student evaluation initiatives creating and publicizing a billion dollar assessment and testing industry. There is no doubt we need assessment. We need tenured teachers and administrators to be held accountable for professional development, curriculum planning, effective instructional models for student growth and innovation. But there are questions we need to collectively ask before we begin “doing” all over again.  But who are we asking? Who are the educational leaders in this new time of change? Why are the emotional and social needs of both educator and student being neglected or not directly addressed, as the core component to not only surviving, but thriving! 


Feeling safe and embracing a sense of belonging is at the core of our basic physiological and psychological needs as relational beings. Our brains are hard-wired for relationships. Companionship is a physiological need like hunger and thirst that must be met before a child, adolescent or adult can critically think, process, remember and retrieve academic knowledge.


If we are to revolutionize education either from the inside out, outside in, top down or bottom up; where are the students’, classroom teachers’, and parents’ voices inside this educational renovation?  I am so exhausted from hearing about educational change from adults who are not intimately connected to students and are not sitting in the classrooms on a daily basis implementing empathy at a level where one listens to understand. I feel our many of our large political and educational organizations have forgotten the art of truly listening to deeply understand- and instead are listening to respond!


How do we know our children are experiencing chronic stress and depression levels?  Study the statistics which I have included at the bottom of this article from The Children’s Defense Fund and look at the prevalence of bullying initiatives, number of waivers we have collectively given to students in public schools who are not meeting the required standards for graduation from High School.   Indirectly, these waivers, continual educational articles in the media, the non-verbal and verbal statements and “affects” of parents and educators are unintentionally reinforcing low and lower expectations!  It feels we are sitting inside a “survival pool” where so much untapped potential of students and educators is not presently realized.  


If you are wondering about the accuracy and prevalence of stress and depression levels in children and teens across our country, take a hard look at the bullying incidences and discussions that are circulating in every district, neighborhood, and state around the country. Friend and educator Michael McKnight from Cape May New Jersey expressed these thoughts to me today.


“I have found myself moving toward a different understanding of bullying behavior that is deeper than the current debate that is being discussed everywhere. It is real… but as I look at our culture it affects more than just our children… aren’t these very behaviors active and alive inside an adult culture that emphasizes power-over, control, coercion, rank, and privilege? Why wouldn’t kids act on what they are embedded in?”


Bullying takes on many degrees, levels and is demonstrated very differently in males, females, adults, adolescents and children, but I am asking myself this afternoon where is the empathy? Where is the modeling of empathy that initiates understanding, feelings of safety and intimately joins us to one another so we are able to focus on our commonalities, rather than our differences?


Yes, recognition and admission to a broken system is crucial to new beginnings, but where do we go from here?


 I envision a school board, an advisory committee, or a coalition that is filled with students and parents community leaders, and educators across all socio-economic, ethnic, and various cultures and professions that feel a deep desire to work collectively asking the important questions, creatively brain-storming possible solutions, and listening to the needs of one another with hearts and minds open for change. I envision educators, parents and students prioritizing Emotional IQ, knowing its powerful effects when it comes to living outside the walls of school.   For when children and adolescents begin to feel hopeful, inspired, and curious and invested, the possibilities of a holistic improvement are endless.


It is no irony that in this present time, young adults and students are making national headlines with their service programs and initiatives that are setting the world on fire with hope and curiosity. Pencils of Promise, Kony 2012, Bullying Documentaries, Occupy Wall Street, and the recent celebration of The American Spring, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, coupled with thousands of young voices filling our airways and social media with creative, and out of the box thinking fueled by deep rooted feelings that are causing all of us to reexamine, explore, and question the status quo and the so-called subtle grown-up  bullying among political and educational reformers.  


Who are the creators of this movement? What can we learn from our children and adolescents?  Are we ready to listen? Are we prepared to ask the big questions? What do we need? How will we get from here to there? How may we help? What do we envision? What is missing? Where are the gaps? What more can we do?


The difference between good teachers and superior teachers are those that self-reflect. I think this is true for all of us… We have nothing to lose and everything to create. . Let us begin with our students. Let us begin with one another, holding a perspective of hope and well-being.  



Lori L Desautels, Ph.D.



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