Friday, November 4, 2016

Terese Jurgensen ~ Director of Student Services ~ November 3, 2016

Taken from SOAR Curriculum ~ The Brain and the Biology of Learning
Social and Emotional Learning
Over the past 3 years, I have written extensively on Social and Emotional Learning, whether it outlined Social Thinking Curriculum and Strategies, The Zones of Regulation, Self-Regulation and what an Amygdala Hijack looks like, executive functioning strategies or Skill -vs- Will (Skill being brain-based strategies that can be taught or Will - matters of the heart).  
During professional development trainings that I am honored to be a part of, I always emphasize that it is best practice to teach students these strategies as a matter of the brain - not them as a person who makes poor choices. 

In a previous district, I was teaching a kindergartner that his brain is like a muscle and that he can make it stronger by a "Stop and Think" strategy. I will never forget that day when his mom came to pick him up from school. He ran out to greet her with a big smile on his face delightedly telling her, "Guess what, Mommy! I am not a bad boy - I just need to make my brain stronger like my muscles!" 

I love brain research and the fact of the matter is, the more we learn about the brain, the better equipped we are to be as educators. 

The “Emotional Center” of the brain correlates with the foundation layer of the Success Pyramid, “Have Confidence.” This is also the very base center of the brain where the amygdala is located. If a student perceives anything as a threat or trauma, the brain will shut down and not be able to learn or process the threat perceived. 
This path your finger just followed is the path that all information follows along your spinal cord. The very first section of the brain to receive that information is the Emotional Center of the brain. This center is also known as the Base of the Brain. 
Reaction to threat – flood of hormones 
Downshifting – brain shifts to a primitive level of functioning
Instinctive reaction can save lives
More often – can escalate situations
In an nutshell, Executive Function Disorder kids become easily swamped by
their emotions - Amygdala Hijack!

“Threats” Make Learning Biologically Impossible

If the brain perceives a “threat” of any kind, it immediately goes into “RED ALERT! DANGER!” mode. This mode pulls brain chemicals from other regions of the brain as it prepares to respond.
That means, when the brain perceives a threat of any kind, learning becomes physically impossible. The brain literally “steals” power from the learning regions of the brain.
This design goes back to caveman days when we might encounter a tiger in the wild. Who could possibly think about memorizing theorems when a tiger wants to eat you?? Today, this region of the brain still does not know the difference between “Tiger!” and “Someone just said something really mean to me on my way to class.”

A tiger threatens our most basic physical survival. “Mean words” threaten our sense of belonging, which is also deeply important to our survival as a human, social species.

At Howard-Winneshiek CSD, we recognize how important it is to understand and teach our students skills by teaching the functions of the brain.

When the emotional region of the brain is not in the Green Zone of “safe, happy, and content,” it is physically impossible for the brain to learn.

As you might imagine, to protect us, our brains error on the side of caution. Any sense of discomfort will put the brain in “RED ALERT! DANGER!” mode.
So, if a student feels…
  • like their teacher doesn’t like them,
  • uncomfortable around a peer or peers,
  • upset over something at home,
  • anxious about an upcoming test,
  • sad, depressed, stressed, or down for any reason,
  • disengaged or bored,
…the Emotional Center of the brain will hoard all of the brain chemicals needed for learning.
This critical aspect of brain function; Emotions are the on/off switch to learning!

Region 2: The Front Brain -> “Self-Management”

The Front Brain, or what we commonly call the "frontal lobe" is where the executive functions are located. Executive Functions have two primary functions which help us self-regulate and control our emotions and the second function is cognitive which helps us do things like organize, prioritize, initiate and complete tasks. 
When information makes it through the Emotional Center of the brain, it next travels to the Front Brain.
The Front Brain is the most susceptible to “power outages.” What do you do when you feel fatigued? You usually hold the front of your head. That’s because this is the region of your brain experiencing the most significant power outage. That feeling of fatigue is a sign that your Front Brain is “out of juice.”

Region 3: The Back Brain -> “Learning”

The “Back Brain” correlates with the top layer of the Success Pyramid, “Learning.”
After information is processed by the Front Brain, it is sent to the Back Brain.
The Back Brain manages all learning. It also holds your long-term memory. Like the Front Brain, the Back Brain uses electricity to power connections across brain wires.
However, there is a fundamental difference between these two sections: the Front Brain has a limited amount of energy and burns through its resources frequently throughout the day. (Power is restored to the Front Brain through aerobic exercise, consumption of glucose, and rest.)
Unlike the Frontal Lobe, the Back Brain has a far greater power capacity. Rather than “limiting” steps, as we need to for maximizing self-management skills, the Back Brain thrives on connections. The more connections the Back Brain can make, the more permanent new learning will be.
A good example of the difference between the frontal lobe and the back brain is when a person is learning to drive a car. In the beginning, a person pays extremely careful attention to "how to turn the car on" or "using the turning signal." Typically there is fear involved, extreme caution, and of course lots questions. As the person learns to drive, however, the learning becomes automatic and driving becomes almost like "second nature" and indeed automatic. The exercise of driving has shifted from the frontal lobe to the back brain. 


        To understand and implement Social and Emotional Learning in our school district, it is imperative that we understand the functions of the brain. Equally important, a part of our mission is to educate our parents, families and community these same vital concepts. There are three primary areas of the brain that involve learning: the back brain or which is in the base of our brain that is emotional, the frontal lobe that supports our learning through the executive functions and finally the back of our brain where learning is stored and commits to memory. We have had a fun year as we focus on Social Emotional Learning through multiple mediums - PBIS, Growth Mindset, Social Thinking, Self-Regulation through the Zones of Regulation as well as teaching our students how the brain works. 
         "Adopted from SOAR Curriculum - to learn more"


Tiffany McCabe & Doug Sickles 
Teachers on Special Assignment - TLC Initiative
Teach Associates on PBIS!


Have a great week! If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to call me, 
Terese Jurgensen at (563)929-6344
or email me at: 

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