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?