I recently finished my fall seminar series speaking to K-12 teachers across the United States, and I was so impressed by their dedication and commitment to understanding their students. They expressed that up to 50 per cent of their classrooms are filled by students who are disengaged, shut down, and checked out of the learning process. Their receptivity to my message of understanding these students within the context of neural development was more than exciting, it was inspiring. I am motivated, more like super-charged, to keep informing educators at every level about the effects of stress and trauma on the children who are placed in our care. Only when we understand how the brain is changed by the very real experiences of children’s lives can we intervene with them in ways that work in the long term.
I spoke to teachers from Charlotte, NC, St. Louis and Kansas City, MO, Tampa and Miami, FL, San Diego and Los Angeles, CA, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas, TX, and they all got it! The neuroscience does NOT support any one particular intervention when it comes to reaching and engaging the disengaged student. It only supports what are called “nonspecific” interventions. That is, “What are the conditions within which we are making learning and adaptive behavior possible? How are we BEING with our students? How are they experiencing us and their learning environment?” Our students feel us out in a sensory way, not a cognitive way. They wonder, however subconsciously, “Am I safe? Does this person care? How are they showing me they care? Do I matter? Do I have value? Do I have an important contribution to make? Am I good enough just the way I am?” It is only when we begin relating to our students in a human way, not from a pedestal of having it all together ourselves, but from communicating in a sensory way that we get them, we understand their lives are difficult just as ours are, that they mess up, just like we do, that they need infinite chances to repair, just as we do. That is when they begin to feel us. They begin to FEEL that human connection. Through compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and a refusal to give up, disown, discard, or shame. When we inject back into education that level of humanity and connection, we will stop building so many prisons and get back to the business of life – community. We are all in this together.