The Blackstone Valley Education Foundation recently hosted a professional development series for educators in collaboration with the AMEN Clinics. Multiple school districts from Massachusetts were represented with educators and BVEF staff ranging from high school teachers to kindergarten nurses to guidance counselors. At the beginning of the first of three sessions, we were instructed to take a deep breath and repeat, “It’s Wellness Wednesday!” I encourage readers to do the same before they follow my brief summary.
This virtual series was led by Clinic Outreach Manager, Donna Lalwani. According to Lalwani’s bio, “Donna provides community awareness, advocacy, clinical education and referral support with providers in the care for treatment of those impacted by conditions including: anxiety, depression, trauma and PTSD, ADD/ADHD, concussion and Traumatic Brain Injury, brain fog, cognitive and memory issues, Autism spectrum disorders, behavioral issues, substance abuse and addiction – to name a few of the many areas”. Very early on, Lalwani explained the importance of our own individual brain health ahead of supporting brain health within our classrooms. And we were encouraged to be the best versions of ourselves.
What are some factors in our control that can contribute to brain health?
food choice (sugar intake, vitamin deficiencies, food sensitives, etc.)
sleep habits and meditation
goals (short and long term goals)
environmental toxins such as molds and pesticides
Factors outside of our control that may impact brain health include:
distressing life events (i.e. divorce or loss of a loved one)
Lalwani explained that our brain development increases starting at the age of 8 and decreases between the ages of 25-28 at which point the brain should be fully developed. Thus while the factors contributing to brain health are important to be aware of for adults, honing an awareness of your students' brain health and sharing observations with their caretakers can be life changing. These conversations could lead to further diagnosis from health care professionals ideally guided by brain scans resulting in treatment plans involving recommended therapies, lifestyle changes, and/or medications.
Participants pointed out that many times educators are not given a complete picture of students' brain health. Here are some ways the series suggested to support students who are having issues with self-regulation in the classroom regardless of the information you have about their current brain health:
model healthy behavior (demonstrate healthy diet habits and your ability to be calm under stress)
practice and share S.T.O.P. skills: Stop, Take a step back, Observe, Proceed mindfully
incorporate sound or music into your space (some suggestions from Lalwani and participants included classical music, recorded rainstorms, and bilateral music therapy such as recordings by artist David Grand)
Several guest speakers visited to discuss a variety of ways to notice and support brain health in and out of the classroom. Those speakers included:
Dr. Sonia Gera– triple board certified in Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatry.
Dr. Rebecca Siegel –Board certiﬁed Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist, Neuropsychiatry at Amen Clinics
An additional article of note that was shared with participants was entitled, "The Four Most Common Mental Health Misdiagnosis in Children"
Here are my personal takeaways from the "Physical and Emotional Regulation in the Classroom" series: focus on what is in your control, encourage yourself and your students to establish short and long term goals, take note of behavioral patterns, lastly invest in the relationships and conversations that promote healing for a more positive life.