A morning with Andrew Curran at the Milton Keynes Virtual School Conference today has kicked off what promises to be a very exciting set of autumn conferences and meetings for us as a school over the next month and a half. Andrew spoke essentially on the contents of his short book on what neuro-biology has to teach us about learning, behaviour and emotional intelligence. To me, there was little that was new in terms of information, as I have read the book and referred to it a lot in our CPD program, and my teachers are beginning to get bored of me talking about dopamine; but there was much that reinforced the necessity of clear-thinking and emotionally aware adults standing before children who need to know that they are accepted and held in high regard so that they learn effectively. This was the key piece of learning – the concept of unconscious role modelling as a teacher awareness tool. What was really good about the morning was the holistic approach to which Andrew has put a wide range of research – whether talking about prescription, ASD, teacher behaviours or parenting – all of it had an impact well beyond just “how to teach taking the brain into account”.
This evening, taking my art club, I was conscious of modelling the inclusive and accepting role that enabled children to want to learn, but this has to be intentional and we have to be intentional in all we do. Children get just the one chance, and whilst Andrew made it absolutely clear that we were already extraordinary for having given up a life to serve and lead children, he also challenged us to think about the number of teachers who had truly inspired us as children – those who had made learning easy and obvious. I could think of four straight off, but most could only think of one, and some had had no teachers who had inspired them. This is a huge challenge to us. Are we honest enough with ourselves, aware enough of our emotional state, to be able to assume the power we have to change, anatomically, the brain of those children in front of us by the creation and destruction of synapses leading to templates that will hold worthwhile learning, for their good? The adult in the classroom dominates the classroom neurobiologically. Understanding our own emotional literacy is therefore essential if we are to understand the impact we are having on the children in our class. Through an exposition of the impact of the secretion of dopamine in the limbic system (Andrew uses, as we do, PD McLean’s triune brain theory for the basis of his work), and seeing the 93% of all dopamine secretion takes place in the limbic system, he demonstrated that learning for the young person is almost entirely dependent on our making a significant emotional connection with the child.
Again, nothing new, nothing contentious, but nothing, either, that is part of the curriculum of most PGCE courses. We need to know, and know well, that research on dopamine in those suffering from Parkinson’s shows that controlled (and thus usable) dopamine secretion comes from reward and the expectation of reward. If teachers can intentionally grasp this and build it into their lessons, think of the impact. If instead, the emotion they use and control is fear, think of the damage that would be done to children’s learning.
I must stop – too much to consider, but lots to incorporate in my own practice as a teacher and leader over the next few weeks.