I love connecting with my students through curriculum as much as the next teacher, but to help me stay centered and help encourage student growth and learning, I like to infuse music, movement, and other brain-based learning strategies—which are scientifically proven to engage learners—as frequently as possible throughout the day (Eric Jensen is one of my favorite authors and champions of brain-based science and its application in the classroom).
Even though these strategies are designed to improve student learning, I find that participating in them with my students helps me to alleviate stress and improve my learning and teaching as well. Regardless of the length of my to-do-list or the agenda on the board, at varying times throughout the day, I analyze the state of the class’ energy and engagement. If they are sleepy and sluggish (most notably in very beginning of the day or right after lunch) I like to get them up and moving. Sometimes, I am able to infuse this naturally into the lesson, making learning more physically engaging through active participation. I join my students in whatever activity or exercise they are involved in making sure that I am an active learner as well. If we need to plank, do a wall sit or practice our Zimbabwean Dinhe dance, I always participate as the increase in blood flow brings oxygen to my brain, helps me feel better and allows me to offer my classes increased energy and enthusiasm (the same goes for my students!).
I also look for musical interludes to play while students are working collaboratively or help them better understand a topic. Every time I teach the American Revolution, I can’t help but show this from Soomo Learning and air violin along with our Founding Fathers (which, by the way, song parody and video making about any subject in any class makes for an amazing collaborative project that applies technology, critical thinking, depth of understanding and fun).
Learning can (and should!) be a fun, enjoyable experience for students and teachers. When we design learning with students in mind, our classroom becomes an engaging, dynamic learning environment that is naturally adaptive to student needs.
When I am designing lessons and activities, I always find myself asking, “Is this best for my students?” and “Is there a better way to teach this?” As important as the content is, I want to make sure that my students are learning in the most socially and emotionally appropriate ways possible. Using brain-based strategies is my way of ensuring that I am meeting the needs of the whole-child and delivering truly student centered instruction.
What I found in over nearly two decades of teaching, is that when I design units of instruction around what is best for my students’ emotional and social well-being, I reap the benefits of my own consciousness and awareness of our deeper human needs. We all know how important whole-child needs are in cultivating student success, but as educators, we often forget to nurture our holistic needs. Brain-based practices allow for a more student centered approach and a smoother ride throughout the year for both the teacher and the student. By staying focused on my students in this way, I am anchored through more meaningful work and connections.
At the core, the center of every educational practice (whether it’s brain-based learning or not) should always be doing what’s best for our students meeting physical and social needs that keep us all growing and moving forward while staying centered. As an educator, I am able to stay centered through the most hectic days of the school year by staying student-centered.