A Fun Day in the Brain-based Classroom

As I was walking in the hall of our elementary school at Lakeside, I overheard some 5th and 6th graders boisterously working through their recent assignment. Typically, at Lakeside we teach students with a variety of needs, and each student has a different perspective on his work.  Some loudly talk about it. Some oppose it. Some quietly suffer through it. Some do not do it at all and may even leave the classroom to get some help with their day.

How brain-based interventions help children focus, learn and voluntarily participate in classroom activities

Students can self-regulate with rockers to focus and learn.
Students can self-regulate with rockers to focus and learn. (photo courtesy of

As I often do, I peeked into the classroom to watch this animated and dynamic environment. The teacher was engaged in the middle of the students instructing, motivating and relating to them, and managing the multifaceted aspects of a classroom. That aspect alone was so exceptional, I found myself quite proud of what was going on in that classroom.

But as I looked closer, I noticed something else…

…Interesting body motions of the students.

One student I particularly noticed rocked feverishly as he talked about working on the assignment. He was right on-task, definitely engaged, and totally involved in the work and relational aspects of the classroom—he was learning.  He could only do that because we had provided him with a student chair that rocked. Thus, he was self-regulating his brain so that he could focus on what was going on in the classroom–and enjoy participating.

I remember in my own school experience how we as students tried to find ways to keep attention focused. In my day, with 30 or more students per classroom, it was not only interesting but almost humorous to see how my classmates would behave. Some were compliant. Some were bored. Some were getting into trouble every time they felt they could get away with it. Some were rocking back in their chairs (which was reprimanded then) and others were sound asleep…a stark contrast to what I experienced with our elementary classroom in the halls of Lakeside.

Brain self-regulation and learning

For the past few weeks, I have been writing about regulating students (helping them self-regulate their brain-state to change their behavior) as a means for them to learn and have the ability to reason. Because I believe and have seen how this helps students, I know it is important for any teacher who wishes to use brain-based interventions in school to rethink the classroom environment being created.

I certainly understand that classrooms cannot be chaotic. However, what is interesting is that we have believed peace and quiet exclusively promote the best learning environments when in fact that may be true for a only a few students! Most students prefer some kind of body movement, communication and a much more dynamic learning environment.

So, as a way to think about helping students regulate and learn, we need to raise our awareness that part of the problem may be our own definition of a healthy and dynamic learning environment. 

Teachers need to be very intentional, to allow and even promote ways that different students can learn in different ways. I am not suggesting lack of structure or disruption, but rather an environment that feels more like doing project management together where different sensory types of behaviors are allowed in the classroom, and that the classroom is promoting strong and healthy relational dynamics between students, with the teacher being the primary example of building healthy relationships.

Leaders and decision-makers need to encourage learning through brain-based interventions.

For those who are decision-makers, administrators and leaders of our schools, we need to give permission for these environments to exist. Then we need to equip our classrooms with some of the innovations and devices that encourage students to regulate their brains. For example, in our elementary classroom, there were rocking chairs which allowed for rhythmic body movement.  Some of the students absolutely need this movement to help them regulate and focus. Additionally, the teacher in our classroom was walking around and right over the shoulders of our students relating to them in a motivating way.

There are a number of ways teachers can use inexpensive devices to help students regulate themselves.

Moreover, we actually teach children that it is important they be responsible to regulate their brains so that they can function and learn.  This is a whole new way to think about education and learning that I believe is substantiated with current neurological research.  I think it is worth major consideration for any teacher or school, particularly as outcomes show learning improves and hard-to-manage behavior becomes much more manageable.

There will be more to come as I continue sharing about other brain-based interventions that will help students regulate.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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