Brain-Based School Environments

On occasion, I am asked to consult on employment and relationships within a school environment. I very much value what teachers, counselors, administrators and other staff do each day to educate and care for our children. Theirs is an important accomplishment for the future of our country.

There are many quality issues to contend with in our schools

tableI think many people believe that we are the top in the world in education, but quite honestly, we are not and personally, that bothers me a great deal.

If we are not educating our children well then we will not only have a host of issues in our communities but also in the global marketplace because of a lack of credentials and a competitive edge.

We are still very much behind in some aspects of educational quality assurance. It is frustrating to school leadership and staff to always be working to achieve changing (and more intense) standards due to the expectations of our state and federal educational departments. Schools seem constantly under pressure to update, alter and figure out these standards and how to implement them with staff that is currently in place.

Even more challenging are the environmental issues that exist in schools throughout our country.

I have been posting on how we need to be brain-based in how we motivate and encourage students.

In other words, we need to care about what is going on in the personal lives of our students enough to help them know how to self-regulate. We need to help them use and understand the means or tools to help them increase calmness, focus and capability to handle classroom objectives.

With the deluge of social issues—violence, drugs, varied learning styles and capacities, mental health issues and related personal and family problems—it becomes quite difficult for many students to learn. We know it only takes a few students to disrupt a classroom and sometimes an entire school.

But on top of all of that is the employment in our schools.

I honestly do not question motives of individuals in any setting, but in so many schools there seems to be constant conflict, unresolved problems, stress, anger, unhealthy competitiveness, personal problems and general dissonance in how schools function. I am not attempting to be stereotypical in saying that there aren’t some great schools with strong resonant leadership,  but largely that seems to be the exception and not the rule.

As I relate to so many school staff and listen to the internal workings of public and private schools, I am very concerned that one major contributor of our educational system’s deficits lies in the employment environment for staff.

The critical value and need of resonant leadership.

Research has been clear. People who are living their strengths, affirmed in their work, confident in their leadership, and provided with realistic expectations, will perform and contribute to their mission and goals far more effectively than those who are in a dissonant environment.

Resonant leadership strives to be emotionally healthy, works staff to their ideal work-selves and uses the strengths of individuals stated in their job descriptions. It encourages leadership to be mindful, hopeful, and compassionate. In general, it is concerned about what staff are going through at what I will call a “brain-based” level. So, leaders need to be as cognizant of our staff as individuals as we are about the students.

As I hear story after story of dissonance in schools and private organizations, I am impressed that there is an awareness of how difficult and disheartening a poor school environment can be.

However there is little training or support, and perhaps fewer strategies or impetus for change.

Needed are factors to both impact and drive the overall environment with a new level of core beliefs and skills that are emotionally and relationally healthy. If the core beliefs are not present in the values of the school then there will be little hope to change, and our schools will not emerge as anything but warehouses for students to go through where both staff and students are struggling.

I value our schools, teachers, and administrators way too much to just continue in unhappy status quo. I have felt the hopelessness that many teachers and administrators feel to change this very imbedded system, but I believe it is possible. I also realize there are some real barriers to change due to funding, limited staff and high expectations.

As I continue to post, this will become a topic that I will further reflect on. It is my hope that we can make a difference by becoming more healthy and brain-based school environments. I want to envision schools that can thrive and provide a model of motivated, fulfilled and capable leadership and staff.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

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