Educators educating Educators

Jan 19



“Humiliation and mental oppression by ignorant and selfish teachers wreak havoc in the youthful mind that can never be undone and often exert a baleful influence in later life.” ~ Al Einstein


* Holiday Stress *


Video Update: January 2013

Stress sites

John Medina: Brain Rules/Stress


Discovery Channel The Brain about Stress


***  Teaching Suggestions  ***

1. Fear of making mistakes

One of the most powerful approaches for reinforcing a feeling of competence in students is to lessen their fear of failure. Many students equate making mistakes with feeling humiliated and consequently, will avoid learning tasks that appear challenging. There are students who are bullies, who quit at tasks, or say the work is dumb and stupid rather than engage in a learning activity that may result in failure and embarrassment. Especially for a male adolescent, it is better to appear bad than to appear stupid.

The best way to overcome this fear of failure is to openly address it with students. Early in the school year ask the question, “Who in this class is not going to make a mistake and not understand something this year?” The first hand that goes up is the teacher’s hand. Tell the students about a time you were embarrassed by a teacher or a time you were called on and you were really scared to answer.

Share your own struggles with your students so they don’t feel alone in theirs. Find age-appropriate ways to let students know that you make mistakes and sometimes fail. Children with specific learning disabilities (SLD) face challenges every day, and if everyone around them seems to be struggle-free, they’ll feel alone and incompetent. When the fear of failure and humiliation are actively addressed in the classroom, students are more motivated to take realistic risks and to learn.

When a teacher talks openly to the class about the fear of making mistakes they assure students that they are allowed, and in fact expected, to make mistakes. Point out that mistakes are part of the learning experience and are a valuable learning tool. You as their teacher will never allow a student who has made a mistake to be demeaned in class by another student. One teacher I know even went so far to make a banner saying Mistakes are our Friends.

Admit to the class you make mistakes frequently and encourage the class to illustrate your mistakes to you and the class throughout the school year. Ask the question, “What can I do as a teacher and what can you do as a student/class so that no one will ever be afraid to make a mistake?” This activity lessens the fear of failure and humiliation and the teacher lessens the anger and resistance in children.

Educators must attempt to minimize children’s’ fear of making mistakes. The fear of failure is like a rock around their neck that weights students down. The fear of making a mistake is one of the greatest impediments to motivation and learning and when you feel that you cannot succeed, you are not going to be motivated to earn.

I often tell the story of Thomas Watson, then president of IBM, who had a senior vice president make a $10 million mistake. Afterwards, the vice president very nobly walked into Watson’s office and offered his resignation. However Watson replied, “What, after I just spent $10 million on your education, I am going to fire you? You just learned something very valuable.”

On a personal level, I learned one thing in fourth grade, the fear of failure. Early in the school year I volunteered to spell a word aloud to the class and proceeded to misspell the word. The teacher immediately proclaimed in a booming voice from the front of the class that I was “the worst speller ever and I should be embarrassed.” Needless to say, I never again volunteered to spell again in her class and trembled in fear when she called weekly upon me to spell aloud in class. Even to this day, I am dreadfully aware and cautious of spelling in any situation and the feelings fear associated with that moment perpetually linger with me.

2. Focus on the strengths of a child using a strength-based model

Resilient children are aware of their weaknesses, but they look past them and focus on their strengths. It is their strengths that buoy them during tough times, when they are teased, or when they fail a test. It is hard for children with learning needs to focus on their strengths when they are often reminded of their shortcomings. By focusing on strengths, you’re not letting their needs define them. Remind children that all of us are better at some things then others - some people run fast, some people run slow - some read/speak fluently, others stumble over their words. The key is working on your needs while exercising the things you’re good at.

Early in the school year, ask the students in your class to make a list of things they enjoy doing, things that bring them fun, or what they are good at. If they don’t know, then sit down with them to figure it out together. Everyone likes to be appreciated for his or her strengths. By making a list of a child’s strengths, you are helping them develop their Island of Competence (see below for a full discussion of Island of Competence).

3. Give credit for successes

Even after children find things they are good at, they may be reluctant to acknowledge their own successes. Always look for opportunities to place credit where credit is due-squarely on the child’s shoulders.

Children with SLD often have low self-esteem, so when they’re successful at something, they typically say, “Oh, I just got lucky” or “the test was easy.” But if they do not take the credit they deserve, they may not feel equipped to tackle a tough problem the next time out.

4. Never set your expectations too low for students

Children have a way of rising to the occasion and to your expectations. Believe it or not, they want to be challenged. Expect the best from them and you’ll get it. Develop realistic expectations and goals for students and make accommodations for them when necessary.

Once students know you have written them off, it is very hard for you to change their attitudes and likewise for them to change. How we see ourselves and how we understand the behavior of children is going to play a big role in how we respond to them. According to Bob Brooks, author of numerous books dealing with resiliency, “negative mindsets in adults reinforce negative mindsets in angry and resistant students.” Conversely, “positive mindsets in adults lead to interventions that lessen anger and resistance in youth.” He asks the question “what is the mindset of adults that touch the hearts and minds of angry and resistant students thereby increasing cooperation? What are the assumptions we must have to touch the hearts, minds, and soul of our students?”

5. Never reprimand a student in front of peers

Never embarrass students in front of others. These can be traumatizing experiences. The child will never forget the experience and you will lose the child forever. Rather than admonishing a student when there’s an audience, approach the student and, in close proximity, quietly ask, “What are you doing?” After a response, ask “what are you suppose to be doing?” and follow up after the response with, “When will you start?”

This usually provides the attention the student is seeking, and it models appropriate interaction students can use with each other. Additionally, remember when a teacher responds to one student, all of the other students learn a lesson about that teacher. Students will remember your actions and understand they will receive similar treatment from you if they are in the same situations.

Quoting Abraham Maslow from his book Hierarchy of Needs, ”Truly the goal of guiding child development is to foster the expression of the child’s inner essence. But this process is delicate because it can be damaged by unfavorable experiences.”

6. Give students a sense of ownership in their learning

Recognize that students will be more motivated to learn when they feel a sense of ownership for their education. Angry and resistant youth feel helpless and hopeless and are less likely to be a behavior problem when they feel their voices are being heard. A teacher can start giving them a sense of empowerment by giving them choices.

When students feel their voices are being heard, they are more likely to work cooperatively with teachers and more motivated to meet academic challenges. Eliciting students’ opinions reinforces a feeling of personal control and responsibility - essential ingredients of a positive school climate.

Giving students a choice in the classroom increases a sense of involvement and ownership in their education. An easy method to accomplish this task is when assigning homework, let students choose what questions they desire to answer. For example, out of 20 problems, they choose any 10 problems to answer.

Another method to foster student involvement is to ask for their opinions of the class and you through feedback. How to get feedback from students? Request anonymous feedback from students, ask students to draw you, ask students to list what they like about your teaching style and class and what they would recommend be changed.

This sense of ownership also has a discipline connection. Giving choice and ownership can be applied to disciplinary practices by asking students to consider such questions as, “What rules do you think we need in the classroom for all students to feel comfortable and learn best?” Ask students to remind you when you break a rule.

Refer to the interesting Whitehall study below for additional insights to this concept.

7. Believe that all children can succeed

No child ever entered first grade expecting to fail. At the start of their educational careers, all children expected success and failure was not even considered an option, graduation is a given, and dropping out of school is not even in the realm of possibilities.

Robert White, Harvard professor in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was trying to break away from the old psychoanalytical model that believed the two most powerful drives in human life are sex and aggression. I realize that these two are important, but White added one that I feel applies to this conversation. In addition to the previous two drives, White felt that from birth every individual has a powerful drive to succeed by mastering and being effective in their environment. According to White, the desire to succeed is innate, and we must master our environments by being effective in that environment. Failure is a direct result of not mastering our environments by not being effective. To a student, failure is a direct violation of this drive and must be avoided at all costs or if present, aggressively and effectively dealt with by the student.

An interesting addition to this conversation is the work of Carol Dwek as she studied students, and to what they attributed their successes. In her book Mindsets: A Growth Mindset, Dwek writes of her research with children with higher self-esteem, who are more motivated, and who are more resilient versus those students who have low self esteem and often encounter academic failure.

She found that when students with high self-esteem succeed at things, they take a sense of ownership of their successes, that one success builds on another. On the contrary, when they encounter difficulty they attribute it to things they can control or other sources and hardly ever to themselves. Comments normally heard from this group are “The teacher made a mistake on the test” or “If I had more time to study I would of received a higher score.” They do not fail because of their lack of abilities.

But when children with learning need(s) succeed, they attribute it to things outside their control such as luck, chance, or fate. When they do encounter success, comments often heard are “The teacher made the test easy or ‘I was lucky.’” The problem with this belief is when children hit a rough spot; they don’t believe they can succeed because it was just luck, chance, or fate that they succeeded in the past, and not because of the abilities. Many children view mistakes as something they cannot control because they are dumb or stupid. Our job as educators is to reassure these children that making mistakes is part of the learning process.

Stressed student

8. Recognize that constructive relationships with teachers facilitate the learning process for students

In considering this recommendation one would first ask, “What steps must a teacher take to develop a relationship with a student so that the student will be receptive to accepting and engaging in empowering interventions?” As Bob Brooks has emphasized in many writings, “strategies are most effective in the context of a good relationship. “ He notes that too often he has “witnessed educators and other professionals attempt to apply particular educational techniques without first insuring that the student perceives these adults as helpful, caring, and empathic figures.”

As a solution to this question, Timothy Lackaye and Malka Margalit suggest, in an article in The Journal of Learning Disability, that we develop “empowering programs for students.” Lackaye and Margalit found that students with learning disabilities “felt lonelier and more socially isolated” in school even in comparison with students who did not have learning disabilities but were low achievers. In addition, their findings highlighted that “successful students are ready to work hard and report higher levels of effort, whereas unsuccessful students need to work harder, but they are neither motivated nor ready to do so.

Some may interpret this finding as a confirmation that students diagnosed with learning disabilities could be more successful if only they devoted more time and effort in their schoolwork. However, Brooks writes “that such an interpretation is faulty and it would be more accurate to assume that it is difficult for students to invest energy in learning when they are burdened by the negative mindset that regardless of how much time and effort they expend, they will still fail.”

In essence, they have developed what psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman termed “learned helplessness” (discussed below) and they entertain little, if any, hope for future success. Students with this mindset hear exhortations “to try harder” as accusatory and judgmental remarks, hardening them from accepting any assistance we may offer. One would contend that if we are to succeed with these students, we must first consider techniques for changing their self-defeating negative mindset.

For those of us who have worked with students with learning problems, the findings of Lackaye and Margalit’s study are not surprising. Brooks states that the results from this study are not surprising since “they serve to reinforce the belief that if we are to assist struggling students to succeed in school, we must not only address their academic weaknesses, but, as importantly, we must intervene to lessen feelings and beliefs that serve as significant obstacles to engaging in learning tasks and achieving academically. While the results of this study are focused on those students diagnosed with learning disabilities, the implications of the research findings are relevant for all students.”

Daniel Goleman supports this view in his most recent book Social Intelligence. Goleman reports on a study of 910 first-graders from a national sample representation of the entire United States. The study examined the “effect of teaching style on how well at-risk children learned.”

The report found that the most favorable results occurred “when teachers…

(a) tuned in to the child and responded to his needs, moods, interests, and capabilities, letting them guide their interactions,

(b) created an upbeat classroom environment with pleasant conversations, lots of laughter and excitement,

(c) showed warm and ‘positive regards’ toward students, and

(d) had good classroom management with clear but flexible expectations and routines, so that students followed rules largely on their own.”

In contrast and not surprisingly, the worst outcomes occurred when teachers were emotionally distant, often angry with students, and quick to use punitive means when disciplining their students.

Very importantly, while students who were already doing well were less influenced by a distant, negative teacher, “the study found a stunning difference among the at risk students; if they had a warm, responsive teacher, they flourished, learning as well as other kids.”

Goleman notes that other studies indicate that these findings are not confined to first grade, but occur throughout the school years. Goleman summarizes, “Whenever teachers create an empathic and responsive environment, students not only improve in their grades and test scores— they become eager learners. Even one supportive adult at school can make a difference to a student.”

***  Insights ***

Stress in the classroom is the elephant in the classroom. In schools, students perceive stress from many different sources: peer groups, teachers, parents, the self, and lack of subject knowledge.


“Everybody talks about stress, and everybody says they have stress, and everybody knows stress is bad for your health. What exactly is stress?

Stress is a concept invented in the 1930s by Dr. Hans Selye who died in 1983. Dr. Selye admitted that stress is an abstract concept, and he admitted that stress has never been adequately defined. Dr. Selye’s own definition of stress is” the non-specific response of the body to any demand.”

To most people, however, stress is not an abstract concept but it is something you feel. The feeling that many people call stress boils down to anxiety and frustration. So the word stress refers to two different things: (1) an abstract concept (“The non-specific response of the body to any demand”) and (2) anxiety and frustration.”

Barry Spencer, The Unbearable Bunkness of Stress



As a teacher, why should I care about the emotions of a student?

“Teachers with high emotional literacy…experience more positive emotions in the classroom, receive more support from co-workers, employ more effective coping strategies during stressful encounters, and report less burnout and greater job satisfaction.”

Marc Brackett, Emotional Literacy in the Classroom (2007), Yale University


Stressed Out?

33% of Americans feel they are living with extreme stress

75% say that work and money are the leading cause of stress

48% feel that stress has increased over the past 5 years.

Source: American Psychological Association study, 2007



Kids Have Stress Too

Risky Youth Behaviors and Attitudes

Prevalence for High School Students



Physical fight at school (12 months);


Carried a weapon (30 days)


Bullied at school (past 6 months)


5 or more drinks in a couple of hours (30 days)


Seriously considered attempting suicide


Sexual intercourse > 3 people


Chronically disengaged from school



Linda Lantieri, Building Emotional Intelligence, 2008


“There are two ways of being creative.  One can sing and dance.  Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish.”

Warren G. Bennis, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of Leadership


Stress and Discipline

The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means “instruction given to a learner.” Therefore, one of the main functions of discipline is to perceive it as a teaching process rather than a process of intimidation and humiliation.

A child acting out is frequently a sign of frustration over failure or perceived failure. If a child cannot learn the way he or she is taught, that child might as well be learning Mandarin or Calculus II. Boredom, frustration, a sense of failure can all lead to unacceptable behaviors.

It does not make sense that children are repeatedly sent to in-school suspension or other forms of punishment that do not help and support the child to learn more acceptable behaviors. Unacceptable behaviors can and often get in the way of teaching to a child’s strengths. Those behaviors should always be addressed in a positive way to reduce unacceptable behaviors. Interestingly, unacceptable behaviors often recede and frequently disappear when positive behavioral supports are in place and the focus returns to a child’s strengths.

Bob Brooks asks the question, “If the strategies we are using with angry and resistant children are ineffective, then we must ask what can we do differently to help the situation rather than waiting for the student to change. Sometimes we must wonder who are the resistant ones if we continue to use the same ineffective strategies to no avail over a long period of time.” Brooks uses the term "negative scripts" to highlight the phenomenon of repaetedly saying or doing the same thing even if our actions have proven to be ineffective.  Or as Al Einstein said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."


Motivation: No one is not motivated


No person is not motivated. If you are not motivated, it means you are dead. What we are really saying when we say a student is not motivated is that they are not doing what we would like them to do.  The question then becomes are children not motivated and how do we create a motivating environment where children will work with us and not against us?

In the learning process, one’s successes build upon prior successes. However, students must also believe their efforts will result in successful learning. The question they will ask themselves is, “Will my effort lead me to somewhere successful?”  Children with learning need(s) must believe that their efforts will result in learning whereas successful learners already believe that with effort, there will be improvement and learning. For children with learning needs, many times it is not an issue of effort but an issue in believing that their efforts will lead somewhere.


Avoidance motivation

Bob Brooks refers to avoidance motivation as one of our greatest motivations. Humans will go great lengths to avoid this sense of failure or humiliation and children use avoidance motivation all the time in class. When students feel that things in the classroom will lead to failure, they naturally will use avoidance motivation to avoid failure and humiliations. Adults use it on a daily basis. For example, have you ever looked at your phone caller id and decided not to answer the call?

A better way to look at this situation is to determine what the child is avoiding. A teacher must ask what is the student avoiding or why does this student have a need to avoid? What are the roots of the situation they perceive will lead to failure and humiliation? One of the most powerful forces that keep people from doing things is humiliation. We gravitate towards thing we feel successful at.

When thinking about designing situations to ensure a child’s success, I often think of the famous quote by Howard Gardner of Multiple Intelligences fame, “It is not how smart you are but how you are smart.” One of the most obvious ways to assist students to feel competent is to teach them in ways in which they can learn. Educators must appreciate that each student has different learning styles and strengths. When a teacher knows what a child is good at (one of a child’s dominant intelligences according to Gardner’s theory), it is exceptionally simple to ensure a successful learning situation by structuring an activity around the child’s strength.


Some stress is needed to obtain optimal performance

Stress ChartInverted Stress Curve

Stress and the Amygdala and Learning

If the stress is not too severe, the brain performs better, however, if the stress is too severe or too prolonged it harms learning. In almost every way stress can be tested, chronic stress hurts our ability to learn. On study showed that adults with high stress levels performed 50% worse on certain cognitive tests than adults with low stress.

The hippocampus is loaded with cortisol receptors, which makes it very responsive to stress signals. Stress can facilitates learning in 2 ways via the release of adrenaline and gluco-corticoids. Both hormones act on receptors in the amygdala and the hippocampus to enhance synaptic plasticity. Conversely, chronic stress greatly impairs learning.

But as the chart above illustrates, not all stress is the same. Some types of stress hurt learning, but other types of stress boost learning. Additionally, people have different levels of stress. One person might love skydiving for recreation; for others, it’s their worst nightmare. Is jumping out of a plane inherently stressful? No, and this highlights the subjective nature of stress.

Specifically, John Medina in his book Brain Rules reports that stress hurts declarative memory (things you can declare) and executive function (the type of learning that involves problem-solving). Those, of course, are the skills needed to excel in school and business.

Additionally, he notes stressed people don’t do math very well, don’t process language very efficiently, have poorer memories (both long and short-term form), can’t concentrate, and do not generalize or adapt old pieces of information to new scenarios.


The Whitehall study: The relationship between stress, giving students choices in the classroom and input into decision-making

The Whitehall Study, a longitudinal study of male civil servants in Great Britain completed 40 years ago, added a unique and noteworthy insight into the causes of stress. Until fairly recently, psychologists accepted the common sense view that job stress was directly related to the significance of the decisions being made. By this logic, the top executive jobs were the most stressful because of the high level decisions being made by the CEOs and CFOs of the company. And at the other end of the worker spectrum, the lower level positions were less stressful because their decisions had less impact.

To say the least, the results of the study were interesting and unexpected. Researchers were surprised to find that mortality rates, as well as a range of stress-related illnesses, were inversely related to job status. Top managers were less likely then lower-status employers to suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and, lived longer.The results held even when factors such as access to heath care, smoking, less-healthy diets, and wages were taken into account.

The researchers explained, that contrary to popular wisdom, the lower-status workers experienced more stress precisely because they had less control over their work. In other words, those who had a sense of control of their working environment, with the ability to decide and implement their own actions, had less stress than those workers who largely followed the directions of others.

This study correlates with our discussion above in Teacher Suggestion #6 of how to lessen stress in the classroom by empowering students to make choices and give them a sense of ownership in their learning. In the current rush to make decisions based on research-based practices, this evidence is significant. If the focus is on student learning, their happiness, their sense of being creative and in control of their work, the practice of complete control of the learning environment by the teacher is at the very least open to discussion.


Discipline Cartoon


Island of Competence - a Strength-based model

Child psychologist Robert Brooks developed the term “island of competence” in reference to areas of strengths. Brooks believes everyone has strengths, but sometime they’re not obvious. Educators must find those areas of strengths and build upon them. Island of competencies are symbols of hope and respect and a belief that all children have unique strengths and courage. We must locate a child’s island of competence so that they become more prominent parts of the child. Once found and reinforced, we can create a ripple effect by which children will be more willing to venture forth and confront situations that have been problematic.

Every person must feel they are making a contribution to the environment. If we accept both these concepts, the obvious strategy is to build upon them. Every child must feel important and every child must taste success.


Island of Competencies and Discipline

Brooks also correlates “island of competencies” with discipline. Brooks advises to not take away from children what “gives a child a sense of dignity” or deny the child his “island” i.e. what they like to do or what they do best. The activities a child holds precious are their “island of competencies.”

Instead, just remove the things from the island or the accessories to the island. In other words, don’t take away the island – a child’s sense of dignity - but some things on the island or wanted additions to the island. For example, the child might love to play soccer and he/she wants new soccer shoes. According to this system of discipline, the child will continue to play soccer but without the desired new equipment (new shoes or soccer ball) until the agreed upon success happens.

Additionally, researchers has shown the best point reward system method to use is to give the child 100% of his reward at the beginning of the class/activity and not have the child earn the points throughout the activity. Why does this work? Because we work hardest at protecting what we already have. For a real-life example, look at the IRS taking out its money per paychecks and the annual massive financial calculations and activity leading up to April 15.

Raising Resilient Children


Learned Helplessness

Martin Seligman is a world-renowned authority on depression and abnormal psychology known for his work on the theory of learned helplessness, and is considered the father of positive psychology.

In the late 1960s, Seligman coined the term “learned helplessness” to describe both the perception of inescapability and its associated cognitive collapse. Since that time, researchers have shown that many animals, including humans, behave in the same way where punishment is unavoidable.

Learned Optimism

In part one of Seligman’s experiment, three groups of dogs were placed in harnesses. In Group 1, dogs were simply put in the harnesses for a period of time and later released. The dogs in group two and three are consisted "yoked pairs." A dog in Group 2 would be intentionally subjected to pain by being given electric shocks, which the dog could end by pressing a lever. A Group 3 dog was wired in parallel with a Group 2 dog, receiving shocks of identical intensity and duration, but his lever didn't stop the electric shocks. To a dog in Group 3, it seemed that the shock ended at random, because it was his paired dog in Group 2 that was causing it to stop. For Group 3 dogs, the shock was apparently "inescapable." Group 1 and Group 2 dogs quickly recovered from the experience, but Group 3 dogs learned to be helpless, and exhibited symptoms similar to chronic clinical depression.

Initially, Group 3 dogs howled in pain, urinated, and strained mightily against their harnesses, but all to no avail. As the hours and days passed, their resistance faded. Why? The dogs received a very clear message: the pain was not going to stop: the shocks were going to be forever. There was no way out. Even after the dogs had been released from the harness and placed in the metal box with the escape route, they could no longer understand their options. Most learning had shut down. This research clearly demonstrates chronic stress can wreak extraordinary changes in behavior.

In part two of the Seligman’s experiment, these three groups of dogs were tested in a shuttle-box apparatus, in which the dogs could escape electric shocks by jumping over a low partition. For the most part, the Group 3 dogs, which had previously "learned" that nothing they did had any effect on the shocks, simply lay down passively and whined. Even though they could have easily escaped the shocks, the dogs didn't try.


The following video by John Medina, author of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving & Thriving at Work, Home, & School, will help illustrate the above information.


Learned Helplessness in the Classroom

Of what relevance is learned helplessness to educators? Consider a student who has consistently over many years has had problems mastering either math or reading.

From the student point-of-view who has experienced this continuous failure, the learning equation is always new grade + same subject = same results (failing grade). The teacher’s remedy to a child’s failure is to encourage the student to study more and to try harder the next time. The student initially thin

ks, “How does the teacher know I didn’t try my hardest.” And then he thinks I did try my hardest and I still got the same results as in past years in this subject, failure. I might as well just give up (lie down) because no matter how much effort I put into this subject, I will not be able to pass and escape the pain of failure. The student says to himself that, “No matter how much time, effort, and homework I invest in this subject I will always get the same result, a failure. Why waste time doing math because I just can’t do math.”


Child development is brain development: Early life stress and adult vulnerability

Research has shown that childhood deprivation can interfere with brain development, e.g. Romanian orphanages. Early exposure to stress can increase responsiveness of the stress hormone system in adulthood. In pregnant rodents and monkeys, stress increases the release of gluco-corticoids hormones, which will lead to a variety of problems. The rodents are born smaller, have hypertension and high blood glucose as adults, exhibit more anxiety behavior and are less able to learn. On the other hand, getting more maternal care makes rats less vulnerable to stress as adults. Why? Grooming increases the expression of genes that encode stress hormones receptors in the hippocampus.Activation of these receptors reduces the release of stress hormones. Moreover, there is less fearful in later life by reducing the responsiveness of the stress hormones system.

In humans, abuse, neglect, harsh and inconsistent discipline in early life increases in later life depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and the responsiveness of the stress hormone system. Housing rats in an enriched environment reverses the hormonal effects of poor mothering in adult rats.


Stress and our current life styles


Why do we need stress? All animals need a flexible, immediately available, highly regulated stress response system, or they would die. Stress helps us manage the threats that could keep us from procreating. Our ancestors from the East African savanna 100,000 years ago needed immediate response to threats such as a hungry saber-toothed tiger lurking in the tall grasses on the daily search for food on the savanna. He either ate us or we ran away from it. Most of the survival issues we faced in the first few million years did not take hours, even minutes, to settle. Our stress responses were shaped to solve problems that lasted not for years, but for seconds. They were designed to get our muscles moving as quickly as possible and out of harm’s way.

But today, our stress is measured in hours, days, and sometimes months with hectic work and home schedules, teenagers, and money problems. Our system is not built for that. When moderate amounts of hormones hang around too long, they become harmful.


Stress and its effects on our bodies

Our bodies react to stress, which you can feel. Our pulse races, blood pressure rises, and you feel a massive release of energy, which is the result of adrenaline at work. The hypothalamus releases adrenaline, the pie size organ sitting in the middle of your head. It sends a signal to your adrenal glands, lying on the roof of your kidneys causing the fight or flight response.

The autonomic nervous system, controlled by the hypothalamus and part of the limbic system, is the size of a pea. It sits above the roof of your mouth, 1/4 the size of your thumb. Medical students learn in med school that the hypothalamus controls the 4 Fs. feeding, fighting, fleeing, and mating.

The hypothalamus is responsible for translating our emotional states into physical feelings. The front half of the hypothalamus sends calming signals through the parasympathetic system, the back half sends stimulating or fear signals to the body through the sympathetic system. The back half of the hypothalamus when stimulated is responsible for the flight-or-flight response.

Moreover, cortisol is also released by the adrenal glands and is just as powerful as adrenaline. It is the second wave of our defense reaction to stressors, and in small doses, it wipes out most unpleasant aspects of stress, returning us to normalcy.

Short-term, acute stress boosts cardiovascular performance as has been reported in grandmothers lifting cars to rescue grandchildren. However, the effect of long-term adrenalin is harmful. John Medina notes long-term stress stops regulating surges in your blood pressure and these unregulated surges creates sandpaper-like rough spots on the inside of your blood vessels. The spots turn into scars, which allow sticky substances in the blood to build up there, clogging your arteries. In the blood vessels of your heart, this equals a heart attack; in the brain, this equals a stroke. People who have chronic stress have elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Similarly, stress has an adverse effect on our immune response. Initially, the acute stress response sends white blood cells to vulnerable fronts, such as the skin. But chronic stress reverses these effects, decreasing the number of white-blood cells, even killing them. Over the long term, stress ravages parts of the immune system involved in producing antibodies. Together, these can cripple your ability to fight infection. Chronic stress also can cause your immune system to fire indiscriminately, even at your own body.

People who experience chronic stress are three times more likely to suffer from the common cold, and also suffer from autoimmune disorders, such as asthma and diabetes.


The following 2 videos will help illustrate the information above.


Stress Mindmap



One pedagogy toll to avoid Learned Helplessness: Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky, famed Soviet psychologist, developed the concept of Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in the 1920s. ZPD is Vygotsky’s term for the range of tasks that are too difficult for the child to master alone but can be learned with guidance and assistance of adults or more-skilled children. The lower limit of ZPD is the level of skill reached by the child working independently. The upper limit is the level of additional responsibility the child can accept with the assistance of an able instructor.

ZPD is based on the premise of providing the minimal amount of support to insure success. Initially we provide the maximum amount of support necessary but as the learning process continues, support is gradually removed towards a point where hopefully any support is unnecessary. Hopefully, at the end of the process the child has demonstrated mastery of the material at which time the child’s academic needs are met and self-confidence and self-reliance quickly build. But if there is movement move too far or too quickly from the child’s zone of proximal development, a sense of failure and frustration will develop and behavior problems might develop.

Scaffolding is a concept closely related to the idea of ZPD. Scaffolding is changing the level of support. Over the course of a teaching session, a more-skilled person adjusts the amount of guidance to fit the child’s current performance.




“If we can control the attention of the child, we solve the problems of education.” Maria Montessori

This month Ed Tip will examine how to improve students' learning by activating their attention.