Light Up the Learning Brain

All behavior comes from the brain.

Light Up the Learning Brain

Are you ready to increase learning opportunities, reduce negative behaviors, and improve staff and student morale? Then it’s time to become a brain builder!

Jessica Sinarski illuminates the many ways that teaching through a brain-based lens can breathe new life into your work in her book, Light Up the Learning Brain.

Below you will find the Introduction to her book, along with the Table of Contents, detailing the strategies and concepts that are discussed.

THE PROBLEM: Behavioral Challenges Get in the Way of Learning

Educators, this book is for you. You got into this work to make the world a better place. Maybe it was the joy you felt when helping your brother learn to read, or the idea of shaping young minds. I have never met a teacher who said, “I really enjoy breaking up fights.” I am guessing it’s not your love of defiance that gets you out of bed in the morning, right?

A 2019 survey by the Education Advisory Board found an alarming increase in reported behavioral disruptions in early grades. These tantrums, emotional outbursts, violent incidents, and episodes of defiance or shutdown impact the learning of all members of the classroom community. The pandemic’s impact on the world of education has magnified these difficulties, making teaching even more demanding.

I have spent my career working with kids who have intense behavioral challenges. As a bright-eyed counselor in the South Bronx, I quickly realized I did not know what I needed to know to be effective in my job. So much hurt and hopelessness all around, and the great therapeutic skills I had learned in graduate school were not helping. As I work with educators across the country, I hear the same thing: we didn’t learn what we needed to in school!

  • What do I do when a kid tries to bite me?
  • How do I teach algebra when a student suddenly runs out of my classroom?
  • How do I create a culture of safety when stress levels are this high?

Questions like these set me on a path to learn why these behaviors are happening and what we can do about it. I found the answers in an unexpected place: brain science.

All behavior comes from the brain.

Now when I see extreme behaviors, I see a brain that is in survival mode. Unfortunately, when you are faced with behavior that comes from a brain working from that self-protective survival state, your brain and body naturally go there too. We end up in this pattern…

When we are stuck in this cycle, there’s not a lot of learning happening. And it’s not because of bad kids and failing teachers. It’s a brain thing!

It is easy to think of the brain as a lumpy pink blob. It is actually an intricate network of 70-100 billion neurons constantly sending and receiving signals through electrical and chemical messengers. You don’t have to know all the details about this complex organ, but a little brain science can go a long way for educators.

THE SOLUTION: Unlock Student (and Staff) Potential with 7 Brain-based Keys

Many years ago, I was out to dinner with my husband and some work acquaintances. I don’t recall how the topic came up, but I vividly remember the man to my right making some derogatory comments about the state of education in Brazil. “I don’t know why teachers show up when the kids would rather be huffing gasoline than going to kindergarten.”

My blood boiled. I had just begun working in a community much like the part of Brazil he was talking about, with families stuck in a cycle of poverty, systemic oppression, and marginalization. I snapped some sarcastic retort that I’m sure made no lasting impact on his worldview. What I knew then and still feel in every fiber of my being is this:

  • No human comes into this world wanting to huff gasoline.
  • No child, when feeling safe and loved, wants to be known as “the bad kid.”
  • No adolescent, when their needs are met in a culturally competent classroom, wants to pick fights and flunk out. There’s stuff behind that. And while it is not your job as an educator to solve all your students’ problems, you can be a powerful part of the solution by working from a brain-based perspective.

Your school days don’t have to be an endless cycle of frustration and dysregulation. Just as I knew those truths about students, I also know that no teacher wants to spend their day scolding, arguing, and kicking kids out of class. You want to help students learn!

One of the best parts of my work is seeing the anger, shame, and apathy lift as we put these brain-based keys in use—not by working harder, but by working smarter. Seeing the effectiveness of these strategies restores hope. You know that teacher spark? The joy of supporting a student well? The thrill of a two-grade-level leap in one year? That’s the feeling you get when you light up the learning brain!

How to Use Light Up the Learning Brain

I am here to make your job easier, not with a whole new program, but with simple language and practical tools that support the great work you are already doing. Scripts, visuals, activities, and reflection exercises for both student and educator await you in the pages ahead.

Part One: It’s a Brain Thing! Start here to get a concise and easy-to-use framework for understanding how brains develop and why that matters in our schools. This is critical both for increasing learning and reducing the behavior that so often gets in the way.

Part Two: Keys to Unlock Student and Staff Potential. In this section, each key builds on the last, providing a user-friendly guide to translate neuroscience into action steps. Make the most of the material with reflection opportunities and downloadable resources for immediate use.

At the end of each chapter, you will find “Key Takeaways” and a “Low-Stress Starting Point” suggestion. These are included to light up your learning brain and give you some quick “wins” as you begin to implement these brain-building strategies.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution in the world of education. Your personality, skills, culture, strengths, and experiences will impact how you apply the principles you learn in this book. You will also find adaptations for different learning styles and options for various ages. I encourage you to enjoy this book with colleagues—as a whole staff journey, in smaller personal learning communities, or just with your teacher bestie. Ready to light up the learning brain? Let’s go!

Written by Jessica Sinarski.

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