The Change Agent

Dr. Lori Desautels
Assistant Prof at Butler University

The Objective

To analyze the effects of trauma on student behavior and look deeper to get at the core of what students are experiencing.

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Show Notes

With a compelling discussion of trauma and brain science, Dr. Lori Desautels explains how educators can use educational neuroscience to better understand student behavior and inform disciplinary strategies.

Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.

Episode 18
Title: Brain and Behavior: The Inseparable Link
Subtitle: Using "brain aligned" practices to meet students where they are

VoiceOver (00:02):

ChangeAgents in K-12 is presented by SchoolMint and features top educators, practitioners, and leaders sharing research and experiences as well as stories of hope, opportunity, and student success.

Dr. Chris Balow (00:16):

Welcome everyone to the podcast ChangeAgents in K-12. I'm really excited today to have Dr. Lori Desautels with us. Um, she's just a really, really interesting person has done some amazing work. She's been an assistant professor at Butler university since 2016, where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate programs in the college of education. Dr. Desautels was also an assistant professor at Marian university in Indianapolis for eight years, where she founded the educational neuroscience symposium, which is now sponsored by Butler university through these conferences and symposiums educators, parents, and community learned to implement the tools to help our students be successful and feel a sense of purpose and connection as they walk into their classrooms because of her work. Lori has been able to attract the foremost experts in the fields of educational neuroscience, trauma, and adversity, which significantly grow the conference each year. Dr. Lori Desautels welcome to ChangeAgents in K-12.

Dr. Lori Desautels (01:24):

Thank you, Chris. I'm really excited to visit with you this afternoon. Thank you.

Dr. Chris Balow (01:27):

Awesome. Awesome. Well, we have a lot, a lot of information to cover. And so let's start out with kind of a broad question. How would you exactly define trauma informed and trauma responsive and the relationship to social emotional learning, which is really a big area. All I think most educational leaders are really, really talking about that these days.

Dr. Lori Desautels (01:51):

It's a great question. And I really appreciate you asking me and, um, you're exactly right. SEL social, emotional learning. Is it blankets, a lot of topics. And, um, so to begin with trauma informed and trauma responsive are close cousins and they don't work without each other. So trauma informed from my understanding is really becoming aware of how adversity and trauma affect children's developing brains and bodies and stress response systems. So it's, it's, it's really gleaning that awareness and understanding trauma responsive follows that. And trauma responsive is really collective efforts, meaning that it's not about the programs that you're implementing in your school or district. I believe that with all my heart and my mind, it really is a collective understanding and a collaborative understanding that your discipline protocols need to be brain aligned, they to be preventative and they need to address the trauma and adversity that is plaguing so many of our children and adolescents and our educators in these times. So when we can address brain state, rather than behaviors, we are working alongside our children and our adolescents, we're joining up with them. SEL is again a very huge topic, but I believe that SEL practices that are brain aligned that pay attention to how the brain develops, how the brain learns, how the brain senses perceives feels experiences is that is an SEL initiative that will be successful, especially when we really hold the perception of not fixing a school or fixing a kid or fixing a person, but really looking at the process of this intermingling of our personhood personally and professionally.

Dr. Chris Balow (04:07):

Yeah. Excellent. Well, there's a lot there to unpack Lori. So couple quick questions is I really, I like the differentiation of informed versus responsive. I think maybe folks conflate those, you know, sometimes out in the field. Um, but it's that awareness and I've been reading a lot about, uh, ACEs, you know, the, uh, those events that, that are very traumatic for kids. Talk about how, you know, that whole notion of ACEs and what that is and, and how, uh, at least in simple terms that all of us could understand how it affects brains and, and the stress response for kids.

Dr. Lori Desautels (04:46):

So ACEs, which are adverse childhood experiences became a notion that is really it's changed everything for me as a mom, it's changed everything for me as an educator. Um, and the initial, the largest public health study was conducted in the mid to late nineties. And since that time, the prevalence of the understanding has grown tremendously and there've been many, many studies and also adversities that we are experiencing now that were not identified in the nineties. And so what we are learning every day is that when we experience toxic levels of stress that are oftentimes chronic and unpredictable, it intimately affects the developing brain and bodies of children. But I want to really be clear Chris this afternoon. And I really appreciate you asking me that question. What I'm learning is that adverse childhood experiences are, they give us a roadmap, but they don't have the last word. It's not just about the adversities in a child's life. It is also about the protective factors, those emotional buffers that a child has when they're going through adversity and trauma. We have to be really clear about trauma and adversity because I really feel it happens on a continuum. So there are huge amounts of, um, or I should say significant Dr. Bruce Perry calls those big T traumas, but there is also an accumulation of small adversities that when they are chronic and when they are unpredictable, and they're just never going away that wreaks havoc on brain architecture too. So it's not necessarily an event, but it is also the perception of that event and how we sense it and feel it and perceive it even after that event is over, which is why oftentimes we misunderstand how children and adolescents and all of us actually can be triggered or buttons pushed over what seems to be an average day. But then we smell something. We hear something, we see something, and then it's a disruption to the nervous system and our behaviors change dramatically and abruptly.

Dr. Chris Balow (07:17):

Yeah, that's so fascinating. You know, you talk about those intensive, toxic, stressful events. And, you know, I worked with students for well over 30 years and it seemed to me that way back when, what, I didn't know all this, that there's this flight or flight response that just seems to be hardwired in when, when an event triggers something within that, that child.

Dr. Lori Desautels (07:43):

It absolutely is. And what I learned when I'm learning is that we all are wired with a negative bias. And the reason that we have that negative bias is because survival and safety, we prioritize above everything else in our human lives. And that's an, you know, that's a historical mechanism that protects us. So it's evolutionary. And when we are feeling increased levels of anxiety or fear, or, um, anger, if any type of negative emotion, our perception shift and how we see and feel and experience our worlds begins to change. So it is safety and survival are absolutely required along with connection for us to teach well, to learn well to live life well and to lead well.

Dr. Chris Balow (08:41):

Gosh, you know, it would seem to me that if I'm an educator, a teacher and I, and I see a kid having a quote unquote meltdown, just to be armed with that notion that this is happening on a brain level, the students not trying to get my goat or anything like that. And just having that awareness of the attribution of why that student is acting the way they are seems that would be helpful.

Dr. Lori Desautels (09:05):

It's very powerful because it's very, emotions are contagious and, and relational contagion is a part of our neurobiology too. So it's very easy to feel, um, that you, you personalize those behaviors. You internalize those behaviors because behaviors are signals and they're communicating a pain underneath, um, that gets really into the cell of, of our bodies, the trillions of cells. And it changes again, what feels unsafe to me may feel very safe and familiar to somebody else. So, you know, it's not ubiquitous, it's extremely unique to every individual. And, um, what's what I'm learning Chris that I really want to share today too, is that when we talk about events and experiences that are toxic or traumatic for people and especially children, because their brains and bodies are developing trauma and adversity are held in the body. It's not just the brain. This is not a psychological issue. It is a physiological nervous system challenge. And for teachers, we don't need to get into the weeds as administrators. You know, we don't have to be neuroscientists, but it's really important for us to understand that our bodies really begin when we observe intently, we begin to see how a child is feeling through body language and, you know, the patterns of those body. I mean, when I look back on my own three children, and I think about the opportunities I missed when they were, um, expressing negative emotion and I was not watching their whole body, I was listening to words and I wasn't, I wasn't clear, and I wasn't getting at the root of that.

Dr. Chris Balow (11:04):

And it seems that with that perception and awareness that you could maybe preempt the, the, the, the cycle that that would happen physiologically and psychologically.

Dr. Lori Desautels (11:16):

Absolutely. And, and that's what we're, that's what I'm so excited about right now, when I go into schools and go walk into districts and I work with pre-K through really higher ed, it's really about meeting our children and adolescents in their brain state, meeting them. If they're walking in rough, if they're walking in disregulated in that survival brain, then I realized that words, consequences, rules, guidelines, stickers, rewards, consequences, don't mean a thing. And I really got to tune in and tap in and calibrate to where they are. And if that happens very organically, when we understand the science, it happens through our procedures and it happens through transitions and routines. So we're not asking teachers or administrators to do anything more, but it's a framework that allows us to, to really meet our children, our students, and join up with them in that, in that brain and body state, so that we have an opportunity to connect with them.

Dr. Chris Balow (12:29):

Yeah, that's, that's just great advice. And, and also you can't teach new behaviors when someone is so stressed out and agitated in that state. And so, you know, how do you feel about not only do we have to worry about, you know, manage helping students with the brain state, but we also, some kids, they just simply haven't learned the, the, the behaviors. And so there has to be a teaching component that at the appropriate time.

Dr. Lori Desautels (12:57):

Chris you're so right about that. And that's something I'm learning. And I didn't know this as a new teacher, when I was teaching in the nineties and I was teaching in a self-contained classroom of children with the classification of emotionally disturbed or behavior disordered. I had no idea. I mean, I, I instinctively felt and sensed that no child gets up in the morning and, and walks into an environment where they want to have a horrible day. I don't think anyone has that intention, but we assume that to be kind to empathize, to regulate our, our, you know, we, we just automatically know how to do we know how to do those skills and really what I'm learning too, is that, and what I've learned is that if a child is not exposed to kindness in their environments, they're not exposed to empathy. If everybody in that environment is constantly reflexive and reactive, then they don't develop the brain circuitry for kindness or for empathy. And so it's interesting because we still, even in higher ed, do not look at behavior management. And I don't like the term behavior management, but we don't look at behavior as a content area when we're preparing pre-service teachers and it needs to be it's. Yeah. I mean, I it's, it's no different than teaching math, reading, you know, our content, our academic areas,

Dr. Chris Balow (14:32):

Almost one could argue that that is a number one job foundational before getting into the academics.

Dr. Lori Desautels (14:39):

It absolutely is it absolutely. You can have the best curriculum. You can, you can be a master, um, you know, artfully skilled in your content area. But if that student is coming in rough, it doesn't matter.

Dr. Chris Balow (14:54):

Sure. Um, earlier you mentioned, um, we were talking about adverse child events and so forth and how their differential impacts, maybe students come from very, very similar circumstance, but some kids seem to show a, uh, more resilience than others. And, and maybe it's those protective factors.

Dr. Lori Desautels (15:15):

I think that some of the growing research is showing that, um, that touch points in our lives matter, the connections, the relationships that we have, even through the most difficult times, staying connected through the conflict is a protective factor. It is an emotional buffer. And at school we spend K through 12, 12,000 to 13,000 hours. And I'm beginning to hold a perception of seeing school as the community center, where we can gather to support our children in adolescence, and to provide those touch points that build that resiliency and provide the opportunities for students to exercise some of those skills that they may not have been exposed to in their environment.

Dr. Chris Balow (16:03):

Yeah. I love that term touch points. I'm going to date myself here, but over 30 years ago, I used to, I used to do some work with search Institute out of Minneapolis, and they developed, um, the 40 developmental assets of children and adolescents, and that they really articulated those events that are traumatic or adverse, but also highlighted all the positive things that you can put in place and touch points kind of, I made that connection there.

Dr. Lori Desautels (16:31):

Absolutely. And sometimes we think we are using that term in our framework touchpoints because sometimes we think that strengthening a relationship or building a relationship takes so much time. It takes so many hours takes so many days and it doesn't, it is a two second or 10, second or 22nd, the way you greet a child, the way you gently look at a student, um, the way you end your day, um, it's this week, it was really interesting. I was asked to speak to food service providers in a large school district in Northern Indiana. And I loved that opportunity because I thought, well, first I thought, well, this is really interesting that I'm going to be in a auditorium. Of course we were social distancing and wearing our masks, but I was speaking to food service providers, but then I thought what an opportunity for our food service providers as children and adolescents gather their lunch and move through the line. They see these children and students every day, they make a connection every day. Um, it is an opportunity for patterns, repetitive connection through touch points with these kids.

Dr. Chris Balow (17:44):

Yeah, absolutely. And, uh, you know, cafeterias can be the best place or the worst for certain kids. It reminds me, um, of a psychologist, Dr. Jim Fay. I don't know if you've heard of him. He wrote a book called love and logic many years ago, dating myself, but a lot of great ideas about how to build those connections with kids. And it's something as simple as saying, Hey, I really like your shoes that you're wearing, you know, something really simple, but it can make all the difference. And so that's kind of what I'm hearing you say.

Dr. Lori Desautels (18:16):

Yeah, it's very true. And, and some it's not new research, but what we're sharing with this as far as the application, um, most of our communication is non-verbal 93% of our communication with one another is nonverbal it's in our facial expressions, it's in our gestures and postures and, and our tone and his, I just wrote an article for ed utopia about face masks and, you know, for younger students. And it was interesting cause I was thinking about dr. Stephen Porges, his work with the polyvagal theory and, um, you know, our eye muscles and inner ear muscles and vocal expression. And our viscera are all connected. And we really actually read people from the eyes up. So I talked about this in the article and how fun it would be to, to guess emotions in a morning meeting, you know, to guess how each other are, you know, how, you know, just that facial expression with the mask on. Um, because we really, I think that's, that's where I, I thought about that very old, um, saying the windows are the eyes to the soul. And, um, I wondering, you know, about the connection there, so.

Dr. Chris Balow (19:27):

Yeah. Interesting question. Um, earlier we were talking about responsive, um, responsiveness, and you talked, you mentioned that it's not about programs per se. It's more about our brain aligned behaviors as, as educators and, and I, and I've come to believe that too, that you can purchase any program, but if you don't have some of these other, other underlying factors that you mentioned, it may not have the impact,

Dr. Lori Desautels (19:57):

You're absolutely correct. And this is something that is being recognized across our country right now, thankfully, that we know that a calm regulated adult is able to calm and regulate a child. And we've got to start with the adults in our buildings and understand that collectively as a body of children and adolescents and teachers, we have this opportunity to be, um, co-regulating or co grounding one another. And it begins again with the adult. I would have parented differently. Had I known how many times have I jumped into a power struggle and just been in the hot seat of a conflict when I was re just dysregulated? I mean, I was yelling, I was nagging. I was threatening as a teacher. I did that as a mom. I've done that. And now when I understand that it's so much deeper than compliance and obedience, it's about a sustainable, um, shift in brain state. And that's exciting to me, you know, that's neuroplasticity.

Dr. Chris Balow (21:10):

Yeah. So, so interesting. It reminds me when I was learning to be a school psychologist many, many years ago, one of my professors said, you know, the easiest way to change someone's behaviors to change your own. And so if you're calm, it's harder for someone else to be dysregulated. I read a book many, many years ago by Bandler and grinder called neuro-linguistic programming. They talked about pacing and leading. So you can, if you're calm, you can lead another person to that same state. So that's kind of what I'm hearing from you.

Dr. Lori Desautels (21:44):

Yes, you're exactly right. It's not new information or new research, but it, the application of it is so important today, as we look at, especially in this time of the pandemic, many of our staff are really anxious and worried and concerned with this chronic unpredictability. And that has contagion, you know, with the student body and with our families.

Dr. Chris Balow (22:09):

Yeah. That's a great insight. Wow. That's, that's really important that our educators are aware of that, that they, they, they can project that. Well, that was our first question, Lori, let's go on to question number two. What is applied educational neuroscience and how does this framework inform educators?

Dr. Lori Desautels (22:31):

Thank you again for asking that. So applied educational neuroscience was born about five years ago, and it is a framework, meaning it's a roadmap it's, uh, it's a very stable available roadmap that has four pillars and those four pillars, or we th I always describe it as like, you know, a coffee table, can't stand with three legs or two legs, and it it's sturdy with four. So these four pillars that are a part of this framework, um, really support the teaching and learning process, but they also support the social and emotional process through a brain aligned lens. And that's the key part here. It's. And, and so the framework, you know, it's interesting that the four legs of this framework are educator brain and body state. So it begins with the adults and it begins with our ability to recognize our own buttons, to recognize how we call ourselves, how do we regulate? Um, it, it is all about not just our professional life, but about our whole lives. It's our personal life. Me as a mom, again, um, as a sister, as a daughter. And so we really start with the educator brain and body state, and then we look at co-regulation and really Chris co-regulation is sharing your calm. It's just sharing your calm with another it's sharing your stable, emotionally available, agenda less presence when someone is needing that soothing or that, that calming. And then the third leg of this or pillar of this work are touch points. And we know that the carrier of brain development is attachment. And many of our children, many adults, many adolescents are coming into, um, school, they're coming into the world of work and they have, it's not just the quality bits, the quantity of touch points. Many of our children I'm learning. I hear from teachers. Um, they are coming in with just a couple. And when you don't have, again, those protective factors of connection, sometimes you don't know how to ask a question. You don't know how to explain something in detail. You're not sure how to enter in into a conversation. And that's really interesting to me, because again, those, those, you know, we model what we, what we want to see from our students. And then the fourth leg of this, which I'm smiling. As I tell you about this is bringing the science into why we feel the way we feel. The kids love this. The staff feel empowered and it feels really relieving to know that there's nothing wrong with you. And you're not a bad kid. And your brain has learned how to fire and wire together based on experiences. And we share that in the, and the other really exciting part of that is that, you know, we S we share with teachers and administrators, you don't have to be an expert. The kids love that. You don't know. So that's a touch point. You're learning this work together. And that's really exciting.

Dr. Chris Balow (25:53):

Yeah, it really is. I have to say that just really intrigues me what we're going to talk about your book here shortly, but it looked like in your book, you had exercises that are developmentally appropriate for all the age levels, too, to really begin to understand their own personal brain science.

Dr. Lori Desautels (26:12):

Absolutely. And we start with, we start with the brainstem and the body, and, you know, I was just, I was doing a podcast earlier today, um, for a, um, it's called cafe Patachou. If they have a foundation and they provide meals, school meals to, um, to our inner city schools. And there's a lot of growing research on how our belly brains and how our heart brains and our skull brains are connected and our bellies and our body speak to us through sensation. So as a teacher, um, it's really important for me to understand the language of sensation. So the exercises that you refer to address, sensation, and they address, um, you know, feelings, and then they, and then we're able, once we know how we sense and feel our experiences, and then we can put the words to it, but it really aligns with how the brain develops.

Dr. Chris Balow (27:08):

Yeah, it's so interesting. You talked about touch points and attachment, and that the kids need the proper quality and quantity of, of touchpoints. And one of the things I've worked with a lot of districts over the years and teachers is about making sure you have a ratio of positive to negative interactions with, with kids it's. So is that kinda what you're referring to?

Dr. Lori Desautels (27:32):

Well, absolutely. And you just, that that's been, um, a long time strategy and that's because of a negative bias of the brain it's because that we naturally go to the negative and that's why newspapers and news and news media, I mean, you know, sometimes you think, Oh my gosh, give me some good news. But the bad news is what really, you know, is Velcro to our brains. We really attend to that. And so you're exactly right. And we share those four or five positives to one negative. Um, we need that sometimes because of how those negative experiences are so sticky.

Dr. Chris Balow (28:08):

Yeah. That, that, that makes perfect sense Velcroed to the brain. I'm gonna remember that one, that, that one negative needs to be counterbalanced with many, many positives,

Dr. Lori Desautels (28:18):

You know, you think to, you think of, so all of us have had evaluations, right? Teacher evaluations, we have work evaluations. And so all of us, even as adults, you look at your evaluations and you've got 25, you know, different, um, questions and you have 23 outstanding marks, and you've got two that are below the waterline in your mind. And where does your brain go? And where does it stay?

Dr. Chris Balow (28:47):

Everyone listening is nodding to you right now, Lori, everyone reacts that way. We all do. We all do so, so true. And so as educators, we need to think through that lens. Um, co-regulation that, that's a great term that I think we all really need to pay attention to.

Dr. Lori Desautels (29:07):

So it really is part of this at this new lens of discipline. And I would love to explain this. So thank you for asking, we already talked about how, if I'm rough and I'm dysregulated, I, I'm not going to do very well giving consequences and disciplining a child. And so when you've got a brainstem or survival brain intermingling with another brainstem or another survival brain, no good is going to come from that. And we all know that as parents, we know that as teachers we've all been there. And so what we are now is that when we each are intentional, and again, we need to model how to be calm, to share our call with a child. So when we are all of us back into this prefrontal cortex, when we are feeling calm, then we're able to talk about the challenges we were just facing. We can talk about the experiences we need to create a better way. So co-regulation is a gap in almost every school. Everybody's either in their classroom doing well and working, or boom, there's a blow up a disruption and we're in the office and there's nothing in between. And so co-regulation is I've written in the new book is really, um, attending to that period of time, space and time where we are intentionally calming a child. So they are able to process restorative practices. They're able to process consequences. They're able to understand how their actions might have negatively impacted, but words are not heard in the survival brain. And that's the big shift we all need to make behavior management is not about a kid. It is about me, the adult every single time.

Dr. Chris Balow (31:03):

Yeah. So fascinating. I was talking on another podcast with a professor from Cleveland state, and she's kind of digging into that notion of once a teacher sends a student to the office because of a misbehavior that the teachers have to reflect on their own, attribution's their feelings, their attitudes towards that student. Would you say that's kind of getting at this whole notion to help them with co-regulation?

Dr. Lori Desautels (31:29):

Absolutely. It is. And one of the things that we need to remember too, is that, um, and that's why you saw so many of those practices and strategies that attend to, um, movement and breath and rhythm and, um, you know, pressure and warmth because those are the regulatory practices that actually will calm and activate the part of the nervous system where our heart rate lowers our blood pressure lowers and our respiration lowers. And once we've activated that part of the nervous system, then we're able to hear the logic and the consequences and we're able to process it all. So it's, it's critical.

Dr. Chris Balow (32:09):

It is an every school in America needs to be learning this information and implementing these strategies clearly, um, because we have way too many kids being suspended and sent out, uh, classrooms and not really meeting their needs and helping them grow.

Dr. Lori Desautels (32:26):

No, I mean, we are, when you think. And when I, when I go into school districts, it's really interesting because we're also busy and we're called to do so many things, but one of the most helpful practices that we can begin to implement as administrators is to really look, take a deep look at our discipline data. And when we look at that discipline data, when we look at kick outs and we look at office referrals and we look at in school suspensions and out of school suspensions, we'll begin to see patterns. And we don't have a whole new group of kids in the office every week. Um, we are really recycling children and adolescents right now. And when we look at what's beneath that behavior, most often there's a lot of pain. Um, and there's a lot of trauma underneath that behavior. So, um, we understand that traditional discipline works the best with the kids who need it, the least. And it works the least with the kids who need it the most. So we've got to really make a shift if we, if we want to see those discipline and those achievement gaps, um, lesson, and especially our racial and discipline gaps in racial achievement gaps, because this is an adversity in itself.

Dr. Chris Balow (33:41):

Yeah. Great, great advice. Well, let's talk about your, your new book connections over compliance and, and thank you. I was lucky enough to get an advanced pre-publication copy. And so I haven't read all of it. I've read well over half, and I'm just, just enthrawled with it. Tell us a little bit about the book.

Dr. Lori Desautels (34:00):

So this book was born probably in my mind several years ago, um, but it really is taking the application of educational neuroscience, the framework, and it's weeding it contextually into a new discipline protocol. And it really is. There's an emphasis in really helping parents and teachers and administrators and understanding that discipline really should be or needs to be, uh, not only brain aligned, but preventative. When you think of an RTI triangle, and we think of tier one practices, or you look at MTSS and you look at RTI inside the four spokes of MTSS tier one are practices and strategies that are really healthy and in good for all students. And so this is where our discipline needs to shift. We need to really be proactive and look at the way we greet students, look at touch points, really focus on relationships. Um, co-regulation is at the heart of that and also educator brain and body state. So the book is really, it goes into detail, you know, about, um, we can do this and we can do it not through adding more to what we're doing, but through being intentional about those four pillars of this framework.

Dr. Chris Balow (35:22):

Yeah. That's so, so interesting in the book, you, um, you wrote about a school where you actually went in and, and implemented a lot of these practices, a, a school in Indiana. And I was really interested in that. Um, and you talked about the need for consistency and having concise PBIF structures. Maybe that's some of the tier one things you were talking about. So tell us about what the work you did at that, at that school.

Dr. Lori Desautels (35:51):

So this school was, it was a real gift to me to be able to go in for a few days and to work with the staff and to work with the principal. And, um, honestly it was one of the most challenging schools with trauma and adversity that I've been in, in quite a while. And many of the students were coming into this elementary school carrying in significant and I mean, significant amounts of neglect and abuse and, um, just lots and lots of adversity. And so, um, I learned so much from the staff as, as I worked beside them because they realized that nobody was learning and that the vicarious trauma to teachers was occurring. So that, um, because of emotional contagion, the teachers were struggling too, because they're there, they were picking up on this trauma and adversity from children and families, and they were just at a loss. So we really began to focus on social and emotional learning through a brain aligned lens. And the principal was so proactive. Um, he began to really prioritize, um, you know, this, the application of educational neuroscience before cognition. So they created rituals at the beginning of the day, they created breakfast clubs, they created brain boxes and, um, toolboxes for the children to regulate, which were part of their rituals at the beginning and the end of the day. So, um, and we got away from behavioral check-in sheets because behavior sheets can really throw kids. Um, we started focusing on brain state and not behavior.

Dr. Chris Balow (37:36):

And so, um, you also, you talked in, in the, in the book about the consistency that, that you created in the school using some of the PBIS structures. So talk about that.

Dr. Lori Desautels (37:47):

Yeah. So, um, we really focused on check-ins and we use some of the PBIS structures, but we also looked at not so much point systems, but looking at tracking brain States. And that was really exciting to do because, um, those were student, um, reflected. So the students were able to check in and actually share as a touch point, um, what state they were functioning in and how they were going to move into their cortex. So we teach the kids the language, so they know their prefrontal cortex, they know limbic system and they know brainstem. And so we really modified TDIs and moved into more of a brain state language and, and, and kind of moved away from the point system. Um, and because we, that the point system was derailing many of our, many of the students.

Dr. Chris Balow (38:46):

Interesting. So maybe from a PBIS perspective that if students, um, actually report their brain state, they could be reinforced for that.

Dr. Lori Desautels (38:56):

Absolutely. That's Chris, you just said that so beautifully. I love that. Yeah, no, I love that if they can replace, so that's, you know, that's incentivizing what you just said is incentivizing and that's part of the framework too. So it's, it's, you're really, um, you're incentivized when you can go within and really check in with yourself and that's hard to do. It's hard to do for all of us as adults. It's hard to do, um, you know, when you're in the heat of the moment. So,

Dr. Chris Balow (39:28):

So yeah. So in a typical positive behavior system, you reinforcing kids for doing the behaviors you expect of them in the classroom, like paying attention or, you know, whatever it might be. But in, in this model, when kids are really experiencing a lot of trauma and dysregulation that the, the, the reinforcement comes for the ability to check your own brain state, and that is a treatment in and of itself, then.

Dr. Lori Desautels (39:55):

Absolutely, that's a touch point.

Dr. Chris Balow (39:57):

Yeah. That's really, really interesting, you know, and as a school psychologist, you know, you're bringing back a lot of memories. Cause I used to do point sheets with kids all the time that, you know, kids who were the emotional behavior disorders and it worked really well for some and not well for others and your, your, your education today for us really helps explain that for me.

Dr. Lori Desautels (40:19):

I'm so glad.

Dr. Chris Balow (40:20):

Yeah. Awesome. Um, so that, that's really exciting. Um, you know, the other thing I'm thinking about from a PBIS perspective as reading about school climate research, and they called it the authoritative climate model, which is a bad name, it doesn't sound great, but it focused on clear expectations, fair and equitable discipline, consistency, listening, and relationships. Um, this model of school climate does, does that kind of fit with, um, could all that fit with the neuroscience model?

Dr. Lori Desautels (40:55):

So it's a great question. And the answer I have for you is I'm not sure it would depend on the delivery of that model. It would depend on the disposition of the leaders in the school, if it also depend on their understanding of the brain science. And that's where we see a gap too, because we can have the best of intentions, you know, we can have this, you know, we can desire this really positive climate and cultural framework, but are we embracing adversity and understanding how those adversities effect intimately affect behaviors of children? So I think there is room for a partnership, but it would certainly depend on the awareness of the brain science, the application of that brain science, and then really the disposition in how it's delivered.

Dr. Chris Balow (41:55):

Right, right. Um, so that brain science really is foundational to all of the activities that a lot of these things are research-based, but this can really address, um, some of these students that we haven't been able to reach.

Dr. Lori Desautels (42:10):

Absolutely. And when, when we were working on Dr. Brandy Oliver, my colleague at Butler, when we were working on Indiana's social and emotional competencies for the state, um, and of course, castle has done a wonderful job and, you know, they continually update, but the frustration for us, and, and for me, was looking at how we were not always developing SEL standards and competencies that were meeting kids where they are. They seem to be pretty cognitive self-management self-awareness, you know, regulation, all of those are wonderful, but many of our kids aren't there to be self-aware, they're not coming in ready to self-manage, they're not there to problem solve. So, um, that's why in Indiana, we added sensory motor integration and insight, um, that are, that start, you know, from the bottom up. And, um, and again, they're not finished, they'll never be finished. I think it, you know, if we're really attentive, we'll continue to rework, um, our competencies based on the experiences in our world.

Dr. Chris Balow (43:18):

Right. Right. You know, you mentioned about brain aligned, uh, activities to SEL. Give us an example of one.

Dr. Lori Desautels (43:26):

So, uh, breathing is critical to learning. And so we are teaching and this is nothing new, but, um, we are giving what's different is we're not just going in and telling kids about, you know, we're not giving them a fun breathing exercise, but we're explaining the science underneath it. Um, and so we call these focused attention practices and we use a taste, we use a smell, we use movement, we might use a visualization and, um, we try to make them fun. We use them, you know, for their procedures. So they begin the day and they end the day and they really give students and embodied experience to, you know, feel what it feels like to take three deep breaths in a fun way, um, to, you know, breathe and, um, a superpower and to breathe out a worry, um, to breathe in a favorite color and to take a deep breath in, breathe out something that's bugging you. So you start three seconds no longer than that. And then we build up to that. So, but we also use movement and we use rhythm and, um, you know, we really, we really tap into children to see what feels relieving and calming to them because sometimes they don't know until they experience it.

Dr. Chris Balow (44:49):

Sure. Oh, that that's really super interesting. Um, so if I'm a district or school leader, where should I start to go down this path?

Dr. Lori Desautels (45:01):

Yeah. I'm just, I, I'm sorry. I was hesitating. And I'm just thinking, so I think you begin with understanding the science of brain development of children and adolescents and how adversity intimately impacts learning relationships and behavior.

Dr. Chris Balow (45:19):

Great. Well, I would recommend that people purchase your book when it, when it becomes available and that's connections over compliance. And, uh, my understanding from you, Lori, is that it will be available for pre-order this fall and delivery right around the first of the year.

Dr. Lori Desautels (45:38):

Yes, absolutely. And we have, um, a book out right now that districts are loving. It's called eyes are never quiet listening, beneath the behaviors of our most troubled children. It came out in 2019. And, um, I wrote that with my colleague Michael McKnight. And, um, so it also is addressing the topics that we've discussed today within the applied educational neuroscience framework.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:01):

Great. What's the title of that book? Again?

Dr. Lori Desautels (46:03):

It is called eyes are never quiet.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:06):

Eyes are never quiet. And you've talked about that in our podcast. So we all understand what you mean by that.

Dr. Lori Desautels (46:12):

That's exactly right. That's exactly right.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:14):

That's fantastic. Well, um, we'll post all that information with the podcast so people can definitely check out the books. Um, it's been great, Lori. We're out of time, but before you go, you have to play our game called this or that.

Dr. Lori Desautels (46:29):

Oh, I forgot about that.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:30):

Yes. Yes. So I say two things and you tell us which one you prefer and you can explain why if, if you like, okay, um, dog or cat, a simple one.

Dr. Lori Desautels (46:43):

I have both at home. I love both. I can't pick one or the other we have three rescue cats and a rescue dog.

Dr. Chris Balow (46:50):

Okay. Well, my wife you'd get along with my wife. She's pretty good at rescuing cats. I won't force you Facebook or Twitter or maybe LinkedIn.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:02):

Yeah, Twitter probably.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:04):

Okay. Sounds good. So if you're out for a walk, do you listen to music or podcasts?

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:11):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:11):

Music. IOS or Android?

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:16):


Dr. Chris Balow (47:17):

iOS. Okay. Do you like big parties or small gatherings?

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:22):

Very small gatherings. I have a t-shirt that says I only socialize for research purposes.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:31):

I need, I need one of those.

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:33):

My daughter gave that to me.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:35):

Okay. Okay.

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:36):

She knows me very well. Yes. I, I very small. Small gatherings.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:39):

Okay. Well, um, you and I are alike there. Cake or pie?

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:44):

Definitely pie.

Dr. Chris Balow (47:45):

Definitely pie. Okay. Um, so do you prefer a nice car or a nice home interior?

Dr. Lori Desautels (47:53):

A nice car or a nice home interior. Oh I don't know. Um, this is so funny. I have to tell you, Chris, I'll explain. I just don't even notice things like that. My husband is the decorator in our house. I mean, he does all the decorating and pays attention to detail like that. And so, um, yeah, and I, the only requirement for a car is that I love the color black, so I love a black car.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:22):

Okay. Sounds good. So car or truck?

Dr. Lori Desautels (48:27):

If it's black, I don't care.

Dr. Chris Balow (48:29):

If its black you don't care. Okay. Very, very good. There we go. All right. Um, so let's see here. Do you like meat or vegetables if you had a choice?

Dr. Lori Desautels (48:39):


Dr. Chris Balow (48:40):

Okay. Um, coffee or tea?

Dr. Lori Desautels (48:44):


Dr. Chris Balow (48:44):

Coffee. Uh, how about ocean or mountains?

Dr. Lori Desautels (48:49):


Dr. Chris Balow (48:50):

Oh, you're an ocean person. Okay. Uh, let's see here. Um, do you like to shop in a store or shop online?

Dr. Lori Desautels (48:59):

I love to shop in a store. which I have not for several months.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:04):

Yeah. That's, that's been a crimp for sure. Um, so do you like classic art or modern art?

Dr. Lori Desautels (49:11):

I like a little of both.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:12):

Little of both. Okay. You can't choose. Okay. All right.

Dr. Lori Desautels (49:16):

I'm sorry. Some of these are too hard, Chris.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:18):

Okay. Yeah. Well, here's the last one. It's a hard one toilet paper over or under?

Dr. Lori Desautels (49:26):

Oh, I've never even thought of that, probably over.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:29):

Over, okay. People say the majority say over, um, one person said MIT actually did research and found that under should be the way it goes. But anyway, we'll leave that for debate.

Dr. Lori Desautels (49:43):

Now I'm going to pay attention to that.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:44):

And one person said, as long as it's it's been changed or it's not empty, I don't care.

Dr. Lori Desautels (49:51):

That's so funny.

Dr. Chris Balow (49:52):

That's good. Uh, Dr. Desautels it's been a pleasure. And I think you've really provided some important information to our listeners in a, in a roadmap to, to really, uh, make a difference for, for kids.

Dr. Lori Desautels (50:06):

Thank you Chris. Um, your questions were excellent and it was just really enjoyable having that conversation with you today. So thank you.

VoiceOver (50:09):

You've been listening to the ChangeAgents in K-12 podcast brought to you by SchoolMint. Be sure to subscribe, so you never miss a show and follow us on social media. Have a story to share? We want to hear it. Record a three to five minute audio pitch detailing your experience in working to become a change agent and why educators need to hear from you. You may be featured in a future episode. Send audio files to We look forward to hearing your story. See you next time.