Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Pioneers Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience” in our Schools and Communities

Pioneers Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience” in our Schools and Communities

August 30, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will be broadcast on YouTube as well as on the regular podcast channel, so be sure to look for the YouTube link in the show notes if you would like to view the video.

Background and Introduction:

Today we have two pioneers in the field of educational neuroscience; Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight. I first found Lori from her TEDx Talk from Indianapolis[i] when I was searching for anything in the field on educational neuroscience back in 2014. It was 5 years ago that I partnered with Arizona’s Dept of Education and was urged from an Arizona educator to write another book that focused on the brain science behind learning, and back then there wasn’t as much information out there as there is now in this field. I found Judy Willis[ii], and learned about the amygdala highjack, read David Souza’s “How the Brain Learns” and John Medina’s “Brain Rules” and hired a neuroscience researcher (named Mark Robert Waldman[iii] ) so I could be sure I had the correct understanding of the brain and learning, but still needed some help to tie everything together. Finally, I found Lori, and watched her videos to understand the other parts of the brain and how they are interconnected. In Lori’s Ted Talk, she mentioned that “neuroscience and education have come together” and it’s a huge connection because every day experiences change the brain structurally and functionally—and I thought, this is incredible that we can finally explain how we can accelerate learning with this understanding of the brain. And then through Lori, had a chance to see Michael’s work and dive deeper into understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences. So, thank you for all you are both for pioneering this field, and helping so many around the world to understand what at first might seem like complex concepts, (if like most of us, we’ve not had a crash course in how our brain works) so this is groundbreaking by making this all so relatable for everyone.    

I’m thrilled to finally “meet” you both, face to face, after many years of emails, social media replies. Please do follow Lori and Michael’s pages as they both share often about the impact; they are igniting in our schools today.  I will add their bios in the show notes, so you can learn more, but want to get straight into some questions.  Welcome Lori and Michael!

Q1: For new people who are getting to know your work, can you give some background on how you both met and began working together, leading to you writing  your two books “Unwritten, The Story of a Living System”[iv] and your most recent book that I haven’t been able to put down “Eyes are Never Quiet: Listening Beneath the Behaviors of our Most Troubled Students”[v] and if you could explain the new movement of being trauma informed? 

Q2: I can ask this next question two ways, the first focuses on the problem when I ask “what could we possibly do to make an impact on our schools and students today knowing we are in a crisis with drug use, bullying, suicide and suicide ideation, and anxiety”  or I could ask it from this point of view where we change the narrative and focus on the solution by asking “how does shifting away from the traditional disciplinary approach to acknowledge the impact of stress on behavior and our students’ ability to focus and learn” shift the results you are both seeing in our schools today? 

Q3: Can you explain what educators, and parents should understand about the brain and how our emotions impact learning? 

Q4: I know firsthand about stress in the classroom—my first teaching assignment was a behavioral class back in the late 1990s. Like many teachers, I burned out before I even got started and if you were to ask ANY of my friends back then, I was the least likely to quit. Chapter 1 of your book “Eyes are Never Quiet” was eye-opening and even brought tears to my eyes with the advice that Michael gave an educator (who Lori shared was her daughter making the story even more impactful) because she was at the end of her rope in the classroom. I remember exactly how frustrating that felt and didn’t make the decision to quit and leave the profession quickly—but it did make me wonder—especially with the crisis around teacher shortage, what would happen if ALL new teachers were given Michael’s advice, and found strategies to thrive, not just survive in this profession? 

Q5: What is your vision for your work? Where would you like to see the most impact/change?

Q6: What is your vision for the standards in the US as they relate to SEL/neuroscience/health and well-being and how can advocates with this work make sure that all states align as new standards are being created?

Q7: What about the educational publishers? What should they consider when creating new curriculum that aligns with these new standards and important developmental benchmarks for students?

Q6: Do you both have any final thoughts or words of wisdom to leave us encouraged as we continue to learn more about how emotions and learning are intimately connected and processed in the brain? Is there anything I might have missed that you think is important? 

Thank you both for so openly sharing your knowledge with the world. I urge any listeners who want to learn more about this work to follow Lori and Michael. Lori is @desautels_phd and Michael is S on Twitter. You can find them on Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram to see their strategies in action. Thank you both.


Dr. Lori Desautels, is an assistant professor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at Butler University in Indianapolis. Lori's passion is engaging her students through neuroscience in education, integrating Mind Brain Teaching and Learning Strategies into her courses at Marian and now Butler University.

Dr. Desautels designed and teaches the Applied Educational Neuroscience certificate program at Butler. This program is specifically designed to meet the needs of educators, social workers and counselors who work beside children and adolescents that are experiencing adversity and trauma. 

Lori has conducted workshops throughout the United States and abroad. Lori's second book was published in January 2016, "Unwritten, The Story of a Living System," co-authored with Michael McKnight and they recently published “Eyes are Never Quiet: Listening Beneath the Behaviors of Our Most Troubled Students”[vi] that should be required reading for parents, educators, and counselors looking to understand the impact of stress on behavior in today’s schools.

Michael McKnight is currently an educational specialist for the New Jersey Department of Education working in the Cape May and Atlantic County Office of Education. Michael works closely with the 42 school districts in the counties and is involved with a wide range of school issues. 

Michael has a passion for creating and supporting Reclaiming Environments for “at-risk” children and youth as well as the adults who serve them.

He has been involved with program and staff development for over 30 years.  He views himself, not as an expert, but as a learner and a teacher who has always enjoyed building strength-based cultures with others.

[i] A Call to See and to Serve in Education Lori Desautels, YouTube published Nov. 26th, 2012

[ii] Judy Willis What Do Teachers Need to Know About the Brain YouTube published April 23, 2013

[iii] TEDx Conejo published 3/27/10 Mark Robert Waldman on “How to Change the World”

[iv] Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight Unwritten: The Story of a Living System: A Pathway to Enlivening and Transforming Education Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing (January 9, 2016)


[vi] Lori Desautels and Michael McKnight Eyes Are Never Quiet: Listening Beneath the Behaviors of our Most Troubled Students

Donte Dre Winrow on “Breaking into a Challenging Career Path”

Donte Dre Winrow on “Breaking into a Challenging Career Path”

August 21, 2019

Welcome back this is Andrea Samadi, thanks so much for your continued support with this podcast. As we are completing our 15th episode, I’m getting a lot of feedback via social media messages and would love to hear more about what you think about these competencies/episodes...and how they might be of use to you whether you are working with students in the classroom, teams in the boardroom, or you are just looking to take your results to that next level. I can clearly see that the last lesson on “Self-Regulation” that the strategies offered were valuable—it does help me when I receive your feedback on what lessons you like and how they are helpful. This was the most requested competency when I was working with the school market, as everyone wants our students to learn how to self-regulate. It’s also a crucial skill for adults to learn.

This podcast is not only for you, but I’m learning with each interview and episode. When we started, the end of June, it was to provide tools and resources for you—however, in this process, I am getting the best education—which is a testament to the fact that we learn more when we teach others. 

Today we have another student who we’ve brought back after 5 years of studying this material, to see how these skills really do transfer from high school into your career for future success. There’s nothing more exciting to me than watching those who can take their results to these higher levels—we all have the ability to do it and then experience the freedom of the life we know we created and had as a vision for—usually one that seemed so far off from reality, but with time, effort, and following that daily grind—one day we wake up and realize we are living the life we had imagined. Then we are amazed, as we look back, connecting the dots, that it wasn’t rocket science, but just following a few simple principles through to completion. So few people follow the principles, or do things in this certain way—to get to these levels, which is why I’m hoping these episodes will offer tips, ideas and strategies to help more people implement these concepts into their daily life.

Today’s guest is someone who has been a friend of mine since we published the Teen Performance Magazine back in 2009. His name is Donte Dre Winrow and he learned the power of networking when he was in high school helping him to break into a career path that he’d never had the opportunity for without knowing certain people. Let’s hear how Donte broke through to reach these higher levels of achievement. Click the link to view the video of this interview on YouTube.

I’m excited for the cognitive track coming we are nearing the end of the social and emotional competencies. Stay tuned for the last SEL competency and moving into the next track of learning. Thanks for listening. Right now, we are reaching 16 countries, all just from organic sharing on social media, no paid advertising. please do send me a message with your thoughts on these episodes, what you like, what you’d like to I can improve moving forward. You can find me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.


Self-Regulation: The Foundational Learning Skill for Future Success

Self-Regulation: The Foundational Learning Skill for Future Success

August 19, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” this is Andrea Samadi. Our goal with this podcast is to close the gap recent surveys show exists in our workforce where 58 percent of employers say college graduates aren’t adequately prepared for today’s workforce, and those employers noted a particular gap in social and emotional skills. Research shows that social-emotional skills like social awareness, self-regulation, and growth mindset are crucial to college and career readiness. The outcomes of developing these intelligences are vast as they impact our performance, leadership, personal excellence, time management, and decision-making.

We’ve chosen six social and emotional learning competencies to dive deep into and tie in how an understanding of our brain can facilitate these strategies. With each competency, we’ll investigate the best practices that you can use to develop and improve your own SEL/Emotional Intelligence and well-being practice, before extending these strategies to your districts, schools, classrooms, workplaces and communities. We want the ideas you take away with you to be actionable whether you are an educator working in a school, an employee or manager in a corporation, or someone just looking to take their skills to the next level. Be sure to look for the resources in the show notes section if you would like to dive deeper into this topic.

Our next competency is self-regulation.What is Self-Regulation and Why is it So Important? 

Self-regulation is “the ability to manage your emotions and behavior in accordance with the demands of the situation. It includes being able to resist highly emotional reactions to upsetting stimuli, to calm yourself down when you get upset, adjust to a change in expectations and (the ability) to handle frustration”[i] In other words, it’s the ability to bounce back after a setback or disappointment, and the ability to stay in congruence with your inner value system. 

The ability to control one's behavior, emotions, and thoughts is an integral skill to be taught to young children as well, so they can form and maintain healthy relationships and connections later in life.[ii] As an adult, self-regulation is important in day to day life as we must learn how to handle and bounce back from life’s challenges and disappointments in our personal and professional lives.  This skill is crucial to develop as we all know that life is full of ups and downs and we must be able to navigate through challenging situations before we can reach any level of achievement and success. We all know people who seem to bounce back after adversity. It’s not by luck or chance, it’s because they have learned how to self-regulate and intentionally get themselves back on course. This is a learned skill and one that we must teach or model to our students/children for them to be able to master it as adults.

Scott Bezsylko, the executive director of the Winston Prep school explains that they approach self-regulation skills “in the same way (they) approach other skills, academic or social: (they) isolate that skill and provide practice. When you think of it as a skill to be taught — rather than, say, just bad behavior — it changes the tone and content of the feedback you give kids.” [iii] Just like we would create a drill for improving dribbling for a basketball player, or practicing vocabulary words for a spelling test, we can create practice for self-regulation.

 Self-Regulation Tips for Children

The key to teaching these skills to children is to model them, coaching younger children, until they can produce the results on their own.[iv]

  1. MODEL SELF-TALK: This works well with younger students as they learn how to identify their emotions. Teachers can model self-regulation in class by naming the emotions they are experiencing since we learn by watching others. Help students to recognize the emotions they have (for example-today I am feeling frustrated because I am stuck on my math problem) and offer a strategy on how to deal with the problem, perhaps by taking some deep breaths when they feel frustrated and to keep working the problem.[v]
  2. ENCOURAGE SELF-CONTROL: If you are a student and value academic achievement, you’ll have the ability to complete your homework and make sacrifices to study for upcoming tests, instead of watching Netflix or going out with your friends. Teachers can offer tips and strategies that they used personally in pursuit of their goals by offering the rewards they gained from giving up something they liked to do to make time for study. This will build trust with students as they share their own stories and experiences.
  3. UNCOVER THE MOTIVATION: When students understand the importance of what they are studying, how it applies to the real world, or their daily life, there will be motivated to achieve that end goal. They must figure out how to make connections with what they are learning to motivate themselves intrinsically, learning for the fun of it, and become lifelong learners. Encourage students to make a game out of their learning to increase motivation.[vi] How do they learn best? Is it by taking notes, perhaps drawing images next to their notes to help them to identify and remember what they are learning? Do they remember what they are learning if they read their notes out loud? What strategies did you use to study and learn? Have students share their ideas with each other in a classroom discussion as one person’s ideas can help or encourage another to try something new.
  4. REACHING THOSE AHA! MOMENTS: When students start learning something new, they will go through different stages on the way to metacognition, where they are aware of what they are learning. When students can learn to form habits around how they learn best, with time and practice, they will learn how to naturally break through where they may become stuck, to experience the Aha! Moments when they finally understand something that might have escaped them for so long. Students must find ways to relax their brain and body and it’s during those “resting states” that remarkable activity takes place, allowing the brain to creatively solve problems, and take the student to new heights of achievement. Dr. Sriny Pillay, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard’s Medical School, talks about the power of building “unfocused time into your day” so that you can make better decisions, and become more productive whether you are in the classroom, or boardroom. Dr. Pillay brings in the latest brain research to prove that our brains must have time to rest in order to be productive and that too much focus causes brain fatigue. If you have ever noticed that great ideas come to you sometimes while in the shower, it’s this principle at work. The unfocused brain takes us to new places, insights, and Aha Moments, where focus cannot.

Einstein discovered his theory of relativity in a daydream he had (while he let his mind wander) and he used logic to explain it.

Steve Jobs explained that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” [vii] These Aha Moments might not be apparent until you look back at them.

So how does self-regulation translate into the workplace? To reach these high levels of achievement in the workplace, there’s more involved than just using your self-control and your will power. The executive functions of your brain are involved, and we have mentioned in previous episodes that in order to self-regulate, our brain must work right. We must put brain health first by getting enough sleep, nutrition, supplements and exercise, and when our brain works right, we work right. We must have strategies to calm down our emotions first, since our executive functions won’t be working right while we are under stress. Whether that means taking some deep breaths or walking away to recalibrate.

Here are 3 Self-Regulation Tips for the Workplace

  1. EMBRACE THE DAILY GRIND: Remember that when you are working on something that’s important to you, the more time and effort you put in, focused on this goal, that things don’t get easier for you in this pursuit—they become more difficult. When you become better at what you are doing, gaining more competence, you will gain more success, but things won’t get easier for you—as we would imagine—they get harder as more challenges appear. When you are working, taking action, and doing something, problems and obstacles will show up. Those who are the most successful in their craft will understand and embrace that hardship with daily focus, and consistent practice to overcome the obstacles. With focus, persistence and daily practice, confidence will develop and will propel you forward.
  2. REMEMBER THAT WE HAVE A CHOICE: When difficult situations arise, we have three choices. We can approach (by asking questions), avoid, or attack.[viii] The best results obviously occur when we are able to respond to a situation (approaching it with understanding) rather than react (by avoidance or attack) by asking questions to uncover more and see if there might be something we are missing or some sort of miscommunication. We always have a choice on how we respond to situations. The research is clear that mindfulness and meditation can help increase the gap between a stimulus and our response to it, so those who have developed their own practice, will find making this choice to respond vs react, much easier.[ix]
  3. LEARN TO “SWITCH” IT OFF: Once you are clear on the situation, if your feathers were ruffled and you didn’t like something that occurred, you must have a strategy in place to switch off the emotions that you feel so that you don’t react. An effective strategy used in cognitive behavioral therapy[x] is to say the word “SWITCH” in your head as you focus on switching the negative emotion that you feel to something more positive. We all have automatic negative thoughts that come into our head at times, but we must have a strategy to stop them from ruminating or continuing in a loop, since we know that switching off these negative thoughts is an important step towards self-regulation and moving us towards our goals. I’ve always used the strategy of saying “STOP” when this happens and changing the thought pattern in my head to something more productive.

Outcomes and Results

Self-regulation develops, grows and improves from birth through young adulthood and beyond.[xi] As parents, and teachers working with our students in the classroom, modeling these strategies will be crucial for our students to begin to implement and grasp them. As students move from high school and into the workplace, developing a mindfulness and meditation strategy early on can only further strengthen this skill so that we can provide our best selves in our community, families or workplaces.

Thank you for staying to the end of this episode. Stay tuned for more interviews this week with students who have been applying these principles for the past five years and are returning to share the results they have created in their lives. Next week we will cover the Mindset competency, and move into the Cognitive Track, where we will dive deep into our brain and how are results (personally and professionally) are all controlled by this powerful organ.


30 Games and Activities for Self-Regulation

Strong Self-Regulation Skills: Why They are Fundamental by Committee for Children YouTube Published August 1, 2016

Emotional Self-Regulation Techniques for Teaching

Using Your Brain to Get You to Where You Want to Go: Guide for High School Students (Massachusetts General Hospital, 2010) This document is available under a royalty-free license at

Bradley University: How to Teach Clients Self-Regulation Skills

Curriculum for Teaching Emotional Self-Regulation by Scott Carchedi July 24, 2014

Middle and High School Self-Regulation Lessons


[i] How Can We Help Our Kids with Self-Regulation

[ii] How to Practice Self-Regulation

[iii] How Can We Help Our Kids with Self-Regulation

[iv] How Can We Help Our Kids with Self-Regulation

[v] Edutopia article “Teaching Self-Regulation by Modeling” (January, 2019)

[vi] Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning

[vii] Steve Jobs Stanford University Commencement Speech

[viii] How to Practice Self-Regulation

[ix] Mindfulness, Meditation and Executive Control

[x] What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Therapist Kati Morton YouTube uploaded Sept. 23, 2013

[xi] Seven Key Principles of Self-Regulation

Our Very Own Teen Artist Sam Roberts on “Winning a 4 Year Prestigious Leadership Scholarship” at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith

Our Very Own Teen Artist Sam Roberts on “Winning a 4 Year Prestigious Leadership Scholarship” at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith

August 14, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will be broadcast on YouTube as well as on the regular podcast channel, so be sure to look for the YouTube link in the show notes if you would like to view the video.

Today we have a very special guest. She is someone who has helped us at with ideas, video editing, student voice and customized art work since 2015. If you have a copy of the Level Up book, she’s the teen artist on the back cover who designed the original cover of the book for a school administrator who requested a customized version for his school and you can also see more about her story in the history and testimonial section. She was involved in creating the name of the book and program, Level Up, and the videos in the program, all with the teen in mind. She learned how to take action on her ideas at an early age, without any limits in her mind, and we are so excited to share her most recent news. She just accepted a 4 year, all paid, prestigious leadership scholarship at the University of AR Fort Smith and begins this adventure this week! Welcome Sam. 

  1. Can you give us an example of when you FIRST started to use your voice as a young teen, and the results that you created by staying true to yourself and developing your strengths/passions/talents with your artwork?
  2. Looking back now, what skills would you say you learned as a teen that helped you with the success you’ve attained with you most recent achievement?
  3. What advice do you have for other students as they are navigating through HS to stay focused on the end result vs drama that can be a part of this time period?
  4. What tips do you have for students who would like to apply for a scholarship like you did? Where do they begin? How do you ever find out about scholarships like this?
  5. How about parents of teens? How can we help our kids be more successful? What should we do more of/less of?
  6. What about secondary school educators? How can they help their students be more successful?
  7. What has winning this scholarship been like for you? How did it feel when you first got the news?
  8. What are you learning there? What will this year look like for you?
  9. What types of courses/programs will you receive that are different than a typical 4-year student? (Extensive Team Building, and other?)
  10. Where do you see yourself AFTER your scholarship?
  11. What are you most excited about learning?
  12. Is there anything that you think is important that we have not covered yet about your journey to get to this point?

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to share your story with us. We are thrilled to see the results that you have created for yourself and know that this is only the beginning. You are destined for a very bright future. Well done.

Responsible Decision-Making: Begins with Understanding Your Brain Health

Responsible Decision-Making: Begins with Understanding Your Brain Health

August 9, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” this is Andrea Samadi. I want to first of all thank YOU for listening and providing feedback of the episodes. Since launching the end of June, without any paid advertising, we are on our 12th episode and we have reached 12 countries so far!  This is incredible! Thanks for all the DMs with feedback on the content and how you are implementing these ideas—I do appreciate hearing how these episodes are being received and how you are using this information. If you’d like to reach me with any questions, you can always find me on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Just search Andrea Samadi.

For those who don’t know the background of why we launched the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” it began with the growing movement and interest in social and emotional learning in our schools and need to take these skills into the workplace with emotional intelligence training. Our goal is to close the gap recent surveys show exists in our workforce where 58 percent of employers say college graduates are not adequately prepared for today’s workforce, and those employers noted a particular gap in social and emotional skills like self and social awareness, and growth mindset that are crucial to college and career readiness and are finally being introduced into our schools. We want the ideas you take away with you to be actionable whether you are an educator working in a school, an employee of manager in a corporation, or someone just looking to take their skills to the next level.

As a recap, in our first episode, we shared with you the “Why behind implementing an SEL/emotional intelligence training program in your school or workplace” with some strategies that we offered on how to get started. In the second episode, we introduced the first of the six SEL competencies (self-awareness). This episode has been the most popular so far, and the one I’ve had the most feedback on, showing me that self-awareness is of high interest to those interested in this work—both the school market, as well as the workplace. We’ve tied in interviews to connect you to these skills so you can hear directly from experts from the field and those who are implementing programs with success. With each skill we investigate the best practices and strategies that you can use either in the classroom or workplace to develop and improve your own program and practice, before extending these strategies to others. Don’t forget to look for ideas, tools and resources in the show notes section if you want a deeper dive into the content. 

Today we are on the fourth competency, out of six—Responsible Decision-Making.

Understanding the neuroscience[i] behind decision-making can be an important tool when looking for new results.

In our last episode with Chloe Amen, we discussed the importance of brain development and results and the fact that “your brain is not fully developed until the age of 25 for females and 28 for males”[ii] so it is critical that we take care of our brain to ensure that we are able to make sound decisions later in life.  An understanding of our brain’s functions and form are crucial to our future success, since our brain is involved in literally everything that we do.

In the Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course (by Dr. Daniel Amen) that was designed to help teens and young adults improve brain function and performance, Chloe Amen (from our last episode) participated in the teen panel and noted that “People don’t realize the decisions they make now (as teens or young adults)—will affect their life later because we aren’t thinking about this at all! Decisions can affect our future—So how can I be my best self?”[iii] Imagine if we had all grown up protecting the organ that controls everything that we do? When I was thirteen, no one ever mentioned the importance of protecting my brain, or how it relates to my future success. We were all told to work hard, go to school and study, with the goal to graduate and pursue a career doing something that you love and enjoy. Future success occurred through hard work, perseverance and what we now call grit and many of us had to figure this one out through trial and error as well, or from an internal drive that had either been ignited in us by our mentors and role models or motivated intrinsically on our own. But with the most recent developments in neuroscience, there is now a new importance of taking care of our brain health, since our brain is involved in literally everything that we do. It controls our thoughts, feelings, how we act and interact with other people, our character, decisions, and actions, not to mention sensory motor functions, regulating internal chemical order and our brain’s alertness, whether we are asleep or awake.  There’s so much involved with this powerful organ going on behind the scenes, it shouldn’t shock for any of us to hear that the latest research shows “the brain’s memory capacity is a quadrillion, or 1015[iv] You can see how an understanding of our brain’s function and an emphasis on brain health is the first step towards making responsible decisions, since the brain is involved in everything that we do. 

So, what does this look like in action? We all have situations that happen in our lives where we must step up and assume responsibility for our future success. When we look at our lives, and don’t like the results we have created, it’s up to us to make the changes needed for new results. It all begins with the thoughts we are thinking—our mental mindset. It’s never a lack of knowledge or skill that holds us back, it’s our mindset, the emotional blocks and deeply engrained habits that we have acquired over time (either consciously or subconsciously) that we must release to clear the path for our future successes. It’s our thoughts that cause our feelings and emotions, leading us to take certain actions. The actions that we take cause results that set up our conditions, circumstances and the environment of our life (take a minute to look around you right now—where you are at this exact minute is all based on your past decisions) and if you don’t like what you see, you must go back to change the thoughts you are thinking, (back to your mental mindset) to create new feelings, new actions, new results, and this in turn will create new conditions, circumstances and environments.

Changing our thinking is the first step towards changing our results and no one can do this for you. The next step is taking action on the decisions. Most people get stuck here and end up blaming others for their results when they look around and don’t like what they see. They blame the job market for the fact they don’t have the job they would like to do, or what’s going wrong in the world for whatever results they have created. Responsible people never blame others for their results but take 100% responsibility and ownership. This is an important skill to learn in the classroom as well as the workplace.

Let’s start with the classroom. How do we teach this to our students, especially knowing that their brains are not fully developed yet? Their prefrontal cortex (the front of the brain) that contains the executive functions like focus, judgement, planning and impulse control have not yet developed, so we must begin there to help guide our children and young adults in the decision-making process.

5 Tips to Improve Decision-Making with Students and Young Adults:

  1. Teaching students about the three parts of their brain at an early age is crucial. Children as young as five have the ability to understand their reptilian brain (hindbrain) the oldest part of their brain where they have their survival instincts of flight, flight and freeze. When they realize these reactions happen automatically to keep them safe, they can learn strategies to deal with them when they occur so they don’t get caught off guard. For example, taking deep breaths when they are afraid or nervous instead of running away or avoiding a decision that is naturally shutting down their brain. For their emotional/limbic brain (midbrain) they should understand that this is where their feelings and emotions are controlled and that they must have strategies in place when their buttons get pushed and their emotions take over. Strategies like learning how to respond to situations (by asking questions) rather than automatically reacting based on assumptions without knowing all of the details of a situation. Finally, they have a decision-making brain, the neocortex (forebrain) that controls our thinking and reflecting, reasoning and planning—but this part of the brain is not fully developed until age 25 for females and 28 for males, so we must take guidance from our parents, teachers, friends and role models until we are old enough to make responsible decisions on our own. Parents and teachers must remember that although young adults “think” they are old enough to make their own decisions, we must be there to support, listen and influence the decisions that they make, since these decisions often will impact their future. We can be there as guides to offer tips based on our experiences and role model the results and behaviors we expect of them, but also giving them room to make their own decisions whether they are the best ones or not, they must learn the process of failing forward.
  2. Teens and young adults should understand the power of taking responsibility for themselves and their own decisions. Remember that responsible people never blame others for their results. Think about a time that someone blamed you for something you didn’t do. How did you feel? What did you do about it? Blaming does not change what happened. When you blame others for the results you achieve, you are not being responsible. When you take responsibility for yourself, you understand that you are responsible for your thoughts, feelings, actions, and all the results you create in your life. You realize when something goes wrong in your life that you brought the situation on yourself. No one did it to you. This is a powerful concept when it becomes a habit as it will propel you forward.
  3. Remember that “everything young people do either helps or hurts your brain development”[v] and hurts your long-term success. We know that drugs and alcohol are not good for the developing brain and current research goes far into this understanding proving that there is an epigenetic connection between drug use at an early age and how it impacts not just your future, but the future of your children[vi] proving that drugs and alcohol are not good for anyone’s brain, and especially damaging to the developing brain.
  4. Learn to stop and think when making a decision. Ask “does this feel right?” and you should be able to listen to your gut instinct to know if the decision is responsible. Ask “will this hurt or harm my brain?”[vii] to help make the best decisions for my brain health and future success.
  5. Write it out. Write out the problem you are looking to solve with ideas on how you think you could solve it. Create specific strategies with a timeline attached so you stay on track with your plan. Send this plan to someone you know for new ideas, thoughts, or suggestions, as well as to provide accountability that you will complete the steps to solve the problem. Remember that since your prefrontal cortex is still under construction, you will need support with making decisions until your brain has fully developed. Ask for support or help when needed, whether it’s from a teacher, parent or adult. We all need guidance at certain times in our life. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Decision-Making Tips for the Workplace:

Even though adults have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that makes decisions, we still need a process to follow to ensure we are making effective and smart decisions that yield the results we are looking for. Remember that to make an effective decision, you must first learn how to think, and this process is carried out by the executive functions in your brain (in your prefrontal cortex): functions like planning, implementing, monitoring, and making adjustments to overcome problems. When working on a goal, or solving a problem, try these 4 simple steps. Eventually they become habitual but having a process will increase your performance.[viii]

Start your decision-making process with these 4 Steps:

  1. Evaluate the Problem You Want to Solve: This process begins in your frontal lobes. What’s the problem? What outcome are you looking for? Is your outcome achievable? Is it meaningful? Attach meaning and emotion to help increase motivation. Make sure everyone on the team is on board with the “why” behind the goal.
  2. Plan Your Strategy: Next, your frontal lobe maps out the strategies needed as you ask yourself “where am I now, where do I want to go, how will I get there and what strategies and tactics do I need?” Create your plan. I’ve seen this plan mapped out many different ways but knowing where you are starting from, what your end goal is, and identifying what’s missing (your gap) is crucial to this step. This is where skill development takes place and the gaps are filled. Get clear on what’s missing and what must we learned to achieve the goal? Who can we consult with to fill in our gaps? Identify the experts you will need.
  3. Implement Your Strategy: Once you have listed the strategies that you will use and the tactics that will follow, your frontal lobe works with your body to put these ideas into action. This is where the hard work comes into play.  Roll up your sleeves and get to work.
  4. Monitor and Adjust: When you take action, your frontal lobe is ready to make changes as obstacles come up. Be ready to pivot when needed as you monitor what’s working and what isn’t. Effective decision-making requires ongoing evaluation of these four steps.

The Outcomes of Responsible Decision-Making

With practice, decision-making becomes easier and with students, they will learn to take their time with important decisions, weighing out the pros and cons. Decision-making in the workplace also becomes easier with this four-step approach. Take the time to think and plan ahead of time and it will better prepare you for the future success of the desired outcome and this process with practice will be executed with confidence and certainty as the results you are looking for emerge. It does take effort, hard work and focus, but it’s the first step towards creating predictable results as you follow your decision-making plan, with your brain in mind.

This brings us to the end of this lesson, thanks for your interest and sticking it through right to the end. Next week we have the fifth SEL competency, self-regulation and an exciting interview that ties these competencies all together. See you next week!


[i] The Neuroscience of Making a Decision

[ii] Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course

[iii] 13-year-old Cloe Amen in the Teen Panel in the Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course

[iv] 72 Amazing Human Brain Facts

[v] Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course

[vi] How an Understanding of an Individual’s Epigenetics Can Help Measure and Treat Addiction (January 3, 2017)

[vii] Brain Thrive by 25 Online Course

[viii] Mark Robert Waldman and Chris Manning, Neurowisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness and Success (Diversion Books, January 31, 2017)

15-year-old Chloe Amen Reveals Strategies on how to “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades”

15-year-old Chloe Amen Reveals Strategies on how to “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades”

August 5, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will be broadcast on YouTube as well as on the regular podcast channel, so be sure to look for the YouTube link in the show notes if you would like to view the video. 

Today I want to welcome our special guest, Chloe Amen. If you follow Tana and Dr. Daniel Amen’s work on their Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast[i], she doesn’t need an introduction, because the past couple of weeks she’s been speaking about the soon to be released book that was written by her Dad, Dr. Daniel Amen, who draws on his experience as a neuroscientist and psychiatrist as well as the latest brain science to help you study more effectively, learn faster, and understand how your brain works to optimize results (whether we are talking about academic results or results in the boardroom) they both begin with an understanding of our brain.  Chloe and her cousin Alizé Castellanos are major contributors to this book, offering modern day strategies that students and adults will relate to (Coming Sept 17th…you can pre-order it on AMAZON)[ii] “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades.”

Here’s more about Chloe so you can see the vast experience that has led her to be an expert and role model for others in this field at such a young age. 

Chloe Amen, now a junior in high school (a straight A student who has just finished sophomore classes) has been a part of the National Honor Society for the past three years.  She was a guest star on the popular public television show Feel Better Fast[iii] (with Dr. Daniel Amen), and contributor and guest star in the high school program Brain Thrive by Twenty Five,[iv] which is designed to help teens improve brain function and performance. (This is the most thorough and engaging online course that I have ever taken, teaching the theories of brain development as it relates to life success) and has been used in forward thinking schools looking to give their students the leading edge that comes with these strategies.  She is an intern for the Mayor’s Youth Council of Newport Beach, which participates in local government and community service. Chloe also has a passion for service and is an active volunteer for Girls Inc., an afterschool girl’s empowerment program. Chloe has a passion for performing arts, where she is currently pursuing a career. Volunteering at church in activities such as student leadership and campus cleanup has been an ongoing devotion. With her free time Chloe enjoys practicing martial arts, dance, songwriting and singing, and the arts. In elementary and early junior high, Chloe struggled with anxiety and organization which affected her academic performance. Through the techniques she has learned and shared in Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades, she has transformed her mindset and work ethic. As a result, she now has a 4.0 GPA and thoroughly enjoys learning.

Welcome Chloe! It’s an honor to have you here today.

Q1: Can you give us some background of growing up with brain strategies infused into your household and how you got involved with the modern version of this book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life?

Before your involvement with this new book, that’s coming out September 17th, you were already actively involved with helping others understand the power involved with their brain’s function as it relates to achievement. I took the Brain Thrive by 25 Course[v] at least 2 years ago, so am I correct to say that you were 13 when you filmed that? One of the biggest lessons I learned from watching you in the teen panel of was that your brain is not fully developed until age 25 for females and 28 for males.

Q2: Can you give us some thoughts of how this fact has changed your decision-making process and perhaps some thoughts of things you know you will do differently with this knowledge as a young adult? Chloe mentions that she has always been taught to make decisions with her brain health in mind being raised by Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen, leaders and pioneers in this industry.[vi] 

Q3: Let’s talk about this NEW book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades” that is not just for students. It also contains tips and strategies that can be applicable for anyone looking to improve their results in life (how to get a raise at work)…it’s about learning new things to make yourself more valuable. What interested you to get involved with writing and adding tips into the newer version of this book?

Q4: When it comes to study habits, organization, productivity and results, there’s a knack for finding the right balance that can set you up for success in life…or failure. Can you explain the 3 brain types that “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades” outlines? What’s your brain type?  What are the other types so listeners can figure out what their brain type might be, whether they are a student in the classroom, or an adult looking for a competitive advantage?

Q5: I remember one of my mentors always quoting that “Fear of public speaking is America’s biggest phobia—before death (that’s at #5) meaning that many of us would rather die than make a fool of ourselves in front of others. What tips do you have for public speaking, with the brain in mind? Can you cover why practice before a presentation is so important?

Q6: Nutrition plays a huge role in determining success in the classroom, as well as the boardroom. For those who have not been following your parents’ work, (on the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast) can you give some tips on how you began to implement healthy nutrition into your life for improved results? Can you talk a bit about how you handle this as a teen when all your friends might be choosing less healthy food options? How did understanding your brain type help you to choose the best diet to optimize your productivity and results?

Q7: With social media emerging as a means of communication the past 22 years with AOL messenger being my first memory of online communication starting in 1997 (a bit before you were born) the world is so different now for teens growing up using technology and social media.  How has not taking things personally helped you at age 15 and how do you stay focused on your academics/away from drama that can emerge online?

Q8: Any final thoughts/tips on how you can “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades” that we might have missed.

Thank you for taking the time out of your Monday that I know includes school work and many other activities to speak with us today. I think you are brilliant beyond your years and I just wish I had an understanding of this information when I was 15. I’m looking forward to the release of this book and what you will create next.








President of xSEL Labs, Clark McKown on “SEL Assessments Made Simple”

President of xSEL Labs, Clark McKown on “SEL Assessments Made Simple”

August 2, 2019

Welcome back to the “Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast” this is Andrea Samadi. This interview will be broadcast on YouTube as well as on the regular podcast channel, so be sure to look for the YouTube link in the show notes if you would like to view the video.

Today we have Clark McKown, the Founder and President of xSEL Labs, an award-winning social scientist and a leading expert on SEL assessments. His work with SEL assessments began back in 2007 at Rush University and in 2016 he founded xSELLabs and their assessment called SELweb. In 2017 more than 50,000 children completed SELweb during the 2017-2018 school year and they continue to grow.

Welcome Clark. I have some questions that tie into the language of SEL and assessment for others to gain some clarity with these terms. There’s a lot to navigate with all the terminology that often has different meaning for different people, so let’s dive right in.

Q1: When I was referred to your work from Greg Wolcott, an Assistant Superintendent from Chicago, he mentioned you were the #1 person to look at with regards to SEL assessment in the US.  We know from the feedback from the Edweek 2019 Social and Emotional Learning in Schools Summit that educators are “interested in social and emotional learning but aren’t always sure where to start” [i] and they are looking for “clear starting points in developing their own SEL strategies and programs.” I wanted to have you on today to share your research and knowledge in the growing field of SEL as many school districts begin to implement their programs[ii]   but there’s a lot that I can see that could use some clarification for this field. Can you give an overview of where you see SEL now since you started xSELLabs, and where you see SEL going in the country to bring some clarity to this emerging field? Clark mentions the work Casel is doing with their Collaborating States Initiative[iii] as well as the Assessment Work Group[iv] that he is a steering committee member of. 

Q2: What first steps would you recommend a District consider when looking to go from intention to action with implementing an SEL program? You mention in your blog “Social and Emotional Learning Programs and Practices”[v] that there are 2 broad approaches—one being to adopt a widely used SEL program and the other being the kernel approach.  Can you explain these approaches with the pros and cons of each? Clark mentions to begin with and Casel’s District Resource Center[vi] for your first implementation steps.

Q3: When Districts are choosing an SEL program, a program that is evidence-based, like those found in Casel’s program guides[vii], and data-informed SEL programs both matter.

Q4: “One of the main reasons for the historic lack of engagement with social and emotional skill development in schools relates to issues of measurement. It was only a few years ago that a superintendent emailed me an article that asked the question of “how are we going to measure SEL competencies.” He was looking for my thoughts on this and I didn’t know the answer. The latest developments in social and emotional skills measurement allow these skills to be measured meaningfully.”[viii] Can you explain the difference between some measurement tools that are survey-based vs what you have created with SELweb and how SELweb measures SEL competence key performance indicators? How do they differ and why are they both important?[ix] Clark offers his recent book Assessing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Guide to Meaningful Measurement[x] as a resource.

Q5: To wrap this up Clark, what are the important ingredients that you think an SEL program should include? (Teacher Well-Being, Teacher Practices, SEL Competencies).

Thank you, Clark, for the time you took today to explain how SEL assessments work with SELweb. If anyone wants to reach you to learn more, they can contact you through your website or on Twitter @xSEL_Labs



[i] Social and Emotional Learning Ed Week Summit March 20, 2019

[ii] Social and Emotional Learning Ed Week Summit March 20, 2019









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