Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Assistant Coach to the Winnipeg Jets, Todd Woodcroft on ”the Daily Grind” in the NHL

Assistant Coach to the Winnipeg Jets, Todd Woodcroft on ”the Daily Grind” in the NHL

January 30, 2020

This is episode #38 with the assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets, Todd Woodcroft, who has built up a 20-year career that has taken him all over the world in the field of ice hockey. His NHL resume includes stops in Minnesota, Washington, Los Angeles, and Calgary, before joining the Winnipeg Jets in 2016 as an assistant coach. You can watch this interview on YouTube here. 

Todd won a Stanley Cup in 2012, during his second of four seasons with the Kings. Internationally, he has two gold medals on his resume. One in 2004 with Canada at the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship, and in 2017 he earned another one with Sweden at the same event. These days you can find him standing behind the Winnipeg Jets next to their head coach, Paul Maurice, where he is challenged on a daily basis to take their team to the end result of making the finals, and then winning the Stanley Cup. 

Welcome to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator whose been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. Each week we bring you an expert who has risen to the top of their industry with specific strategies that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher or student in the classroom, or working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.


Welcome Todd, it’s so good to see you face to face after all these years!  For those who don’t know, Todd has been a good friend of mine since the late 1990s…we actually sat in teacher training classes together at the University of Toronto, and it’s been crazy Todd, to watch your success over the years. Let me get straight to the questions, so you can get back to work over there…and where are you right now, by the way?

  1.  Todd, where did this all begin for you? I always knew you were into hockey, but can you give a quick overview of how you broke into coaching in the NHL, some of your early influencers, the coaches and players you have worked with to give our listeners an overview of your background?
  2. I know it’s easy for those of us watching a sports game to notice when the team is in synch, working together, really well. How does the identity     of a team form to where players begin to work together like clockwork? And then how does it change throughout the season?
  3. I’ve heard your team be called “the best face off team in the NHL by far” and know this is your expertise. With skill building, we’ve heard from researchers (we just covered this on our last episode with John Dunlosky) that the best way to learn anything new is with spaced repetition of a skill. In athletics you practice a skill over and over again but how do you know what skills are most important to practice (like puck drops), how do you make these skills priority with such a busy schedule, or without things getting boring?
  4. Todd, you’ve got a unique background with your training in education that I’m sure helps you as a coach. With your teaching background in mind, can you think of why the proven method to learn/master a skill works so well in athletics, but it’s really hard to translate into the classroom? We all know to practice a sport over and over again to improve performance (or even a musical instrument or for a dance recital) but when it comes to studying for a test, some students still fall back to cramming vs the evidence-based method of spaced repetition. If you were to visit a classroom, what advice would you offer teachers/students with your experience working with pro athletes on learning new skills?
  5. After watching some of the interviews with your players and coaches, and some of your games, I saw that there were quite a few games where you won by just one goal, many in overtime and in the last few minutes or seconds of the game. I’ve also seen that the opposite can happen—in the last few seconds, with a frustrating loss. There’s this fine line between the win and the loss that happens in sports (just like in the corporate world with the win or loss of large business deal). What do you do to prepare your players for both scenarios—winning and losing games?
  6. What are some differences you’ve seen working with international teams? Aside from working in Canada, I know you’ve worked with and recruited athletes from Russia and Finland where we know the educational systems are surpassing the results in the United States.[i] Canada, where we grew up, always ranks high (top 10) with these studies. With this in mind, how does this translate into the sports world? What can we learn from international athletes? How do you see they are they different? 
  7. I could keep asking you more questions but know you’ve got work to do. I wanted to end with any of your final thoughts, or anything that you think might be important that we haven’t talked about? I know you have the All-Star Game coming up this weekend? What’s so important about this event for players/coaches and any final thoughts?

For anyone listening, whether a student or educator in the classroom, someone in the corporate world, or an athlete looking to take your skills to the next level, we can all learn from the daily grind, the mindset and routine that pro athletes embrace, without complaining or resisting. Thank you so much Todd, for sharing your experiences so we can all take our game to a higher level. I have surely learned from this inside look at the life of a pro athlete and coach and do look forward to seeing the results of the end of your season. Wishing you all the best in pursuit of the end results of making the playoffs and winning the Cup this year. Best of luck!


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[i] The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 2015 performance on global rankings on student performance on mathematics, reading and science.


Dr. John Dunlosky on “Improving Student Success: Some Principles from Cognitive Science”

Dr. John Dunlosky on “Improving Student Success: Some Principles from Cognitive Science”

January 20, 2020

This is episode #37 with Dr. John Dunlosky, a Professor of Psychology at Kent State University, who has contributed empirical and theoretical work on memory and metacognition, including theories of self-regulated learning and metacomprehension. You can watch this interview on Youtube for the visuals.

Welcome to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator whose been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. Each week we bring you an expert who has risen to the top in their industry with specific strategies that you can implement immediately to take your results to the next level.

I’m so excited to introduce you to Dr. John Dunlosky. John’s research has focused on understanding three inter-related components of self-regulated learning: (1) the monitoring of learning, (2) control of study time, and (3) the application of strategies during learning.  These three components of learning fall under the rubric of metacognition, which is about people's cognition (the mental processes like thinking, knowing, remembering, judging and problem-solving, all involved in gaining knowledge and comprehension).[i] By studying metacognition in students across the life span, a major goal of his research involves developing techniques to improve student learning and achievement.

Welcome John! Thank you so much for taking the time away from your important work to be here to share your research and thoughts for improving student learning.

Question 1: I first heard you back in 2016 on an Edweek Webinar, speaking about “deliberate practice” being one of the most effective learning strategies, vs cramming, and I wrote that down and that concept has ended up in all my presentations for the K-12 school market ever since. I recently watched your presentation from the McMaster Symposium on Cognition, Learning and Education[ii] where you dive deep into your research. Can you give an overview of what launched your research with learning strategies and do you think that we can learn ANYTHING with enough deliberate practice over time?

Question 2: When you were doing your research to find which learning strategies work the best, what surprised you the most, and what feedback did you hear about your discoveries?

Question 3: Knowing what strategies scored the highest in your research (distributed practice—spacing study sessions out over time vs cramming) and retrieval practice or practice test taking using multiple choice, fill in the blanks, or essay type recall) do you see that these methods are used more frequently now by students? What have you seen with the application of your research?

Question 4: What happens next? Once a student uses distributed practice and retrieval practice, what is successive relearning?

Question 5: It caught my attention that a major aim of your research is to develop techniques to improve the effectiveness of people’s self-regulated learning because self-regulation is the most requested topic I see when working with schools, especially with older students (middle school and high school) and it seems to be the skill that challenges most adults (thinking where we are at the start of the year setting new goals for ourselves and many goal-setter fall off their plan before January is complete).  Why did you choose self-regulation opposed to let’s say growth mindset or something, and what are your current goals with your Metacognition and Education Lab?[iii] Note- Self-Regulation is one of the six social and emotional competencies that we dive deep into here on the podcast (episode 14).[iv] 

Question 6: I was reading your book on the weekend, the first textbook to be written on metacognition, can you share what metacognition is, and why it’s so important for the learning process?

Question 7: Is there anything else that’s important that you have uncovered to help improve student learning and achievement that I might have missed? 

Thank you very much John, for taking the time to be here today to share your knowledge and wisdom on these evidence-based learning strategies. If someone wants to learn more about your work is the best place through Kent State’s website? [v] I’ve also included your full study from Sage Journals[vi] in the show-notes. Thanks John.



[i] The Basics of Cognition and Mental Processes by Kendra Cherry June 16, 2019

[ii] Dr. John Dunlosky McMaster Symposium on Cognition, Learning and Education (YouTube Published Dec. 12, 2013).


[iv]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #14 “Self-Regulation: The foundational Learning Skill for Future Success”




Creator of The Learning Pit, James Nottingham, on “The Importance of Challenge with Learning”

Creator of The Learning Pit, James Nottingham, on “The Importance of Challenge with Learning”

January 13, 2020

This is episode #36 with the creator of The Learning Pit®,[i] a sought-after keynote speaker and author of 9 books about teaching, learning and leadership, James Nottingham,[ii] from Northumberland, UK. Within a few minutes of posting about this interview on my social media channels, I had good friends who are deeply invested in teaching and learning from around the world, message me about how excited they were to hear this interview. You can listen to the interview here, or watch the visuals on YouTube. It’s not surprising that The Swedish Teaching Union describes James as “one of the most talked about names in the world of school development.”

James’ most recent book, Challenging Learning (2017) describes the theory and practice of guiding students through the “Learning Pit” encouraging them to step out of their comfort zone. This practical book is filled with ideas for making lessons engaging, thought provoking and collaborative.

Welcome James! Thanks, so much for taking the time to be here today all the way from the UK.

Q1: James, we all know that our educational system worldwide has been under a microscope of discussion for transformation the past few years and that some countries that you are working with are leading in this transformation over others. Just a note, here in Arizona, USA, we are ranked near the bottom[iii] which is scary for me as a parent, but it motivates me to want to do more. Where did your vision to improve education begin and did you ever imagine that you would be creating such an impact?


Q2: I dove right into your book, Challenging Learning,[iv] this weekend, and should have known from the title that I would be drawn in as challenge is actually one of my Top 5 values. I don’t work well without it and now have a completely different perspective as to why. Can you explain a bit more about how you Challenge Learning with The Learning Pit®? 

Q3: Why is challenging students “to question, to wonder, to challenge together”[v] such an important life skill? How does this improve their self-esteem, help them to become more self-reliant and achieve more?

Q4: I saw your TEDx about Labels that Limit Learning[vi] and it did surprise me as I thought we are on track over here with our 2 girls, implementing Growth Mindset now, being careful not to tell them they are “so smart” (Carol Dweck) and now I see I’m going down the wrong path with labels even with ones I would think were positive. I often say “just do your best” (with school or sports) not thinking at all that they might translate for them into “they must be THE best” dropping their expectation. Can you explain the research by Jacquelynne Eccles about how labels can lower expectation and impact the effort someone will put into something?

Q5: I’ve heard before that we always remember the people in our lives who have challenged us to “think” differently or think at all. And I had some early influencers who impacted me this way, and from reading your book, I can see that you have also.  Can you share some of your early influencers and how you went from idea to action with the Ready, Aim, Fire concept with your work? (Clay Shirky/Michael Fullan-who was the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto when I was in teacher’s college in the late 1990s)?

Q6: What is your vision with your company Challenging Learning and The Learning Pit® with such a broad audience and staff in 6 countries. Where are you going with this vision in the next few years?

Q7: Is there anything else that you think is important that I might have missed?










[v] James Nottingham, Learning Challenge (Learning Pit)




How to Use Your Brain to Break Bad Habits in 2020

How to Use Your Brain to Break Bad Habits in 2020

January 11, 2020

This is EPISODE #35, focusing on understanding how the brain works to break those bad habits that zap your energy so you can have a highly productive 2020. Welcome to the “Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning” podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years.

As we are well into our New Year, and new decade, I am sure you have been thinking about ways that you want to improve this year over the last. Have you thought about what specific actions you’ll take? Have you thought about the activities that you’ll start, stop, and continue? This is a good place to start as we are evaluating what worked for us last year, and keep doing more of what’s working, with an awareness of what didn’t work. Once we know what we want to change, then we will look at how the brain forms habits, so we can break them.

WHAT YOU WILL START THIS YEAR: Think about positive behaviors that you would like to implement in your life. Do you want to be more self-aware? More proactive? More forgiving? Do you want to take more action, or more doing vs thinking and planning? Look at the START/STOP/CONTINUE graphic in the show notes and think about what actions you want to begin this year.

WHAT YOU WILL STOP: Do you have some habits that you need to let go of? You know what they are, the ones that zap your energy, with an impact on your productivity. If you have some habits that are draining you, you’ll be well aware of what they are. Write them down. There’s never a better time than now to become aware of what needs to go this year.


WHAT YOU WILL CONTINUE: Think about the things in your life that gave you energy, joy, and happiness. You will probably want to keep those things on your list for 2020. Whatever brought you focus and inspiration, should stay this year.

How Exactly Do We Break Bad Habits?

This article was originally published on blog.

We Must Understand How the Brain Learns to Forms Habits, in Order to Break Them.

I learned the idea of "neurons that fire together, wire together" from Mark Robert Waldman, (from EPISODE 30)[i] the world's leading expert on communication, learning and the brain. If you think about it, it’s kind of obvious—where your attention goes, your energy flows. Never underestimate your own power and be mindful of where you place your attention, especially when you want to improve your focus. This year be intentional about where you are placing your attention. When "neurons are out of sync, they fail to link"[ii] so when you are not working on or thinking about something that you want, maybe because your attention is being taken away by something else, the neurons will not link, the neural pathways will not be formed, and eventually the neurons for what you want will prune away, since you have not applied the correct focus with your attention. This is exactly why people fail to achieve what they want. They have not properly applied their attention. So how can we safeguard ourselves from this happening in 2020?  

Let’s dive deeper into our brain to see what’s happening.  

We have around 100 billion brain nerve cells called neurons that connect the brain to the body. "If you took 100 billion sheets of paper and stacked them on top of each other, it would be 5,000 miles high. That's the distance from Los Angeles to London!" (Dr. Joe Dispenza, TED TALK, Feb 8, 2013). This puts the vastness of your brain into perspective.

Each neuron has one axon with many tails (terminals).  When you are learning, the axon terminals send electrochemical messages to other neurons across tiny spaces called synapses.

Learning creates a synaptic connection when you are thinking, feeling, or actually doing something new. New neural pathways are formed. This is how you create a new habit.

Breaking a habit is just the opposite; by avoiding certain thoughts, feelings or actions, your impulses or neural connections become weaker and weaker. Just as knowledge and skills are constructed in our brain with focus, they also diminish without the focused attention. As we learn, our dendrites actually grow as they make new synaptic connections. Learning something new happens when we forge these new connections.

"Neurons that fire together, wire together" and "neurons that are out of sync, fail to link." 

It is easy to see now that "we are what we think about" or "we create our reality" as we do reinforce our neural pathways with attention to the habits or goals that we want. We even reinforce what we don’t want when we are thinking " I don't want that piece of pie" or " I don't want this project to fail" or “I don’t want to lose that game” and so on. The neural pathways for “I don’t want this or that” are being formed! See how tricky this can be. Our brain only knows what we tell it, so we must be very careful with our thoughts, feelings, and actions, as they will cause our conditions, and circumstances.

Are You Ready to Break Some Bad Habits?

Now that we can clearly see how the brain works, we must now apply this to our daily lives if we expect change. This is the hard part. Change is difficult, uncomfortable, and hard work. Most people won’t do this, but if you are ready to take your results to the next level, stay with me here. Anyone can break out of old habits and personalize this new knowledge for new results. Once we are aware of what we want to change, then we must take the action steps needed for this change to take place. To mentally prepare for a whole new way of thinking, being and taking action, I highly recommend reading John C. Norcross’ book Changeology: 5 Steps to Realizing Your Goals and Resolutions.[iii] This book will prepare you to accomplish something that you have never done before. You can find a PDF overview[iv] of the book to get an idea of the 5 steps he takes you through in pursuit of what change you want to tackle.

Here Are 5 Ideas for Breaking Habits that No Longer Serve You

1. Replace the bad habit with a good habit and begin to strengthen the new neural pathway. If you want to give up coffee in the morning, replace it with hot lemon water. With time, the neural pathway of the old habit of drinking coffee will prune away with the new habit of drinking hot lemon tea. Write out any bad habits that depletes your energy, and beside the habit, write out something more positive that you will replace the habit with.

Put This into Action:

Here’s an example: Every year, at the start of the year, sometimes over the summer, I do a no sugar, no alcohol challenge, for at least for 30 days. This year, to launch the new decade, I am doing the challenge for 90 days. If you have never done this, it really is a powerful activity. When you cut out toxins, or foods that are known to be bad for our bodies and brain, something amazing happens. After the first 2 weeks, the cravings go away, and you won’t miss the food you used to enjoy. It will actually taste bad if you sneak a taste because your brain and body has become used to the clean, healthy foods, making the bad foods feel poisonous, which helps to continue with the new habit.

You will gain some new awareness about yourself with this challenge. When I cut out drinking wine with my dinner, I replaced wine with carbonated water, (following the tip of replacing the bad habit with a more healthy one) but I drink the water in a wine glass. I realized that it’s not the wine I miss, it’s actually the glass! I would love to hear about any new awareness’s you have had if you have eliminated toxic foods from your diet to help others to perhaps give it a shot.

2. Try brain-training. Over time and repetition, you can change old habits, and beliefs with guided meditations or affirmations. I use John Assaraf's programs at and Dr. Daniel Siegel’s (EPISODE 28) Wheel of Awareness. [v]There are many different meditation or relaxation apps you can download and use on your phone. The key is to use something. Visit our episode #25 where Mick Neustadt discusses how meditation and mindfulness changes your life.[vi]

Put This into Action

If you want to change your brain, old patterns, habits or beliefs that operate within your subconscious mind, brain training is an excellent first step, but it’s not a quick fix. Results with brain training will come with time, effort, practice, persistence and daily application. One day, you will be able to articulate the affects, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Brain training definitely has helped me to relax about certain things, bringing me more peace and has been well worth the effort. If you are pressed for time, you don’t need to spend a long time doing this. Just a few minutes a day will allow you to calm your brain to improve your results and give you a sense of peace. You can search for mindfulness apps[vii], or play music that relaxes you.

3. Create a daily habit tracking sheet to keep track of your daily habits. If you recall from Kent Healy’s episode 33[viii] that we all have the same amount of time, and that the most successful people in the world manage their time really well.

Put This into Action

To better manage your time and activities block off your activities that are non-negotiable on your calendar, and then you can add in negotiable activities around what you must do. Be clear about what could possibly take you away from the activities you have blocked off so that you don’t just cancel the important parts of your day when you are called to do something else. Protect your time, as it is your greatest asset. With the proper use of your time, you will see your results will soar.

 Click here if you would like to access the tracker that I use.

4. Replace negative thinking with positive thinking. In order to break negative thought patterns, or ruminating, use something in your head to break this destructive pattern. 

Put This into Action

An effective strategy used in cognitive behavioral therapy[ix] 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 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.

5. Find an accountability partner who you can count on to keep you on track with your goals. Entrepreneur, investor, author and public speaker Gary Vaynerchuk did this when he wanted to lose weight. His trainer followed him around every minute of the day to keep him on track. You should be able to change your habits without having to go this extreme, but if you are still struggling, there are many ways to reach out to others and ask for help.

I hope you have found these tips helpful and would love to hear from you if you do implement any of these ideas. I’m excited about the next few guests to launch the New Year with ideas, research and strategies that are being implemented around the world to improve performance in schools, sports and the workplace. Stay tuned! Happy New Year!


[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE 30 with Mark Robert Waldman


[ii] Dr. Joe Dispenza and Lewis Howes “Where Your Attention Goes, Your Energy Goes.” (YouTube Published July 25, 2019)


[iii] John C Norcross Changeology


[iv] PDF Overview of the book Changeology









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

Lifestyle Entrepreneur Chris Farrell on “Actionable Strategies of High Achievers to Improve Daily Results”

Lifestyle Entrepreneur Chris Farrell on “Actionable Strategies of High Achievers to Improve Daily Results”

January 7, 2020

This is episode #34 with Chris Farrell, host of the podcast “Setbacks and Success”[i] where Chris, a former radio/TV presenter turned lifestyle entrepreneur, shares the struggles, obstacles and hurdles in life, and how we can overcome them. Be sure to check out Chris’ podcast  where you will see his first episode with the creator of Baywatch, who I am sure I recall he met on an airplane, who shares how this billion dollar brand almost failed, and his second episode is with one of my favorite podcasters, Lewis Howe’s with his School of Greatness[ii]. You can hear this flashback interview here, or on YouTube.

Welcome to the “Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning” podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace for the past 20 years. Our guest today, Chris Farrell is one of the most respected and successful internet marketers in the industry. Chris’s training products and websites have already helped tens of thousands of people create and grow their online business and I was blessed to be mentored by Chris when I was creating our online courses for Achieveit360. 

Chris is a popular in demand public speaker – having worked with and spoken on stage with Brian Tracy, the late Dr Stephen Covey, Gary Vaynerchuck, Robert Cialdini, Daymond John, and Harv Eker amongst others. In 2017, Chris began his podcast Setbacks & Success, showcasing the highs and lows of business owners, entrepreneurs, and people doing great things. He travels the world and has one of those personalities where he is drawn to meet people and when he gets to know you, he’s always looking for ways that he can bring value and wants to genuinely help others reach those higher levels of success.  He’s Originally from London, England (which explains his accent) – but relocated to Los Angeles.  I hope you enjoy this flashback interview, that I felt was very relevant for the launch of this New Year.  Even though this was at the start of the year in 2014, I am sure you will find his success strategies helpful and inspiring.





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