Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Assistant Superintendent Greg Wolcott on “Making Connections with Neuroscience and SEL”

Assistant Superintendent Greg Wolcott on “Making Connections with Neuroscience and SEL”

May 30, 2020

This is episode #64, with a returning guest from our 7th episode, Greg Wolcott, Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning in a suburb of Chicago as well as an adjunct professor and author of the phenomenal book Significant 72: Unleashing the Power of Relationships in Today’s Schools.[i] I first saw Greg on an EdWeek Social and Emotional Learning Webinar back in 2016, where he was talking about this concept that he was using in schools that he called “Significant 72” and this concept wasn’t even a book yet. I thought his idea was powerful—so I wrote it down and began telling his story when I was presenting to educators who could use this idea. It’s really a powerful concept, and I’ll let Greg tell you more about it. When I launched this podcast, a year ago, I was looking for high quality experts to provide tools and resources that we could all apply to take our results to the next level, and I immediately thought of Greg. Watch the interview on YouTube here.

We’ve kept in touch over the entire year since we started and he’s reached out to me with thoughts and ideas for how he sees each episode being applied within his schools, and brainstorming new ideas, or applications of how the content can help the education and corporate sectors. He makes connections between speakers that I might not have seen and has been an invaluable resource for me to keep moving forward with new speakers and ideas. Welcome back Greg and thank you so much for all you’ve done to support and cheer me on over here, your help means a lot. 

Before I get to the questions, can you give an overview of what you do over there, where the concept of “Significant 72” came from and also, what’s your outlook with where things are right now in our schools as we prepare to transition to the summer and into a new year, still living in the midst of a pandemic?

Q1: Greg, you sent me a recent presentation that you did called “Creating Connections During a Crisis”[ii] and I loved everything that you presented so I wanted to ask you some questions that would dive a bit deeper into what you covered. We can share you screen here if that helps with the visuals.  Can you explain why you think it’s so important right now to prioritize social and emotional learning in today’s educational space?

Q2: I saw something that you shared on social media on Twitter, (I think it’s your pinned tweet @GregJWolcott)and it was about how important it is for educators to reach out personally to every student in their class to remain connected, and that tweet you sent had almost 9K likes, and over 2K retweets! I’ve never seen numbers this high. Can you share what stories you are hearing from educators/students who have been keeping in touch during the pandemic and also maybe some students who you’ve heard have been having a tough time with not being in an academic environment so we can keep in mind how important keeping these connections are for our students?

Q3: What about the how behind an SEL Implementation? Can you go over the concept of STORY, which is an acronym from your book where you talk about how every student has their own STORY or strengths, tendencies, opportunities, resources and yearnings (which is how you break down this acronym and how SEL and the most current neuroscience research is infused into each of these areas? Starting off the S in STORY, why is it so important for our students, and ourselves to understand our unique strengths?

Q4: What about the T in STORY, for tendencies. Why is it important that we understand our tendencies as it ties into the 3 parts of our brain with strategies to overcome those times we become overwhelmed? 

Q5: What about the O in STORY, opportunity? How do we recognize the opportunities for growth (which is actually one of my top 5 values)—like you talk about understanding our emotions, categorizing them, and then coming up with a strategy to move beyond where we are right now when we are stuck. Can you explain this 3-step process to slow down and make a change with our emotions in mind so we can experience growth?

Q6: For the R in STORY, or the resources, I found this part the most interesting, mainly because most of what you mention, we’ve been talking about here on the podcast and some of these concepts have taken some time to become known and accepted. It really does help to have the point of view of an assistant superintendent to bring some credibility to some of the resources that  you are using.  Can you share some of the resources that have used in your local schools to help students with their learning, and how these resources are being received by the students themselves as well as the teachers? (Vagus Nerve and some of the ways it can be activated to calm someone down)

Q7: For the Y in STORY, for yearnings, what’s the best way to remind ourselves of what students want, need and desire to produce their best work?

Q8: Greg, our family loves eagles, and we always seem to notice them when we are driving in the car, and your son made a pretty powerful statement about the eagle—I always think it’s important to listen to what our kids are saying as they can say some pretty impactful things, if we can take the time to listen.  Can you tell your son, Jack’s Eagle Story?

Q9: Is there anything that you think is important that we might have missed?

Thank you Greg, for taking the time out of your day to speak with us and share your Significant 72 book, ideas and resources for making the Neuroscience/SEL Connection. If someone wants to learn more, they can go to  to get your book and find you on Twitter @GregJWolcott to reach you. Thank you so much again for all of your ideas that are impacting the success of this podcast.



[ii] Creating Connections During a Crisis with Greg Wolcott Published on May 6, 2020 on YouTube


Author Hans Appel on “Building an Award Winning Culture in Your School or Organization”

Author Hans Appel on “Building an Award Winning Culture in Your School or Organization”

May 26, 2020

This is episode #63 with Hans Appel, who has been a school counselor from Richland SD, WA for the past 19 years and is the author of the NEW book, Award Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality Through Character, Excellence and Community[i]  that you can find RIGHT NOW on Amazon. My husband has worked closely with this District when he was a Regional VP of Sales with Scholastic and he agrees that they go above and beyond with everything they do, and it’s not surprising to hear that they emerged as International Thought Leaders over there but there’s much more to this story than meets the eye. I look forward to sharing Hans’ background and story for those who would like to replicate Award Winning Culture in their school, workplace or organization. Click here to watch the YouTube interview. 

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent trying to figure out homeschooling and working from home,  or someone working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.    

Today we are speaking with Hans Appel, has worked as a counselor in the Richland School District for the past 19 years at Enterprise Middle School since it opened.  He’s passionate about school culture, servant leadership, and kindness.  In 2018, EMS was awarded the ASCD Whole Child Award for the State of Washington and the Global “Class Act Award” for creating a culture of excellence through kindness, service, and empathy.  Additionally, the were selected as a finalist in the 2019 PBIS Film Festival and took top prize in the Community, Parents, and Staff category.  

When I first spoke with Hans, just last week, to learn more about his background and new book, his humble nature came through. It wasn’t until last night, when I started to read his book “Award Winning Culture” that just became available last Friday, that I got to know and truly understand where Hans’ passion for building school-wide culture emerged from. I could go on with Hans’ bio, but will include more details in the show notes, and urge you to read his book yourself, and his website[ii] where you can learn more about Hans’s story, and about his wife Jen, who is an educator at Enterprise MS. Welcome Hans!

Q1: Hans, when we were speaking last week, you were telling me how all of this started but we didn’t speak at all about your personal story that you share in the beginning of your book.  For anyone looking to understand how change takes place, I do highly suggest reading this book to get a deeper understanding with someone who has grown up firsthand with ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Before we get to the questions, can you share how you used your difficult upbringing to fuel your passion for change within your local school District?

Q2: Can you explain how this all began at Enterprise Middle School that caused you to write your book, Award Winning Culture and create the framework around what you did to cause such an international interest?

Q3: Hans, I’m familiar with how important it is to infuse SEL skills into a school, home and emotional intelligence training in our workplaces, with what we’ve been doing here, but many schools or workplaces are not sure how to begin, where to even get started with a program. Can you give some ideas of where someone can start to implement award winning culture within their school or organization to reap the benefits that will follow with a program like yours?

Q4: Imagine a school or an organization that has not yet implemented a program, and they are well aware that change needs to occur. The part in your book about the reporter crying when she “felt” the energy of your school and asked “why aren’t all schools like yours?” made me think of the fact that I have walked into thousands of schools in the US/Canada over my 20 year career working with schools and that reporter was right. When you see or get that “feeling” that’s hard to explain, but it’s there…usually right when you walk in the front doors (sometimes it can be felt before you walk in) but it’s hard to forget a school like this. What’s involved in changing a school or organization from where they are now, and get them to where they want to be to experience what we know can be felt? I’m sure this change takes time, so what is the process?

Q5: Most of us by now are aware of Simon Sinek’s book or TED TALK “Starts with Why” where an organization must have a clear understanding of their “why” before they can make a larger impact with their goals. Once they know WHY they are there, the HOW and WHAT they do becomes simple. What is YOUR “Why” and how do you identify, and tie in a school’s purpose (the foundation) and ensure that all stakeholders are on board with this purpose for existing?  

Q6: Is there anything that’s important to mention that you think we have missed? 

Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and share your powerful story of creating Award Winning Culture in a school or workplace. Your story could have gone 2 ways as we are all well aware of the effects of ACES on a child’s future, but you used your experience to fuel for something that has, I think only just begun for you. I want to recognize you for doing the work to get to where you are today,  (because I know work was involved) and thank you for the impact you are having not just locally in your state, but across the country and internationally. If someone wants to reach you directly, I will put all of the links in show notes and be sure to find the book, Award Winning Culture on Amazon and contact you to learn more about your programs and services for implementing Award Winning Culture. Thank you!

Hans can be contacted at  Follow Hans on twitter @HansNAppel. Follow AWC on twitter at @awculture @awcpodcasting or Instagram @awardwinningculture.Wildcat Nation on Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture


In 2018, Hans launched his own blog about School Culture and rolled out a student-led leadership podcast called Award Winning Culture: Hosted by Wildcat Nation, which can be subscribed, listened or reviewed on iTunes Apple PodcastsStitcherGoogle PlaySpotifyPodBean, and Libsyn.  

Hans’ blogs have appeared on DisruptED TV magazineCharacterStrong, and PBIS Rewards.  He’s written social-emotional lessons for CharacterStrong.  He has also been featured on numerous educational podcasts speaking his brand of school culture into existence.  

He’s been a contributing writer on three upcoming educational books: “ Define Your WHY: Own Your Story So You Can Live and Learn On Purpose,” “Reflective Impact Journal,” and “ALL IN: Taking a Gamble in Education.”  Hans’ own book about school culture was just released on Amazon on May 22nd.

Hans is the Director of Culture for the Teach Better Team and a member of the coveted Teach Better Speakers Network.  He presents at conferences, schools, and districts all over the country.  Topics include: Creating an Award Winning Culture, Amplifying Student Voice, Student-Led Podcasting, and Infusing Servant Leadership through PBIS.

He can be contacted at  Follow Hans on twitter @HansNAppel. Follow AWC on twitter at @awculture @awcpodcasting or Instagram @awardwinningculture.Wildcat Nation on Instagram @emscounseling #WildcatNation #AwardWinningCulture


[i] Award  Winning Culture: Building School-Wide Intentionality and Action Through Character, Excellence and Community by Hans Appel (May 22, 2020)



CEO and President of Casel, Karen Niemi on “Tools and Strategies to Enhance and Expand SEL in our Schools and Communities”

CEO and President of Casel, Karen Niemi on “Tools and Strategies to Enhance and Expand SEL in our Schools and Communities”

May 20, 2020

This is episode #62: with the President and CEO of CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, which is the trusted source for knowledge about high-quality, evidence-based social and emotional learning) Karen Niemi. You can watch the interview on YouTube here. 

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent trying to figure out homeschooling and working from home,  or someone working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.  

Today our podcast comes full circle, as anyone who follows our work, will know that we launched this idea almost a year ago, when I saw a huge need for a platform for social and emotional learning when Casel’s first SEL Exchange in 2019,[i] drew an interest from over 850 speakers around the country to present their ideas to help improve our schools, homes and communities with SEL and this inaugural SEL conference drew over 1,500 attendees from 48 states and 30 countries. 

I am thrilled to have the Karen Niemi, the President and CEO of CASEL here today. Karen oversees and directs all of CASEL’s activities to enhance and expand evidence-based social and emotional learning, including practice, research, communications, policy, and development. This is no small feat, but as an accomplished business leader with a long track record of success in the education sector she blends a deep understanding of school systems and pedagogy with solid business practice and has successfully led educational companies through all stages of growth.  She has also helped schools advance their educational mission by making research and best practices accessible and actionable by teachers and administrators and has brought learning tools and strategies to school systems and students nationwide.

Welcome Karen, it’s such an honor to have you here today. I must give David Adams from episode #54[ii] a shout out and thanks for introducing us and let you know that we have had a few leaders from Casel, like Clark McKown, the President and Founder of xSEL labs[iii] who is on the advisory board for Casel’s Measuring SEL Initiative[iv] as well as Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence Founder Marc Brackett with his important book “Permission to Feel.”[v]  Thank you for coming on today to share your thoughts, experiences tools and resources for SEL at such an important time for parents, educators and everyone for that matter.  

Question 1: I was speaking with the President of a large publishing company to potentially develop an SEL program, and many people in this company, were still unclear of the years of research and data behind implementing SEL in our schools. So, even though there’s this huge interest in SEL, not everyone has caught up yet to the benefits behind implementing an SEL program (in our schools) or even an Emotional Intelligence Training program in our workplaces for those who are in the workforce and are missing these important skills. I pointed them to your research page and explained about the 11 percentile point academic gain. How can we spread the word of all of the resources that Casel offers, that’s really been the Hallmark of your work since its founding? Can you give an overview of all of the resources that Casel offers?

Question 2: There’s a lot of people who work at Casel with your board, staff, consultants, funders and collaborators. I know Linda Dusenbury from following her Collaborating States Initiative[vi] since 2016 as I watched with amazement when SEL standards slowly but surely started being implemented in schools across the country, and I know of some of the people in your research department, but can you give an overview of “Who Works” with Casel in addition to some of the new initiatives that have been formed like your Assessment Work Group[vii]?

Question 3: With the research in mind, why should every student be exposed to SEL? What gains do they see? For schools listening, what would you say would be the main reason behind why should schools invest in SEL, the importance of parents implementing these skills at home and corporations continuing to reinforce these skills in the workplace? (How is Casel currently conducting research?[viii])

Question 4: What are the social and emotional competencies, and out of all of them, what ones do you think have been missing in our schools? Why do you think this is the case? What’s different now, from 20 years ago?

Question 5: As more and more schools are looking for SEL programs, highlighting evidence-based programs and how to access them would be helpful. On CASEL’s Recommended Program Guides: What are they, how can people access them?[ix]

Question 6: As a vendor of an SEL program I created and launched with a partnership with AZ schools and AZ Dept of Education in 2014 a few years before this buzz for SEL began,  I’m speaking on behalf of all the great programs out there that have not a) even thought of what they must to do to show efficacy and to appear in your program guide b) are not even sure of where to begin this process.

Back in 2014 there just wasn’t all the valuable resources available as there are now. Panorama Education was just emerging with their SEL measurement tools and I didn’t have the understanding of how to properly measure students who I was working with (that I know better now from Clark McKown) and I know that many other vendors are not clear on how to properly measure students before, during and after program results. After a few years of measuring and submitting data to earn the “evidence-based” criteria and being unsuccessful, I just gave up.

Would there ever be a step by step training program on the requirements to have a program reviewed to be considered evidence-based so it would be clear on exactly how a program qualifies to appear in your program guides, especially for the middle and high school ages where there could be more options for schools? How would NEW vendors be able to qualify for the program guide review process? Do you recommend partnering with your local University for this?

Question 7: Where do you envision SEL going in the next 5 years? Do you think it will ever be as important as the core subjects?

Karen, I want to thank you very much for the time you have taken to meet with me today, and share a deeper dive into everything that you offer at Casel. For people who want to learn more about Casel, they can go to and I have included everything we are speaking about in the show notes. Can you explain your CASEL CARES[x] Initiative, and your Weekly Webinar Series[xi], and anything else that I might have missed that you think would be important for people to know about?


[i] 2019 CASEL Exchange Conference

[ii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #54 David Adams on “ A New Vision for Education: Living Up to the Values We Want for Our Next Generation”

[iii] xSEL Labs: Helping Educators Understand Children’s Social and Emotional Strengths and Needs

[iv] Measuring SEL Initiative

[v] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #22 with Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence Founder, Marc Brackett with his book, “Permission to Feel.”








Maria Natapov on “Building Autonomy, Self-Confidence, Connection and Resiliency Within Our Children”

Maria Natapov on “Building Autonomy, Self-Confidence, Connection and Resiliency Within Our Children”

May 18, 2020

This is episode #61: Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, my name is Andrea Samadi, I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent trying to figure out homeschooling and working from home,  or someone working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.  We’re just a month away from our one year anniversary of when we launched this podcast that is now being listened to in over 95 countries, and we’re thrilled to see that we’ve hit the top 100 charts for Apple iTunes Education How-To Category for multiple countries (Canada, USA, Great Britain, Australia, Sweden and just hit #1 in Switzerland this week) so thank you listeners. I’ve actually lived in 3 of the countries that keep showing up on these charts and am grateful to all our supporters around the world.


Today we have someone who I know will share some valuable and timely tips for all of us--Maria Natapov[i], a Certified Parent and Caregiver Coach with a specialty in trauma and neuroscience and its application. Maria teaches practical and actionable parenting techniques to caregivers that bring out the best in their child, with a specialty in healing trauma and breaking its cycles. She partners with parents, teachers, and childcare professionals through individualized, targeted sessions that empower caregivers to curb their child's challenging behaviors and deeply connect while taking care of their own needs. In addition to parent coaching, she has worked as an applied behavioral analysis therapist in home and school settings.  Maria moved to the United States from Russia at age 8 and is deeply sensitive to the role that cultural differences play in behavior and parenting. If you were to take the time to hear Maria’s story and background, you would understand where her passion to help other parents navigate through difficult times originated, especially when trauma is involved.[ii] I’ve included a podcast she did on this topic that  you can access this in the show notes to learn more about her background. Maria founded Restorative Parent Coaching to help caregivers create nurturing environments in which adults and children can thrive. To watch this interview on YouTube, click here. 



I first met Maria when she connected with me through social media and saw instantly that we had common ground with our work. The interview questions I’ll be asking today came directly from an article she wrote called “5 Strategies to Mitigate Covid-19 Related Anxiety and Trauma for Children.”[iii] When we connected, I knew immediately that Maria’s work tied into some of our past speakers. I could see her influence from Dr. Daniel Siegel’s work when she mentioned that our children really need to be “seen and heard” during these stressful Pandemic times, and also Dr. Bruce Perry’s work when she speaks about the importance of adults learning how to regulate themselves in order to calm a stressed or anxious child.


Welcome Maria, thank you so much for speaking with me today, and sharing your work and ideas with the community.


I think that speaking with you is timely and important right now, as many of us are now 2.5 months into working from home (and many people I know now are working a hybrid of home/office hours) while still trying to figure out this new schedule with the addition of home-schooling. How are things going for you right now over there in Massachusetts on the East Coast?


I am sure that the timelines are different for some people listening, but here in the US, my 2 girls have been home from school since the beginning of March, and school starts back up again for us here the end of July, and we still aren’t sure of what that is going to look like. I’ve recently spoken to one of my friends from Toronto who is a Superintendent at one of the large Districts there and he mentioned that schools there aren’t going back until September, so that’s 2 countries right there, where school ended abruptly and it’s the parents (with support from the schools) who are now working with our children to be sure they are on track.




Q1:  We know how important it is that parents and caregivers stay calm and regulated especially these days, since a dysregulated or stressed adult can NEVER regulate a child. I know that my kids are “watching my every move, and how they see me responding to situations that come up will be strategies and habits that they will learn to develop for themselves.” (Maria Natapov). For example, as we are going through our day and something happens (like it always does) I try to still keep the pace and keep moving no matter what. There’s lots of little incidents: A dish breaks, we clean it up and don’t cry or freak out about it, putting it all into perspective. It’s just a dish. How can we use structure or blocks of time to set up a daily routine or rhythm in our lives so that we can sail through these summer months until our children go back school and use this routine to keep our lives calm and peaceful, while helping us to respond (peacefully) to the situations that come up instead of react that can happen while we are under stress? What ideas do you have to create routine?  (Around mealtimes, educational activities, play times, family time, and virtual time with friends while learning to handle the challenges that come up with more grace)?


Q2: I love learning from other people with this next question. We all know how perceptive our kids are and how they “easily can pick up on negative or anxious energy of those around them, so it’s important to be intentional with creating a peaceful atmosphere.” (Maria Natapov) I’m phenatic with cleaning, keeping order in my house, and when I wake up, I play the Pandora Spa Music channel so that I can set the stage for the peace I expect for the rest of the day. Of course there are still stressful moments, it’s not all peaches and cream no matter how much we prepare ahead of time, but what suggestions do you have that you have seen that are easy to implement, to be sure that we are fostering a calm environment in our home?


Q3: One of the most powerful discoveries of Michael McKnight and Dr. Lori Desautels’ work[iv] (EPISODE #16) centers around the impact that stress has on children and their learning. We’ve heard that when kids are stressed, overwhelmed, worried or anxious, it might come out as a “power struggle, an argument, not listening, being emotional or other forms of challenging behavior” (Maria Natapov). We also have seen that when an educator is stressed, it will raise the cortisol of the student, causing a never-ending cycle that is the cause behind educator burn-out. I can see this burn-out happening in our homes as parents are now being overloaded with homeschooling activities. What are some techniques that you have seen working well for parents/educators to calm themselves, and in turn create a peaceful learning atmosphere that doesn’t just work to get us by this summer, but that we can use moving forward to improve our home life?


Q4: When we were speaking, you mentioned the importance of our children feeling “seen and heard” and how when they are younger, they look to us as their superhero. Can you explain the need that our children have with their parents, and how this need changes when they become teenagers?


Q5: Is there anything that you think is important for us to understand, that I might have missed? Maybe something that taps into the fact that anxiety is at an all-time high for our students. Do you have thoughts on the best way to bridge the communication gap with our children so they feel comfortable enough to talk to us about the things they are thinking and feeling?


Thank you so much Maria for taking the time to share your work on this much needed topic. If someone wants to contact you, and learn more about your services, is the best place to go to your website where you offer a free consultation for anyone who would like to learn more about your programs and services?






[iii] 5 Strategies to Mitigate Covid-19 Related Anxiety and Trauma for Children by Maria Natapov Published April 14, 2020

[iv] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #16 on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience in our Schools and Workplaces.”


The Science and Benefits Behind a Meditation Practice with Dr. Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness.

The Science and Benefits Behind a Meditation Practice with Dr. Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness.

May 13, 2020

This is episode #60 on The Science Behind a Meditation Practice with a Deep Dive into Dr. Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness. 

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 and created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience research, along with high performing experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent trying to figure out homeschooling and working from home,  or someone working in the corporate world, to take your results to the next level.  After watching Dr. Daniel Siegel the past few weeks on his “Pep Me Up Talks”[i]  where he shares with an audience around the world about his books, tools and resources like the “Wheel of Awareness Meditation”[ii] that I’ve been using every day since preparing for his interview last year, I thought it was important to cover a deep dive into this topic to bring in the science behind meditation, to increase belief and credibility behind these practices that are now commonly seen in our schools, homes and workplaces.  We did cover the topic of meditation for beginners with Mindfulness and Meditation Expert Mick Neustadt in episode #25 with “How Meditation and Mindfulness Changes Your Life”[iii] if you want to review that episode. 

I have been following Dr. Dan Siegel since 2015, reading his books, and learning from his resources, and on the interview I had with him for episode #28 on “Mindsight: The Basis for Social and Emotional Intelligence”[iv] (close to the end of the interview) we talk about what I have been learning from doing the meditation tool that he created. At the time—in October 2019, I had been doing his meditation every morning for 2 months. You can see this part of the interview here at (42:52)[v] where he asks me what I have learned from this practice, and although I downloaded this activity, and explored the Wheel in 2015, I didn’t start doing it daily until I was preparing for his interview, because I knew he would ask me what I had learned from this practice, and when I first tried it, and in the beginning, I honestly found it a bit advanced and confusing and didn’t want to tell him that so I put in some extra effort to understand it. If you have not yet tried “The Wheel of Awareness”[vi] Meditation, please do go to the link and download it, so you can see the image of the wheel, and try it out. This episode might make more sense once you do that and if you feel like I did in the beginning, don’t worry, it’s now been 8 months of practicing this daily and I’m just starting to figure out how to explain it now, so just try it and see what benefits you notice.


I wanted to share Dan’s findings of asking thousands of people around the world, over the years first.  If you have ever heard him talking about the Wheel of Awareness, you will know that the idea came to him when he bought a custom-made round table for his office so that his patients didn’t have to sit at a regular table. His mediation has evolved over the years as he has shared it with experts, and those who hold scientific evidence of the benefits of incorporating a daily meditation into your routine and life. If you are listening to this podcast, you will want to look at the image of the wheel in the show notes so you can physically see each of the segments I’m going to describe. In his book, Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence, Dr. Siegel explains that there are research-based elements of mind training that should include 3 pillars: focused attention, open awareness and kind intentions towards others.[vii] This practice involves all 3 of these pillars and profound changes happen with the body when you do mind training. He also explains that a 3-pillar meditation practice (like his Wheel) changes the structure and function of the brain in these fascinating ways:

  1. There’s an integration of structure and function of the brain (integration means well-being).
  2. There’s a reduction of the stress hormone cortisol.
  3. There’s an enhancement of immune function.
  4. Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors.
  5. Reduction in inflammation via epigenetic changes.
  6. An optimization of telomerase—which is fascinating as it repairs and maintains the ends of chromosomes and slows aging.

Who wouldn’t want these benefits? The science is clear and proves that implementing a daily meditation practice improves your physical and mental health with many more benefits we will explore further.


Here's How Dr. Dan Siegel Breaks Down Each Segment of The Wheel of Awareness


Segment 1: The 5 Senses: Dan explains that we must send the “spoke of awareness” which is just another way of saying to focus on one of the senses at a time, to each of the 5 senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch. With each sense, we move the spoke, so we are actively thinking and feeling about the data we are bringing from the outside world into our awareness, with each sense.

Segment 2: The 6th Sense/Bodily Sensations/Neuroception/Interoception: With this part, Dan takes us from head to toe, giving us access to the wisdom from within our body. This part helps us to become more aware of our organs, bones and muscles, and are probably parts of our body that we have rarely ever put our focused attention towards.

Segment 3: The 7th Sense or our Mental Activities

I’ve divided this segment into 3 parts to make this easier to understand.

PART A: This is where Dan asks us to bring any thought or memory into our awareness and see what happens. He reassures us that many things may come, or nothing at all. For me, this segment took some time, and when a thought finally did come, I just used this part of the meditation to solve problems I might be having, to see what kinds of solutions I might be able to think of on my own.

PART B: Now Dan asks us to examine the thought that comes in and pay attention to how it presents itself. Was it sudden? Did it vibrate or slide in? And how does this thought leave our awareness? Is it replaced by another mental activity or thought, and if not, what does the space feel like? To me, this part was really deep, and I could think of a thought, and strong thoughts would vibrate, but I don’t think I’m advanced enough yet to describe this any further.

PART C: Now he asks us to bend the spoke in the hub and just rest in pure awareness. This is where we feel fully alive, present and focused. I never really understood why he was asking us to bend the spoke, until I heard him explain it another way recently.[viii] If you have access to the show notes, look at the 3-P Diagram of State of Mind and see the shaded area under the x axis with a new axis called the z-axis. This shaded area represents awareness and it made more sense to me imagining the bended spoke, to create this shaded area. This part of the meditation many people talk about a feeling of peace, calmness and energy. This is where Dan explains that physics comes in to explain that “energy is movement from possibility to actuality” (the definition he got from asking quantum physicists what exactly energy is).  So, when we are in this part of the meditation, we can gain access to energy, peace, calmness, ideas and possibility.  This is what I have heard many people say is the reason why they meditate in the first place.

Segment 4: Our sense of connection to others. This is the final segment of the meditation where Dan asks us to focus on those who are physically close to us, friends or family, those in our community, city, state, country and around the world. This part of the practice allows us to feel a connection to others as we sent wishes of well-being towards other people in the world. This part is powerful as it really does help us to focus outside of ourselves and put some energy towards others. It’s just like sending prayers to everyone in the world you can think of.

I had some thoughts about this practice, specifically with the first segment where we strengthen our five senses. It made me think of the work I learned in the late 1990s through the speaker Bob Proctor, who taught me to live beyond my 5 senses, using the Higher Faculties of the Mind which are the will, intuition, reason, perception, memory and our imagination. This would be an episode on its own, but as we are strengthening parts of our mind, I think it’s important to include these higher faculties.

Andrea's Findings From the Wheel of Awareness Meditation

So, here’s what I learned after just 2 months of actively listening to this 30-minute meditation. I’m going on 8 months now of doing this practice daily, and the findings are more noticeable now than when he first asked me and I’m sure that another year from now, I will have a deeper understanding. I noticed:

  1. An Increase of Focused Attention with the 5 Senses: and that my awareness expanded with an increase in focused attention (which really helped to focus while working from home). Where your focus goes, energy flows, and what we are putting our attention on, grows, so you can imagine that doing this every day will increase awareness, and sensations within our 5 senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch.
  2. An Increase of Awareness and Sensations Within the Body: I noticed with the focus on bodily sensations that I was developing or improving this 6th sense that I’ve mentioned in prior episodes that Dr. Stephen Porges calls “neuroception”[ix] where he suggests we must get better at sensing what’s happening within the body. When you get to this part of the meditation, Dan takes you through each body part, (starting with the face and going throughout the entire body) and it reminded me of an activity that my Mom told me she did that she believes helped her to beat Uterine Cancer in the late 1990s. She told me that during her treatment, she would go through each body part with her mind and pretend to chop up each cancer cell she saw with an axe--it sounds crazy, but she did this daily during her chemotherapy treatments and she was the only one in her group who recovered 100%. Her surgeons were so amazed at her results that they asked her to come in and speak to other patients while they were going through treatment with an explanation of what she did. As you focus on each part of the body, (just like we focused on our senses) you’ll notice with time that your awareness of the sensations you feel within your body, will increase as well, there will be insights that you can learn from these sensations like your “gut feelings” become clearer and easier to read.
  3. An Increase in Connection to People Around the World: With this part of the meditation, Dan asks you to send kind intentions to those close to you, and other people in your community, city, state, country, continent, and world. I noticed an immediate connection to others all around the world when I was thinking of them, and it had to be sincere, sending thoughts of kindness and well-being towards them. The attention was taken off me and what I want in this world, and directed towards other people, which really is a powerful experience. It made me see that even though I’m working alone, in an office, in Arizona, USA, that I am a part of a larger whole around the world and Dan believes that these words when said out loud, can make an impact on our body and the world.


There is much more that we can say on this topic, and I know that with time, practice and as my own awareness increases, I will have a deeper understanding the 4 segments of the Wheel of Awareness.

I would love to know what you think. What insights do you see at each segment?

I look forward to your thoughts and will see you on episode 61.


[i] Dr. Dan Seigel “Pep Me Up Talks”




[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast #25 with Mindfulness and Meditation Expert Mick Neustadt on “How Meditation and Mindfulness Changes Your Life”


[iv] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast #28 with Dr. Daniel Siegel on “Mindsight: The Basis for Social and Emotional Intelligence”


[v] YouTube interview of Andrea Samadi with Dr. Dan Siegel on The Wheel of Awareness Meditation Findings (42:52)



[vii] Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J Siegel, MD Published August 21, 2018 Tarcher Perigee


[viii] Dr. Dan Seigel “Pep Me Up Talks”


[ix] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #59 with Suzanne Gundersen on “Putting The Polyvagal Theory into Practice”


Suzanne Gundersen on “Putting The Polyvagal Theory into Practice”

Suzanne Gundersen on “Putting The Polyvagal Theory into Practice”

May 6, 2020

This is episode #59 with Suzanne Gundersen. You can watch the interview with graphics here on YouTube. 

Thanks for tuning into the podcast today! I’m always excited about the guests we bring on here, as each person has achieved high levels of success in their field and I know they can help others by sharing their knowledge. Our next guest is an expert in a topic that has been on my reading list the past year. When I was speaking with Suzanne Gundersen and she mentioned her life’s work has been based on putting Dr. Stephen Porges’[i], Polyvagal Theory into practice, I stopped what I was doing and asked if she could tell me more about this.  

For the past year, I’ve been watching trainings from Deb Dana[ii] (whose mentor was Dr. Porges) and just bought her book The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy[iii] and had written down that I wanted to interview an expert on the Polyvagal Theory. Plus, I have heard Dr. Lori Desautels mention Dr. Porges’ work the past year, and so  I wasn’t surprised when an expert showed up. If you are new this work, like me, you would know why I would be looking for an expert to explain this theory. Someone who could in simple terms explain what we must all understand about our Central Nervous System when it comes to managing our stress response. These days this understanding is more important than ever before and this is exactly what Suzanne does with two tracks, first is stress education (the science of stress) and secondly, she speaks about nervous system with regulation techniques.

Welcome Suzanne, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today to share your knowledge, and programs on such an important topic. Like we spoke about, there are many layers to this theory, and at first glance of all the notes I have taken on it, I still can’t explain it very well. Thanks for helping us break down this theory so we can think about how it can apply for our teachers in the classroom, for us as parents working from home, as well as for those who want to apply this idea in the workplace.

Q1: What is “Polyvagal?" and why is this theory so important for us to understand these days?  Answer is that it's the science of safety and connection, a map for living our most modern survival strategy, social engagement.  Porges theory shows how our evolution has delivered us to human form where our unique communication abilities offers us possibilities for secure and deeply meaningful connections to survive and thrive. 

Q2: I actually have 2 version of the polyvagal chart (one you sent to me) and what we must know to remap our nervous system as dysregulation occurs. I got the first chart from Dr. Lori Desautels last October when I attended one of her live trainings. Can you give an overview of the Polyvagal chart and what’s happening at each level with the Ventral Vegal (safety), Sympathetic (danger) and Dorsal Vegal (Life Threat) stages so we can recognize these stages in ourselves and others? 

Crash course on neuroscience three branches most modern VV, then SNS, then PNS, and in order to understand it we have to go way back to when we were fish, strategy to freeze, then amphibians with legs to fight/flight, then humans to communicate.   We automatically respond to stress, hierarchically, start with most modern first then use more ancient strategies to keep us alive.  When we sense threat, our first reaction is to is to look to another for safe connection to help us know we are safe, we look for facial cues, tone of voice, regulated heart beat, if we don’t receive what we need to know safety and connection, we revert to SNS (mobilization), if doesn’t satisfy, then to PNS freeze.  Each stage has a co-relating stress symptoms and body system status (SNS- charged system- increase heart, breath, blood to limbs), SNS- systems release/go limp (drop bowls). 


Q3: We have been talking on past episodes on the responsibility we have as parents and professionals to keep ourselves regulated (or in the green zone of your chart) but how do we do this? What are some suggestions/strategies that you offer when day to day stress hits us—strategies we could do at work, home or in the classroom? – get ourselves regulated, to be able to offer /hold presence space for children to be in their moment.  Vagal toning…. Quick inhale/long exhale, hold breath, hum, ommm, squeeze/release, shake and twist body, pound thymus, drum.== what really doing is restoring natural rhythm to vagus nerve.  When we’re stressed ,it’s like a hiccup to the body systems, these techniques restore rhythm.


Q4: I heard the term “neuroception” from Stefanie Faye[iv], who did EPISODE #39 with us on “Using Neuroscience to Improve Mindset, Self-Regulation and Self-Awareness.” She explained this term means that we must get better at sensing what’s happening in the body, the environment and between two people in relationship with each other. Can you explain how neuroception can help us to understand ourselves and others better with the polyvagal theory in mind?

Neuroception is a word Porges made up to deepen the word ‘perception’ to include more of an intuitive sensing component to it.  Our ANS responds automatically and if responded through perception could infer a mental awareness, when our response is faster than our mind.  So, neuroception is about our intuitive sensing of our surroundings so we know if we need to react to threat or if we can be immobile without fear.  To understand this let’s chat about animals.  Animals attack each other for food or control.  As humans, we too are animals and while some humans fight each other for blood our dominant evolution is to connect. Neuroception helps us know/intuit who is safe to connect and be immobile without fear.  And that if we’re threatened, to use language to communicate to resolve threat.  It’s our evolution potential ,however you can imagine we’re still working on it.  

Q5: What are some of the healing modalities that you have seen used to help with stress relief? Top down (talk therapy) vs bottom up (integrating the mind and body). What popular strategies are you seeing today?

Traditionally we’ve been so focused on the mind, talk therapy, mindset work, as the western way of managing stress.  While that top down approaches are still valid, so many are opening up to whole mind/body solutions. 

Let’s visual a brain…. Stem – instinct (body) , then limbic- memory, emotions then pre-frontal cortext – thinking mind.  Top down would be to start with the pre-frontal cortex, like CBT, Talk Therapy, Mindfulness, Mindset, Hypnosis, Meditation.  Bottom up would be to start with the body/NS patterns – TRE, myofascial release, yoga, breath work, SE.    Then there are some that meet in the Limbic middle, Tapping, EMDR.  Every modality works, however some need to start with more body work / brain stem & NS to be regulated enough to relate within the limbic system and then rationally access the reasoning of the pre-frontal cortex thinking mind.  This is why some people can’t meditate, they just aren’t regulated enough to sit with their dysregulated systems and distracting emotional habits to be present and calm.  

STORY: When I was preparing my questions for you, I did see that you mention Energy Tapping as one of your bottom up models for stress reduction. I have to tell a quick story, because I learned energy tapping back in 2001 when I met a doctor from Singapore (Dr Joseph Guan)[v] who came to the US and was doing some teaching on what they were doing Internationally. Of course, I attended his seminar, and learned all about the meridian points, and how it worked, and began using it right away--mostly to build up my resilience and mental strength. This doctor was well-known, respected and at the time was working with Dr. Bruce Lipton[vi], an American developmental biologist who is well-known in this field today. So here’s my story-back when I worked in the corporate world, in educational publishing, a sales manager heard about energy tapping from a TV show and she approached me to see what I thought. She wanted to know “Did I know what it was, could this concept help the sales team, was I using this idea myself, and could I present this idea to the sales team in our next weekly meeting?” All of the answers were yes. Of course, if there was a strange, new productivity strategy, people would ask me first if I had heard about it.

So, here I am, in the front of my sales team (a mix of males and females) and introducing the success strategy of the week as energy tapping, and I will never forget the look on their faces. They seriously were not ready for a strategy like this. I knew they all thought I was crazy, and they did. It really didn’t matter if the strategy was making the news, would improve their results in sales and increase the company’s revenue, the sales team wouldn’t do it. That was definitely one of many ideas that I tried to introduce to the corporate world that I would say I was ahead of the time for. How have things changed as you see it? How does the Corporate World now embrace these new stress reduction modalities like energy tapping? I know this modality has received criticism and some people have felt it lacked scientific evidence, but there are clearly many studies now showing its effectiveness[vii]

Great story, I can relate.  When I started sharing Tapping with others around that time, they thought I was crazy, however I think the collective consciousness is waking up, physically, emotionally and mentally and realizing they want to move from coping to thriving which is opening the door more and more to tapping.  More common these days for companies to have wellness programs that include mindbody programs full of yoga, breathwork/meditation.  Tapping is slowly making its way in the US, thanks to Ortner’s great marketing work on the technique however many still don’t understand it or how to easily put it to use.  My ACE system solves that problem and I’ve been sharing it with my corporate peers who are open minded and willing.  

Q6: Can you provide some other example of bottom up models for stress relief?

There are many traditional and holistic modalities out there and they all work, the question is to find what will work for you.   I like to start with the body because it makes sense in terms of the brain’s evolution.  Massage, Yoga, Vagal Toning exercises or practitioner led TRE, SE to discharge the tension and overwhelm.  It’s not a one size fits all, but start trying them and see what fits and once you found it, work it with persistency. 

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

We’re living in very transformative times, with the world as we know it dismantling in front of us, threatening our ‘normal’ lives.  That threat has us living in stress, which is to live in survival energy.  The evolution of our mind has taken it away from the body and we are dis-integrated.    Our integrated evolution has been stunted and why the Earth has hit a reset button for us to come back to the body, back to basics.  We need to retrain our nervous system from the value we put on busyness to the value of restoration.  We have a huge opportunity now to deeply connect within to know ourselves and share that authentic version with the village we choose to surround ourselves, that makes us feel safe and that we belong, for who we truly are.  Polyvagal Theory helps us understand our evolution and our potential for living with genuine aliveness.



If someone wants to learn more about Suzanne’s programs and services, go to to learn more and gain access to a FREE 30 minute consultation.




[ii] Deb Dana


[iii] The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy by Deb Dana Foreword by Stephen Porges (Norton and Company, 2018)


[iv] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #39 with Stefanie Faye on “Using Neuroscience to Improve Mindset, Self-Regulation and Self-Awareness”








“The Wise Emotional Fitness Program” Delivered via Virtual Reality with James MacDiarmid and Natasha Davis

“The Wise Emotional Fitness Program” Delivered via Virtual Reality with James MacDiarmid and Natasha Davis

May 4, 2020

This is episode #58 with James MacDiarmid and Natasha Davis. Thanks for tuning into the podcast today! I’m always excited about the guests we bring on here, as each person has achieved high levels of success in their field and I know they can help others by sharing their knowledge. Our guests today hit a chord with me when I saw their work because their vision, and my vision are 100% aligned. You can watch the interview on YouTube here. 

A few years ago, I couldn’t stop thinking about a thought I had of teaching social and emotional learning skills via virtual reality.  I had some prominent virtual reality companies that I had been following and put up on my wall, with the vision that maybe someday, we would see students learning SEL via these new modes of learning that were highly engaging.  I had an image of what the lessons would look like (I could see a forest with students choosing different paths and learning new skills with each pathway that they took). For example, if they made a life decision, it would give them the opportunity to see the effects of this decision and see the reality of “if I do this, this will happen” showing them the consequences of their actions. After my interview with David Adams[i], (episode #54) I received a message on LinkedIn from James MacDiarmid (who had heard David’s podcast) about a potential next guest for the show with a video link for me to learn more about what our next guest had created. When I finally had a chance to watch the video, I have to say, I was blown away. This was the vision I had for SEL brought to life. I watched a walkthrough of a virtual reality lesson from the Wise: Emotional Fitness program and there was even a forest in the video. I wrote back to James with tears in my eyes, that yes, I want to learn more and before I know it, I’m speaking with James from Curiious[ii] - that’s with two ii’s- in Australia via video conference about the Wise program. 

And here we are today.  Let me give you more background on James and Natasha.

James has extensive experience in education, learning design and consultancy, with a passion for new technologies and enacting transformational change across whole-school systems.

He is a published author, contributing writer for TEDx and was a co-creator for PlayFutures, with the LEGO Foundation[iii] where they focus on bringing learning through play to children around the world. After a few minutes of speaking with James, his passion for building authentic learning opportunities and inspiring future generations came through loud and clear.

Natasha[iv], who James explained was the heart and sole of the program, is a clinical psychologist with over 15 years experience designing, researching and implementing emotion regulation and relationship building programs for adolescents and adults. She is the Director of a community-based clinic and has held many leadership positions in private and non-profit sectors. Natasha was the lead subject-matter expert during the development of this truly innovative program.

Welcome James and Natasha.  

Thank you so much for being here, and sharing what you have created, all the way from Australia where it’s already Monday morning over there for you. 

I wanted to learn more about the Wise Program and have some questions for you.

Q1: The first question is for Natasha. First of all, congratulations on what you have created. I think it is purely brilliant. Can you explain where this vision began for you?

Q2: What is the methodology behind this program?

'Designed for impact, Wise uses an Inside-Out methodology which equips participants with the practical skills to build strong connections from themselves (Inside) to others and the world around them (Outside). This is enhanced by the blended learning context whereby learning within virtual reality (Inside) is reinforced through the verbal and written self-reflective process, and teaching others the techniques (Outside).

By using the principles of behavior change, and reinforcing the development of self- awareness and the empowerment to make change within ourselves, we are then guided to be able to change how we interact with others and the world around us. 

With our emotions being like the engine of the car, individuals are shown how to adjust and “steer” their reactions by understanding how to “tune into” their emotions, better understand the “mechanics” of their emotional system and know how to “rev up” or “slow down” their emotional responses where needed, or even “brake” if they are about to do something dangerous or damaging. These skills are practiced and reinforced to build confidence in managing more complex emotional and relational situations. 

Students are further supported through the Wise adult programs and resources which provide skills and resources to the adults in their lives. Educators, coaches, mentors, parents, guardians or other caring adults can learn skills and strategies through the program. Educators have additional training through professional development programs which assist them to learn the skills and facilitate student learning. Adults can take these skills and strategies into the home, workplace and broader community activities. 

This whole system approach ensures that each individual’s learning is supported by and contributes to the systems that they live in. This is the Wise Learning Ecosystem.'

Q3: James, I know you are the educational advisor to the program, can you give some background of all that you are doing to ensure that Wise is evidence-based, aligned to’s SEL competencies, and universal curriculum requirements?

Q4: Who are some of the influencers of this program that you have spoken with? How have they influenced your work?

Q5: What has been the feedback you are receiving from educators/students using the program?

Research with FM Labs at ICA. Preliminary results/study with students during the initial development phase have indicated that there is a great amount that can be taken from this not just this approach but also the material covered throughout the program itself.

Q6: What is your vision for the Wise program?

All kids, parents, teachers, coaches have access to these emotional regulation skills to improve the emotional fitness of each individual and those who support them.  Whole school systemic change. 

Q7: Can you give us some more background on the company Curiious? If someone wants to learn more, what’s the best way?

'Curiious is a creative communication company. For more than 20 years, we have used creativity & technology to solve problems, grow businesses and challenge traditional methods of communication. With offices in Sydney, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and New York, we create story-driven immersive experiences, backed by the latest technology, innovative design and strategic thinking to captivate, inspire and educate audiences.'

To contact James you can email him at and Natasha is

Thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me today, and for creating such an innovative program to help young people develop into the responsible citizens that we all hope for our next generation. We do look forward to following your progress and hope this interview will lead as an introduction to connect you with schools and educators who want to learn more about this innovative VR emotional fitness program. Thanks so much.



The Wise SEL/ Emotional Fitness Program Walk-Through 


[i] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #54 David Adams on “A New Vision of Education: Living Up to the Values We Want for Our Next Generation”








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