Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
What is a SPECT Brain Scan and How Exactly Can it Change Your Life? with Andrea Samadi PART 2

What is a SPECT Brain Scan and How Exactly Can it Change Your Life? with Andrea Samadi PART 2

August 27, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #83. This is PART 2 of our last episode on “How Looking at Your Brain Can Change Your Life” with a deeper dive into what we learned from getting a SPECT Image Brain Scan at Dr. Amen’s Clinic in Costa Mesa, CA.

For those who are new here, my name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring awareness, ideas and strategies to our most pressing issues facing educators in the workplace, or parents working from home or in the corporate space, to keep us all working at our highest levels of productivity. The goal is to bring the most current brain research and practical neuroscience, connected to our social and emotional skills, to take our results to the next level.

Last episode we did a case study of my friend Doug Sutton, whose whole life changed when he made the decision to get a SPECT image brain scan from Dr. Amen’s Clinics. While Doug was having some noticeable issues with his health, like brain fog and his energy levels, I made the decision to get the scan just to improve and optimize what we are already doing, as well as to see if there is anything they notice that we should be aware of now.  When I was interviewing Dr. Shane Creado, episode 72 on “Sleep Strategies that Will Guarantee a Competitive  Advantage” I wanted to know specific strategies that I could use to optimize my performance and results, and he suggested “why don’t you just go and get your brain scanned. This way, we can look at the results, and see exactly what type of brain you have, and he could make more targeted suggestions from there. Stay tuned for PART 3 of this Brain Scan Series where I will share my results, after I have had the chance to speak with Dr. Creado later next week.

This is where the process began for my husband and I. Since I had posted about the fact we were going, I have received so many messages from friends asking “What did you learn? Why exactly did you go? How much did it cost? What was the test like? Does the test reveal a snapshot of your brain as it is today, or in general?” All of these are great questions, and the reason I figured I would break up the experience into parts.

If you have considered getting a brain scan, and you are either like Doug, you’ve been noticing some symptoms (brain fog, maybe memory problems, low energy) and you want to look at the organ that controls pretty much everything that you do, and everything that you are, then this podcast episode series is for you. Or maybe you are like me, you don’t have any symptoms, but you just want to get an accurate snapshot of what is happening in your brain, so you can optimize your results, and at least know what’s going on with the most important organ in your body.

So, here’s what I would recommend you do if you are thinking about it. Start with doing as much research as you can about Dr. Amen,[i] Amen Clinics[ii] and The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast that he and his wife host, to hear from the many guests he interviews, showcasing different ways to put your brain health first.[iii] Dr. Amen, one of the most famous psychiatrists in the country, found that looking at the brain could tell you a lot about someone when treating them. Adding SPECT Imaging Brain Scans to psychiatry, took his practice to the next level.  On his website, you will find all of the locations he has offices (east coast, west coast, and central locations like their Chicago office where Dr. Creado works out of).  There’s a lot of free resources you can access, as you learn more about what issues you might be facing, thinking of solutions that he recommends. Once you have trust in his work, the decision to call and learn more about moving ahead with a brain scan is much easier. He has a wonderful overview of the process on how to read the scans called “Brain SPECT Imaging Made Ridiculously Simple”[iv] on his blog. In this overview you will learn:

  1. Why Dr. Amen started doing SPECT brain imaging in the first place.
  2. What a SPECT Scan (Single, Photon, Emission, Computed Tomography) looks like.
  3. What a healthy brain looks like (full, even, symmetrical activity) from even blood flow.


(AMEN CLINICS photo of a healthy brain-even blood flow)

  1. What an unhealthy brain looks like, spotting signs of Alzheimer’s Disease ahead of time, so you can work on optimizing the brain.


Alzheimer’s can be seen in the brain years before symptoms occur. Both sides of the brain are affected with decreases in the Parietal Lobe (top back part of your brain) and Temporal Lobes.

  1. What drugs or alcohol do to the brain? They damage the brain.


Photo of a healthy brain, next to an addict's brain.

6. What even a mild traumatic brain injury can do to the brain.


7. How SPECT scans show evidence of trauma, toxins like mold or chemotherapy, or infections like Lyme disease. My friend Doug Sutton spoke about mold exposure that gave him brain fog, and he also mentioned that BulletProof Radio Dave Asprey also had mold exposure, and it was Dr. Amen who inspired him to create his BulletProof line of products.

8. How SPECT scans can help people with mental health disorders and addictions.


This drug education poster hangs in 100,000 schools.  It’s a more realistic image of what drugs do to your brain than the image that I remember growing up of an egg cracking into a pan to represent a brain on drugs. It just doesn’t have the same impact as this poster does, or real brains that were damaged by drugs/alcohol use.

  1. What the scan tells us? Good activity, (blood flow) Too little activity, Too much activity. Then Dr. Amen and his team can balance the brain with supplements, and strategies.
  2. The difference between a surface view of the brain, and active view (inside) the brain.

If you want to see a more humorous overview of the SPECT scan, actress and comedian Laura Clery covers her SPECT scan from start to finish.[v]  I’m usually a pretty serious person, especially when it comes to getting my brain scanned, so this overview of a very serious topic, was hilarious to watch. Actress Laura Clery was having some problems with her memory and wanted to look and see if there was anything they would find out with this scan. She admits that she is a former drug user and hoping that the damage she did in her early years is reversible, which we have heard Dr. Amen say when he says “You’re not stuck with the brain you have.” It is possible to improve brain structure and function. She walks you through the experience from start to finish, not missing a detail, of finding the clinic, to the IV injection of Saratech that maps out your brain, to the test where you have to click the space bar when you see a letter, and not click the bar when you see an “x” which was more difficult than it sounds, (my husband said this test drove him crazy and it looks like Laura had a similar experience). She also takes you through the actual brain scan where she was told to lay still, but she moved, and had to do the entire scan over again.  


The Brain Scan Process

It’s interesting that everyone asks the brain scan technician “what did you see” after the scan, and he/she will tell you “wait until you speak with the doctor.” Once your scan is complete, you will have the opportunity to discuss the results with a doctor. I chose Dr. Creado from the Chicago offices to do my evaluation, since he was the one who recommended I take the test in the first place, so I won’t be able to record PART 3 of this episode with the results until the end of next week.


Brain Scan Predictions Based on My Understanding of the Brain

I do have some predictions of what I think we will see, based on studying Dr. Amen’s work for the past year, and applying what I am learning to my own life. You can do the same, especially if you take his Thrive by 25 Online[vi] course. It will be interesting to see if my predictions are correct, but this is what I think we are going to see.

With my brain scan, I think that I have what he considers a busy brain, or hyperfrontality where we can be over focused. He suggests that a way to improve this would be to prevent serotonin from going too low, or I will have problems, which I kind of figured out on my own over the years. He suggests to naturally increase serotonin through exercise, high protein foods and supplements. I already know that without exercise, I just don’t work well, because I need this boost in serotonin to work at my best. I also eat a high protein/higher fat diet which also works well for me. He also suggests taking supplements to calm the busy brain like 5 HTP or saffron, and I have been doing this for the past year.

For my husband’s brain scan, I think that he will show hypofrontality, or lower frontal lobe activity, which is the opposite of mine. He talks all the time about having a shorter attention span, and wonders if he has ADHD. He did have a mild traumatic brain injury years ago, and he works best with scheduled exercise and a higher protein diet. It will be interesting to see if these predictions are correct after our evaluations.

Until then, if this episode has made you think about your own brain, take some time to go to and call the number on their website to learn more about how you could begin your pathway to a better brain and life. Spend some time doing some research, watch the video series listed in the show notes on Spect Imaging Made Simple and Tune into the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast to dive deeper into learning new strategies to improve your brain and life, or take the Thrive by 25 online course and see if you can make connections between your brain, and behavior. We can always improve our brain, which will in turn improve our life, it’s just up to us to do this.


See you next week with the results of my brain scan.


Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #72 on "Sleep Strategies that will Guarantee a Competitive Advantage." with Dr. Shane Creado



[i] Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen and The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast

[ii] Amen Clinics

[iii] The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast

[iv] Brain Spect Imaging Made Simple by Dr. Daniel Amen

[v] Actress Laura Clery’s SPECT Scan Experience

[vi] Thrive by 25 Online Course by Dr. Daniel Amen


“How a Brain Scan Changed My Brain and Life” with Doug Sutton: PART 1

“How a Brain Scan Changed My Brain and Life” with Doug Sutton: PART 1

August 22, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #82 on “How Looking at Your Brain Can Change Your Life” with a case study from one of my friends, business growth expert,  Doug Sutton, who had a SPECT brain imaging scan a few years ago through Dr. Daniel Amen’s Clinics, when he was noticing some mental fog and lower energy levels. I remember seeing the testimonial from Amen clinics come through social media and the headline I read was powerful! It said, “When Doug made the decision to look at his brain, it changed his life.”[i]  You can watch the interview on YouTube here.

I know that this episode will help all of us, including myself, to really think about the fact that “if our brain is working right, we will work right.” (Dr. Daniel Amen, from Amen Clinics).

For those who are new here, my name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring awareness, ideas and strategies to our most pressing issues facing educators in the workplace, or parents working from home or in the corporate space, to keep us all working at our highest levels of productivity. The goal is to bring the most current brain research and practical neuroscience, connected to our social and emotional skills, to take our results to the next level.

After quoting Dr. Daniel Amen, (one of the most well-known psychiatrists and brain disorder specialists) from Amen Clinics, for most of the episodes I have done on this podcast, and after interviewing Dr. Shane Creado, episode #72 on “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes”[ii] one of the sleep doctors who works out of his Chicago clinic, and his daughter, Chloe Amen on episode #11 on the book that she helped Daniel to revise called “Change Your Brain, Change Your Grades.”[iii] I wondered what I would learn about my current and future health, by doing a brain imaging scan from Daniel’s  Clinics. I took the online course Dr. Amen and Tana (his wife) did this Spring called “The End of Mental Illness”[iv] to continue learning more about brain health, and the prize they were offering was a FREE brain scan. This was the first time I even thought about getting my own brain scanned, so I took the class, completed all of the work required for the contest, but didn’t win. I forgot about it until I interviewed Dr. Shane Creado, on episode #72 and I started to see how important sleep was for our brain health. It was Dr. Creado who suggested I contact Amen Clinics and set up a SPECT scan to take a look and see what is going on and he could offer more targeted tips for me based on what he sees.

Dr. Amen always says, “How do you know, if you don’t look?” So of course, I’m schedule to get a SPECT image scan of my brain next week, and my husband is coming along with me so we can both learn ways that we can look at the current state of our brain health, with the goal of optimizing our brain and future. I’m not sure what we will learn, but I thought a good first step would be to speak with Doug Sutton and learn first-hand from his brain scan experience what he learned, and how it not only impacted, but changed his life. Sit back, take some notes, and if you have ever thought about getting a brain scan, I’m sure you will be convinced after this episode.

Welcome Doug! Thank you so much for writing back so quickly about this. I know it’s been quite some time since we hung out through the seminars, but thank goodness for social media, we can reach out and connect as if no time has passed. Before we get into the questions, I’d love to know how everything is going for you these days. When we were speaking, you told me that you had a client that would be a great match for this podcast [v] and they were. I am definitely going to reach out to them for an interview. What work do you do?

Q1: Doug, can you share what brought you to even consider going to get a brain scan? I know that you mention in your testimonial video that you were experiencing brain fog, and lower energy levels, but how did “contact Amen clinics for a SPECT scan” even enter your mind?

Q2: I know that you had symptoms that led you to wanting to “look at your brain” but many people can use this opportunity to optimize their health since I know there is so much they can see about a person just from looking at their brain. I know Dr. Amen scanned Tana Amen’s brain when they were in the early stages of dating and he could see that a car accident she walked away from had an impact on her brain. Were you afraid of what they would find?

Q3: What was the most noticeable thing they found out about your brain?

Q4: What did you do differently AFTER you saw your results?

Q5: What brain health habits did you keep after this experience and was there anything you stopped doing that you think you should go back to doing now we are talking about it?


Q6: Is there anything important that you want to add that you think we might have missed?

Thank you so much Doug, for sharing your SPECT imaging story. I know that there are many people out there who are thinking about doing this, but don’t know where to begin, whether they are like you are have symptoms, or like me, and just want to take their health to another level.  I’m excited to learn more ways to optimize my brain, but also nervous about what they will find. If anyone wants to learn more about a brain scan at Amen Clinics, they can go to

If anyone wants to learn more about you, and the work you are doing, they can go to Thanks Doug.



Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio Podcast


Amen Clinics Locations



[i] Doug Sutton Testimonial from Amen Clinics 

[ii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #72 with Dr. Shane Creado on “Sleep Peak Performance for Athletes.”

[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #11 with Chloe Amen on “

[iv] Dr. Daniel and Tana Amen’s End of Mental Illness 6 Week Brain Challenge Class


Critical Thinking and the Brain with Andrea Samadi

Critical Thinking and the Brain with Andrea Samadi

August 17, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #81. This episode was inspired by someone I grew up with, Alex, who sent me a DM on social media this week asking me “do you have anything I can use to help my team to learn, develop and improve their critical thinking skills?”  Since “thinking” is such an important skill, originating in the cortex, or top layer of the brain, I thought it would be a good topic to cover this week. Alex, this one is for you.

For those who are new here, my name is Andrea Samadi,  a former educator who created this podcast to bring awareness, ideas and strategies to our most pressing issues  facing educators in the workplace, or parents working from home or in the corporate space, to keep us all working at our highest levels of productivity. Each episode we provide you with specific tools, resources and ideas to implement proven strategies backed by the most current neuroscience research to help you to help improve daily productivity, achievement and results.

This week we are looking at thinking, specifically what we can do to improve our thinking skills. Have you recently heard yourself or someone else, say “I’m so busy, I can barely think?” or have you ever told your kids to be quiet so you can “think?” I’ve heard it and said it myself more so these days than usual, as our schedules just seem to be getting busier and busier each month with the new events unfolding in the world, with the fact that many children are going back to school “distance learning” at home, while parents are working, (and we all remember how that went in the Spring) so many of us are finding it difficult to “think, focus and concentrate” under these new conditions that require us to put in a bit more effort than we might have been used to in the past. I hope you find these strategies on thinking as helpful as I have and find ways to implement just one or two of them, to make life flow easier all of us as we move into the final half of 2020.

Thinking and the Brain

Before we look at strategies to improve our thinking skills, I want to dive deeper into what exactly thinking is as it happens in the brain. When you are thinking, your neurons (86 billion of them) are shooting messages back and forth. This firing of neurons uses “2/3 of your brain’s energy”[i]  and “is powered by a molecule called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate if you can remember that from 9th grade Science class) which is generated by the mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell) which burns glucose” that gives us the energy we need to think.

This means that our brain runs on this simple sugar, and if we are low on this fuel, it’s harder for the brain to work.  So, we must remember to eat, to provide the fuel our brain needs to think, and rest. But eating and rest are only a part of the solution. There’s much more that we can do to optimize the power of our thinking brain.

We have mentioned in previous episodes (#23 Understanding the Difference Between Your Mind and Your Brain)[ii] about ways we can strengthen our brain and thinking with the power of “the unfocused” mind.  In previous episodes, we did hear this point mentioned by some of the top thinkers in the world. Bob Proctor, on episode #66[iii] mentioned this fact when he pointed out that at the beginning of Earl Nightingale’s “The Strangest Secret” program, Earl talks about the famous Nobel Prize Winner Dr. Albert Schweitzer who recalled being asked by a reporter “what’s wrong with man today?” and Dr. Schweitzer thought about it for a minute, and then answered “They simply don’t think” which makes sense to me, because I know that life runs smoother when I can take the time I need to think.

Eric Jensen also talked about the power of taking breaks in relation to learning in episode #79 when he said he asked Dr. Terry Sejnowskji, a leading scientist from the Salk Institute who co-authored the book called Learning How to Learn.[iv]  Eric asked Dr. Sejnowski about the best way to help students form long term memories with what they are learning, and he replied “10 minutes of instruction, and then go take a walk and stop your brain from processing.” The brain requires time to consolidate the information that comes into it, or we will get into what we all know to be information overload, where nothing that we are learning, or taking in, will be retained.

I mentioned that we have covered tips to strengthen our brain and cognition (the mental action of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience and the senses) in episode #23, but let’s review them.

How to Strengthen Your Brain and Cognition:

  1. Take brief relaxation breaks to maintain focus and improve your ability to think and problem solve. We must find a way to relax our brain and body. It’s during these “resting states” that remarkable activity takes place, allowing the brain to creatively solve problems. Dr. Srini Pillay, an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, (who I am working really hard to get on as a guest) wrote a book about the importance of this resting period in his book, Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: that is about unlocking the power of the unfocused mind[v]. In this book Pillay explains that too much focus depletes your brain of glucose and depletes you. We just spoke about the importance of glucose as energy to keep our brain running optimally, so we must think of ways to conserve our energy. Pillay believes in the fact that it is as equally important to have strategies for purposeful focusing, in addition to unfocusing our minds to improve resourcefulness, creativity, optimism and well-being. When you can build unfocused time into your day, it will allow you to make better decisions, and will give you more energy.
  2. Be mindful of ways to eliminate decision fatigue, allowing those times for your mind to become unfocused. Remember that Einstein discovered his Theory of Relativity by using his intuition, and then used logic to explain it. This unfocused time can take you to places and insights where focus cannot. We’ve all heard of strategies used by the most successful thinkers in the world, designed around eliminating decision fatigue. Steve Jobs became famous for cutting down the number of decisions he had to make every day by wearing the same clothes each day. Since we typically make 35,000 decisions[vi] every day, so a simple way to conserve brain power is to cut down on the number of decisions you need to make. You can do this by choosing the same foods to eat at breakfast and lunch, or by getting the same outfit that you like to wear, in different colors. When you create routines like this for yourself, it will prevent life’s daily distractions (they are always going to be there) from zapping the energy that you can use somewhere else.
  3. Improve the circuits of your brain by learning to look within for answers. In his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation[vii] Dan Siegel (episode #28) [viii]shares that teachers introduced to a concept called “mindsight or the ability to focus on the inner life of their student or child” teach with the brain in mind and are reaching students in deeper and more lasting ways.” The research shows that developing the ability to make sense of your own life and past experiences, translates into the development of your students and children. This self-awareness also creates a sense of peace and understanding with your own life, allowing more energy to be funneled towards what’s important for you in the present and future, instead of spending time worrying about what we cannot change from our past.

 Once you learn to implement these energy saving strategies as habits, you will have more space available to think. You can then take your thinking to the next level. When I received the message on social media last week from my friend asking “What do you have on improving someone’s critical thinking skills” I immediately thought of episode #12 on Responsible Decision-Making, but when I looked at it, there was something missing. It was missing the fact that it’s really difficult to think or make decisions the way the world is today, without some serious introspection. Once we can take the time to step away, and give our brain some time to rest, thinking and decision-making will be much easier.

Improve Your Decision-Making Muscles in the Workplace:

Even though adults have a fully developed prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that makes decisions, we still need a process to follow to ensure we are making effective and smart decisions that yield the results we are looking for. Go back to EPISODE #12 on Responsible Decision-Making for review.[ix] Remember that to make an effective decision, you must first learn how to think, and we have covered tips on how to relax and save energy to maximize our ability to think.  The process of thinking is carried out by the executive functions in your brain (in your prefrontal cortex): functions like planning, implementing, monitoring, and making adjustments to overcome problems are all involved with our ability to think. 

When working on a goal, or solving a problem, here are four simple steps you can use that eventually will become habitual and will increase your performance for decision-making.[x]

Start your decision-making process with these 4 Steps:

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

When you are able to implement the energy saving strategies of taking unfocused breaks to allow for more creativity to flow, or adding in some new strategies to eliminate decision-fatigue, or becoming confident in your abilities as you search for answers from within, your ability to make quick and certain decisions will improve. You will create reservoirs of energy that you can access on a daily basis, so that when decision-making, or problem solving comes up, you will be prepared mentally and physically to go quickly through the 4-step process, making sounder and more steadfast decisions while solving problems.

But it all began with the understanding of what the brain needs to run efficiently. If you do not allow for the rest it needs, or the proper fuel, you will notice that “thinking” is the hardest work in the world. Remember—the brain is involved in everything that we do, and everything that we are, so we must tie this into our daily decision-making process to optimize our future behavior and results.

See you next week.


[i] This is How Your Brain Powers Your Thoughts YouTube Published April 9, 2017


[ii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #23 “Understanding the Difference Between the Mind and the Brain”


[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #66 with the Legendary Bob Proctor (41:00)


[iv] Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski (August 2018)


[v] Dr. Srini Pillay Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try: Unlock the Power of the Unfocused Mind


[vi] Why Successful People Wear the Same Thing Every Day by Craig Bloem Feb. 20, 2018


[vii] Mindsight: The New Science of Transformation Dr. Dan Siegel


[viii] Neuroscience Meets SEL EPISODE #28 with Dr. Daniel Siegel on “Mindsight”


[ix] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #12 “Responsible Decision-Making Begins with Understanding Your Brain Health” with Andrea Samadi


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


Harvard’s Samantha Wettje on “Mitigating the Negative Effects of ACES” with her 16 Strong Project.

Harvard’s Samantha Wettje on “Mitigating the Negative Effects of ACES” with her 16 Strong Project.

August 12, 2020

Welcome back, we have reached episode #80 on the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast. You can watch this interview on YouTube here. 


My name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience and educational research, matched with social and emotional skills, with interviews from experts from all different fields, to bring awareness, ideas and strategies to our most pressing issues that we are facing, as educators, or parents, to keep all of us working at our highest levels of productivity. I’ve been interested in understanding why some people reach such high levels of achievement, and others don’t…since the late 1990s, and recent discoveries in neuroscience has accelerated our understanding of this.  I do appreciate the feedback I’ve received through social media. It helps me to know that these topics are helping to bring some new thoughts, ideas and hope when times have never been so uncertain.


Today we have Samantha Wettje, the Founder of the 16Strong Project[i], created in 2018 at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  If you are in the field of education, you will have heard of the importance of understanding ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences that we did touch on with our last episode) and our next guest is on a serious mission to help our next generation of learners recognize and navigate the challenges they might be facing as a result of ACES in their life.


When I received an email from one of Samantha’s colleagues about her 16Strong Project, I remember exactly where I was, because it really is true that when you attach emotion to a memory, it’s something you don’t ever forget. When I read that Samantha had created this project in response to her experience of living with a mentally ill and addicted parent, I literally stopped what I was doing to read more. Is all I needed to see in the email was ACES[ii], (that we just spoke about with Eric Jensen on Episode #79[iii],  Harvard and Project…and I was writing an email back to find a time that we could speak so I could learn more about the 16Strong Project, and here we are.


Welcome Samantha, it truly is an honor to speak with you today. I do hope that we can use this platform to help more people learn about this incredible initiative you have created in response to one of the largest problems facing young people today.


Q1: Can you give some background as to why you started the 16Strong Project, and what does 16 Strong mean to you?


Q2: I felt connected to this project BEFORE we spoke on the phone because I had been thinking for quite some time that I needed to find someone that I could speak to on this podcast who had defied the odds that we hear associated with ACES. It’s not an easy topic to bring up with someone, so it was just an idea circled on chart paper on my wall. Find someone to talk about ACES. Eric Jensen opened the conversation in EPISODE #79, giving a brief overview of what ACES are, and the fact that a higher score predicts later life adversity. I know when you are launching a project, it might seem like the project is important to you but will the rest of the world agree. How did my response to your email give you more awareness about the importance and urgency of the 16Strong Project?


Q3: I follow the work of Dr. Daniel Amen[iv], probably one of the most famous psychiatrists and brain disorder specialists in the country. He has been working with Justin Bieber on his brain health, (he likes to call mental health brain health since when our brain works right, we work right—so his work is all around keeping our brain healthy). Something I found interesting from his work is that it is being “normal” is a myth. He says that “51% of us will have a mental health issue in our lifetime”[v] (post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, eating disorder) just to name a few that are the most common issues he sees young people for. I know how important this topic is to him, so I do want to share your project with him (he dedicated his End of Mental Illness[vi] book to his nieces Alize and Amelie who had a difficult upbringing and within the dedication to his book he says “Your history is not your destiny. Let’s end mental illness with your generation.”  What is different about your program from other youth mental health programs you have seen so I can continue to share your work with others who might also like to help bring more awareness to what you are doing? 


Q4: I had a chance to read through your website and some of the stories written by students about their personal experience growing with these ACES in their life. I only had ONE ACE growing up, and that was painful enough as a kid. They do say that “to name it, is to tame it” so I can see why these stories would help young people to not just bury the emotions they have connected to what they are feeling. As an adult, these stories were eye openers for me to see how some of these ACES impact young people, especially when you put 2 or more ACES together (like the impacts of drug and alcohol use on a child) it was one of the most painful things I’ve read. Can you explain more about your Every Voice Heard School Initiative[vii] and the awareness you are looking to create with this? How can teachers contact you about this to share a student’s story?



Q5: For anyone listening who is familiar with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, they would know of Professor Stephanie Jones[viii] and her EASEL Lab.[ix] I was sent her “Navigating SEL from the Inside Out[x]” report from a respected colleague who wanted to be sure I had read it. (all 349 pages of it). Can you give an overview of Professor Stephanie Jones’ EASEL Lab, and the work you are currently doing with her now?


Q6: Tell me about your Youth Advisory Board[xi] and who you are looking for with this?


Q7: What do your workshops look like?


Q8: What is your vision for the 16 Strong Project and the legacy that you would like to create with our next generation of students?


Thank you so much for taking the time to share this incredible, timely and important project. For those who want to learn more about your workshops, they can go to your programs page at to learn more.  Wishing you the best of luck with this project that I know is important and needed, especially in our world today.  




What’s Your ACE SCORE?






[ii] Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences


[iii] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episode #79 with Author Eric Jensen on “”Strategies for Reversing the Impact of Poverty and Stress on Student Learning”


[iv] Dr Daniel Amen


[v] Dr. Daniel Amen, Thrive by 25 Online Course


[vi] Dr. Daniel Amen, The End of Mental Illness


[vii] Every Voice Heard Schools Initiative


[viii] Stephanie Jones, Harvard Graduate School of Education.


[ix] EASEL Lab


[x] Navigating SEL from the Inside Out: Looking Inside and Across 25 Leading SEL Programs.


[xi] Learn more about 16 Strong Youth Advisory Board

Brain-Based Learning Author Eric Jensen on “Strategies for Reversing the Impact of Poverty and Stress on Student Learning”

Brain-Based Learning Author Eric Jensen on “Strategies for Reversing the Impact of Poverty and Stress on Student Learning”

August 10, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #79 with Eric Jensen, a leading authority on the science and applications of brain research in education for more than 20 years. Watch the interview on YouTube here. 


For those who are new here, my name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience and educational research, matched with social and emotional skills, with interviews from experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, to take your results to the next level.

Thank you so much Eric, for coming on this podcast today.  Where have I reached you?

Just to give some background of Eric Jensen and his work:

Dr. Eric Jensen is a former teacher and Top 30 Global Guru. He co-founded an academic enrichment program, held in 16 countries with over 85,000 graduates. Jensen has authored over 30 books[i] including 3 bestsellers with his 2 most recent being Brain-Based Learning (in its 3rd edition)[ii] and Poor Students Rich Teaching[iii]. He is also member of the invitation-only Society for Neuroscience.[iv]

Eric, I know that your background has been focused around students and poverty, and how poverty impacts the brain and learning, specifically as it relates to trauma and stress. While our stress levels seem to keep jumping up to new levels each month as new stressors arise, we’ve got it handled here, as we have both parents working together with our children. I can’t help but think of those families who don’t have the resources or support that they need and would like to hear your thoughts of solutions that teachers and families could be looking at to better support students at this critical time in our world.

Q1: Can we start off with a brief overview of what stress does to the brain, specifically when we are trying to learn (if we are a student) or complete our work (if we are in the corporate space) as well as to think about the dangers of emotion contagion. What can we do these days to prevent stress from wreaking havoc on our lives, and improve our resiliency with a mind/body integration?

Q2: Right now, it’s such an odd time in the world with this global pandemic, but this podcast audience reaches into over 110 countries, and I know that the tips you have for us in the US, will be relevant to those around the world. Can we talk about the topic that I know you focused on with your doctoral dissertation, the fact that 1/5 children grow up in poverty? How does poverty impact a child’s brain?

Q3: I mentioned in the beginning, that many children are preparing to go back to school (at least virtually in my State) this week, and I did just interview authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey on their book about Distance Learning which provided some great suggestions for transitioning to 100% online learning. I still can’t help thinking of low-income families, and how they are coping. Our stress levels are high here as we are adapting to our new schedules, creating new workspaces, (suddenly we realized I need to buy 2 new desks with chairs) new routines, and expectations. What support or words of encouragement would you have for teachers serving low income students who might not have everything they need and their parents as we transition back to school virtually?

Q4: How does exposure to stressors in the home (that we’ve heard of from children with ACES—Adverse Childhood Experiences) influence a child’s working memory? What strategies do you have to teach students with poverty in mind to help students with impulse regulation, visual/spatial skills, language skills, cognitive skills, social and emotional skills and conflict resolution?

Q5: I heard you say that “our DNA is not our destiny” and I just loved hearing this because we don’t choose our parents.  Next week I’m speaking with the Founder of the 16 Strong Project, created out of Harvard’s Grad School of Education to show other young people that ACES can be mitigated. In your 20 years of working with schools, and students, with a focus on low income students, what success stories have you seen where students were able to change their brains for the better? How do you think they did this?

Q6: What are your final thoughts, or advice to teachers who are looking for new strategies to engage students in effective teaching this fall and upcoming year?

Thank you so much Eric, for taking the time to speak with me. If anyone wants to learn more about your books, and programs/workshops for schools, they can go to or find you @EricJensenBrain on Twitter. Thanks so much.


Eric’s Books

His books include, Teaching with Poverty in Mind[v], Tools for Engagement,[vi] Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind[vii], Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain[viii], Poor Students, Rich Teaching[ix] and Different Brains, Different Learners.[x]


Kaiser Permanente ACE Study

Dr. Lionel Allen, Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, IL

Dr. Terrence Sejnowski

Learning How to Learn by Barbara Oakley, Terrence Sejnowski and Alistair McConville (August 2018)



[ii] Brain-Based Learning by Eric Jensen

[iii] Poor Students, Rich Teaching by Eric Jensen

[iv] Society for Neuroscience

[v] Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen

[vi] Tools for Engagement by Eric Jensen

[vii] Engaging Students with Poverty in Mind

[viii] Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain by Eric Jensen

[ix] Poor Students, Rich Teaching by Eric Jensen

[x] Different Brains, Different Learners by Eric Jensen


Award Winning Author David A. Sousa on “How the Brain Learns”

Award Winning Author David A. Sousa on “How the Brain Learns”

August 7, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #78 with David A. Sousa, an international educational consultant and author of more than 16 books that suggest ways that educators and parents can translate current brain research into strategies to improve learning. Watch the interview on YouTube here. 

It was David Sousa’s How the Brain Learns book Series[i]  that is now in its 4th Edition (that includes How the Brain Learns, How the Brain Learns to Read, How the Gifted Brain Learns, and How the Special Needs Brain Learns) that I was given by an educator when I was urged to add the most current brain research to my programs. When reading this series, I was told from other respected colleagues that this book series is one that every educator should read. It also helped me as a parent of a struggling reader to understand how my own child learns to read and gave me more understanding and patience to help put into practice some of the secrets for accelerating literacy that I will share throughout this interview.

I also discovered How the ELL Brain Learns[ii]  that helped me to create a webinar for an educational publisher called “Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy and Achievement”[iii] and there’s also Differentiation and the Brain and How the Brain Learns Mathematics. The Leadership Brain suggests ways for educators to lead more effectively in today’s schools.

He also has a book for educators, Engaging the Rewired Brain that examines how technology changes the way students' brains function and how educators can adapt instruction to keep students motivated and The Power of Student Teams[iv]: Achieving Social, Emotional and Cognitive Learning in Every Classroom Through Academic Teaming[v] that describes a path to predictable success for every student, in every classroom, in every school—all backed by student data, neuroscience research, and experiences from superintendents, school leaders, teachers, and students who have made the shift, teaching through the power of student teams. 

David is a member of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society[vi], has conducted workshops in hundreds of school districts on brain research, instructional skills and science education at the K-12 to University levels.

Welcome David, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. It feels surreal after studying your books for the past 6 years.

Q1: David, I really don’t think that I would have understood how the brain learns, enough to teach it to others without your How the Brain Learns Series that I was given 6 years ago, but at first, it wasn’t like I read the books and understood the workings of the brain instantly. I was a bit intimidated by the memory charts and thought that understanding this topic might a bit over my head without a degree in neuroscience. I was lucky to have a neuroscience researcher to help me with my questions, and with time, I really started to understand this fascinating organ that I had never really thought of before.  Can you go back a bit to BEFORE you wrote these books and share where this series originated from, in addition, how did you take into consideration that many people, like me, at first glance, might be afraid of the complexity of this topic?

Q2: I love how each book starts with a practitioner’s corner, assessing your current knowledge of reading, or myths about giftedness, or the special needs brain, to bring out some important differences with how the brain learns to read. Can you explain what happens (in the brain) when a child is learning how to read, and perhaps some of the secrets that we can look for to accelerate reading, like “how quickly and successfully the brain learns to read is greatly influenced by the student’s ability to speak?” and how is the Gifted Brain Different than the Special Needs Brain, or the ELL Brain when it’s learning to read?

Q3: We’ve all heard the statistics about the importance of reading proficiency by 3rd grade.

  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
  • Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  • 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read.
  • Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.

I’ve got a struggling reader, going into 4th grade this year, and we’ve been on top of her reading, but can you explain how a child can get behind with reading (what happens that one child can read easily and another child finds it really difficult) and what do you suggest parents, teachers do to stay on top of a child who is struggling to read, so they don’t become one of these statistics?

Q4: Can you explain how we can build a child’s vocabulary or “mental lexicon of spoken vocabulary” and how the brain “stores clusters of closely associated words in tightly packed networks?”  This idea really helped me when working with my daughter and her reading, as I could see words that she didn’t have in her mental lexicon giving her trouble, (I was picturing the word cluster map that you had in your book, with the new word not connecting to the words she knew) until it was eventually added and she could read the new word fluently.

Q5: Can you share the concept that you and Michael Toth write about in The Power of Student Teams,[vii] where you show how student-led academic teaming elevates core instruction to a level of rigor far beyond that of traditional classrooms and familiar grouping strategies? What is the main idea of this book, and how is it empowering students and teachers in the classroom?

Q6: How can a student improve their learning and increase their confidence levels with an understanding of how their brain works? Why do you think it is so important for teachers, parents, and anyone else to understand how their brain works?

Q7: What are some myths that you think are still out there that we should all be aware of?

Q8: Is there anything important that I might have missed? Maybe from your books that we haven’t mentioned?

Thank you so much for taking to time to speak with me today. If anyone wants to find your books, I have put links to them in the show notes. Thank you for creating these books to help parents, like me, educators and students all over the world to understand how their brains work, to improve our results at school, home or the workplace.

Q9: David surprises Andrea with a question: What would you like to know about the brain that I can help you with? Andrea asks, “Why are some habits more difficult to break than others?”


Dr. Madelaine Hunter

Brain Tools Podcast with Samuel Holston “Your everyday addictions and neuroscience.”


[i] How the Brain Learns by David A. Sousa

[ii] How the ELL Brain Learns by David A Sousa

[iii]“Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy and Achievement” by Andrea Samadi for Voyager Sopris Learning

[iv] RECENT AWARD from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association

[v]The Power of Student Teams: Achieving Social, Emotional and Cognitive Learning in Every Classroom Through Academic Teaming

[vi] Cognitive Neuroscience Society

[vii] The Power of Student Led Teams: Achieving Social, Emotional and Cognitive Learning in Every Classroom Through Academic Teaming


University Professors and Authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey on “Developing and Delivering High Quality Distance Learning for Students.”

University Professors and Authors Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey on “Developing and Delivering High Quality Distance Learning for Students.”

August 4, 2020

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning podcast, episode #77 with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, who are both professors at San Diego State University in Educational Leadership where they focus on policies and practices in literacy and school leadership. Watch the interview on YouTube here.


For those who are new here, my name is Andrea Samadi,  I’m a former educator who created this podcast to bring the most current neuroscience and educational research, matched with social and emotional skills, with interviews from experts who have risen to the top of their field with specific strategies or ideas that you can implement immediately, to take your results to the next level. My vision is to bring the experts to you, share their books, resources and ideas to help you to implement their proven strategies, whether you are a teacher working in the classroom or online, a student, or parent working in the corporate space.


Welcome Doug and Nancy, it’s wonderful to meet you after enjoying your books for the past few days.


Doug and Nancy are also both teacher leaders at Health Sciences High & Middle College, an award-winning open-enrollment public school in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego that they co-founded in 2007. For over 2 decades, they have dedicated their work to the knowledge and skills teachers and school leaders need to help students attain their goals. Their shared interests include instructional design, curriculum development, and professional learning. Doug and Nancy have co-authored numerous articles and books on literacy, and leadership that I’ve included links to in the show notes, including: This is Balanced Literacy,[i] The Teacher Clarity Playbook, PLC+,[ii] All Learning is Social & Emotional[iii], The Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy Playbook,[iv] and most recently The Distance Learning Playbook[v] with co-author John Hattie[vi]. 

  1. I couldn’t start this podcast, without acknowledging John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research[vii] and the fact that he is the co-author of your Distance Learning Playbook. I 100% agree with the write-up I saw in your book that says “The pandemic teaching of mid 2020 was not distance learning but rather crisis teaching.” But starting now, teachers have the opportunity to prepare for distance learning with purpose and intent.”[viii] I’d love to learn how the idea of The Distance Learning Playbook came about and why it was important for you to include John Hattie as your co-author. (Discuss the playbook style of PD book and about John’s Visible Learning research).
  2. My next question for you ties into our last podcast, episode #76 with Michael Horn on “Using a Positive Lens to Explore Change and the Future of Education”[ix] where he spoke about the importance of embracing technology as an important component of our future, and the article you wrote for on “4 Steps for Powerful Distance Learning Experiences”[x]  ties right into this topic. This morning I had both my girls go “back to school” online and I was grateful that I felt a bit more prepared for this after getting ready for this interview and reading that article. Could you outline these 4 steps as many schools and families are like me, in the beginning stages of going back to school, with distance learning being the platform to launch the school year, before students transition to in person learning?
  3. Because this podcast focuses on social emotional learning, I’d love to dig a little deeper into the concept of the all-important teacher-student relationship. I know that building relationships is one of John Hattie’s teaching effects from one of our earlier episodes, #7 with Assistant Superintendent Greg Wolcott, who wrote his book Significant 72 based on the importance of student-teacher relationships.[xi]  What type of impact do those relationships have on student learning and how do teachers build those relationships from a distance?
  4. Tying in closely with the teacher-student relationship is a concept you call Teacher Credibility. In fact, one of your other playbooks is titled Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy.[xii] However, in the distance learning playbook, you focus on how to build that credibility at a distance. Can teachers really do that when they’re not in the same room with their students?
  5. I noticed Module 1 of your Distance Learning book is titled “Take Care of Yourself” referring to teachers/educators taking care of themselves first. I really appreciate that you put this as Module 1. Can you tell me about why self-care is at the front and center in your playbook and tie in the fact that All Learning is Social and Emotional and that as parents, and educators, the need to take care of ourselves before we reach out and help our children or students?[xiii]
  6. I know you’re both big proponents of Teacher Clarity and how that clarity has the potential to accelerate student learning.  You’ve identified 3 questions that contribute to teacher clarity. Can you briefly cover those and how they apply to distance learning?
  7. Lastly, and tying back to social emotional learning, in your playbook you discuss the socioemotional links to feedback. Tell us about the importance of a classroom climate (be it physical or virtual) where errors are celebrated and expected and how that plays into feedback.
  8. What are your final thoughts to tie everything in together on the future of education?


Thank you so much for taking the time to share your work and powerful vision for education. If someone wants to learn more about you, is the best way and they can find you both on twitter Nancy is @NancyFrey and Douglas is @DFisherSDSU


Also, Corwin Press is also offering a 30% discount plus free shipping through the end of August on all books and I will have the link for your Distance Learning Playbook[xiv] in the show notes.







[iii] All Learning is Social and Emotional




[v] 30% off all books at Corwin Press though the month of August 2020


[vi] John Hattie


[vii] John Hattie


[viii] The Distance Learning Playbook


[ix]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #76 with Michael Horn on “Using a Positive Lens to Explore Change and the Future of Education”


[x] “4 Steps for Powerful Distance Learning Experiences.” For Smartbrief by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, July 16, 2020.



[xi] Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast EPISODE #7 with Greg Wolcott


[xii]Teacher Credibility and Collective Efficacy


[xiii] All Learning is Social and Emotional


[xiv] 30% off all books at Corwin Press though the month of August 2020

Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App