It is all about the environment. The classroom, the teacher, the students and the atmosphere – matters. We are connected. Our ability to perform in a learning space is determined by the environment and our ability to ‘unmask’ ourselves.
“Our ability to perform in a learning space is determined by the environment.”Gavin Keller
The brain is designed to respond to experience and feedback. Because our brains have a high level of neuroplasticity, they are able to quickly adjust and fit the environment.
What happens when we mask?
Well, we should all be experts after over two years of being masked. The dictionary describes it as preventing something from being seen or noticed. It’s like a veil. It covers what is really happening. Too often we make a snap decision based on our many years of experience with students, but the behaviour actually is masking the underlying cause of hurt.
Being misunderstood is one of the greatest causes of human suffering. Trying to convince someone in authority that they have misunderstood you is well nigh impossible unless the relationship has been designed by the authoritative figure to enable agency for the student. When this happens in the classroom it breaks the learning process. Learning is broken.
Girls are diagnosed with autism much later in life because they have a huge advantage in socio-emotional behaviours. According to the OECD Report on Early Childhood Development, girls outperform boys in Empathy, Trust, all Prosocial skills and Self-regulation.
“…girls outperform boys in Empathy, Trust, all Prosocial skills and Self-regulation.”OECD – Early Childhood Development
As a result of this innate social-emotional ability they can mask and camouflage their challenges. This leads to increased states of high alert stress in women and in men who manage to mask it, to increased levels of depression (Lai et al., 2017)
We also see this masking with children who are extremely verbal. Their impressive verbal capacity is referred to as “stealth dyslexia” (Eide & Eide, 2012).
So too are double masked children. These children are described by the class teachers as being extremely gifted in their mastery of the work at school, but parents report exceptional levels of anxiety and distress at home.
Masking happens in our Executive Function. If you are a regular reader of the Keller Education Blog or attend the Keller ‘Marketing Webinars’ you will know the three characters who make up our Executive Function.
When it comes to behaviour the mantra is always: “He would if he could!”
When it comes to academic challenges the mantra is always: What looks like “won’t” is most likely “can’t”!
The role of Inhibitory Control, the Executive Function with the Signboard, is called A STOP.
It deals with Attention, Self-Control, Regulation (being able to STOP), Time Management, Organisation and Prioritisation. When work is not handed in on time, resist the ancient temptation to react with threats of extra time at school, deduction of marks, threats of punishment etc. Unmask!
Unmasking always follows relationship. If you really know your students, you will know their challenges and their strengths and you will loan your Executive Function to them during this season. Remember, the pre-frontal cortex, the home of our executive Function is only fully matured at around 20 years of age.
If the problem is getting a vast amount of data through to the Working Memory – which can only process 4-6 bits per second while the sensory system is blasting over 12 million bits per second at the same time – then back off and create another route where the data can be processed in a way that suits the child’s particular personality and learning profile.
If the challenge is lack of trust, empathy, taking turns, Thinking out the box, lack of gratitude, lack of kindness – this all resides in Cognitive flexibility.
Unmasking in Action
After reading up on this topic, we introduced four Safety Ear Protectors in each class. They were neatly hung on hooks on the wall and students could collect one when required.
To our shock and horror, they were used in every lesson and the teachers requested more. Irrespective of whether the class was boisterous by nature or by teacher, 32 students in a class create enough disturbances to affect the effectiveness of our Working Memory.
The most dangerous aspect about masking is the fact that it takes a damaging toll on the students’ emotional lives and their relationship with their families. In schools where teachers are prepared to be burnt at the stake in order to retain Homework (perhaps they should), our failure to UNMASK the issues causes a high level of accumulated lost learning opportunities, fear, resentment and deep stress. When this happens, students feel hopeless and mental illness is exacerbated. The impact is life long and potentially disastrous (Blaas 2014).
According to Cohen, Kamarck and Mermelstein, 1983), stress from mild to traumatic alters a person’s attention and influences their perception. The result is that because of the high level of stress your capacity is not able to be demonstrated. What is in store for you is unable to be released. A moat forms around the brain. When our sensory and emotional perceptions register low because of this moat, people have difficulty being self motivated, battle to keep up with group activities and may react inappropriately.
Let’s avoid the dramatic negative effects of masking, by unmasking our students. The only way to do that is through relationship.
Top Canadian professor of Neuroscience, Dr Adele Diamond, believes that the activities that children need most at school have been cut. Children are not thriving. When we dance, play sport, put on shows, visit farms, walk on the beach – everyone of these examples requires Executive Functions Planning, Cognitive flexibility to respond to unexpected challenges or difficulties, perseverance in the face of setbacks and creative problem solving.
These activities also make us happy and proud and address our social needs and most importantly, help our bodies to develop.
Let’s make this happen in our schools.