Teaching the most important subject to students: A secondary schools approach to student wellbeing in 2016-17

What is the most important subject we should be teaching our students? After speaking to many friends in the UK and UAE they would probably all agree that their schools would argue that Maths and English are the most important subjects to teach. Certainly our own government would agree that Maths and English are also the two subjects that schools must focus on above any other subject. Following some concerns I have recently had with the ‘teach to test’ culture that is clearly in many of our schools and the massive focus on Maths and English that there is, I decided to email the government’s department for education. I was keen to hear if they thought there was a teach to test culture and if the government might consider other curriculums like the International Baccalaureate for example (I have some experience of this from teaching in Abu Dhabi). As you can see in the screenshot of their response below they did not deny that there is a teach to test culture and explained that it allows students to succeed beyond school. As a parent and a teacher of 10 years I do not feel that focusing so much on Maths and English is the best way to prepare our students for the future, especially when a lot of the jobs they will be going into may not even have been developed yet.

Email response from Department of Education:

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Dr Pasi Sahlberg who is a key figure in Finnish education would certainly agree that focusing on just a few subjects does not give students the holistic approach to education they need (or deserve). When you look at the Finnish approach to education it is refreshing that climbing up the PISA ladder is the last thing they were actually looking to do. Finland’s education is run by education specialists (actual qualified and experienced teachers, can you believe it!) and there is a focus on transferring the cultural heritage, values and aspirations from one generation to another. They have state generated social capital and believe that making students well rounded individuals with a thirst for knowledge and not just a thirst for grades is the best way to develop their society (Nokia would probably agree with that). Professor Guy Claxton also shares the view that developing well rounded individuals is best for them and society. He makes an interesting point about our narrow focus in education in his book ‘Whats The Point in School’ in which he says:

‘The purpose of education is to prepare young people for the future. Schools should be helping young people to develop the capacities they will need to thrive. What they need and want is the confidence to talk to new people, to try new things out, to handel tricky situations, to stand up for themselves, to ask for help, to think new thoughts. That is not too much to ask – it is every young persons basic educational entitlement’.

As an education system we can do far more. When I hear of schools getting rid of some PE lessons for students to do more Maths and English I genuinely scratch my head in amazement. As important as Maths is it is surely not as important as your health? Our narrow exam based curriculum is something that Finland decided against around 40 years ago and they are now thriving. They don’t over test their kids, or give them lots of homework. They don’t start school until they are 7, around the same time students in primary school take their first official tests. They still test students officially but it does not come until much later on. Yet as a nation they can still produce excellent well rounded students who go into a range of careers, even mathematicians and writers. We had a great chance in making a change to our education system when Nicky Morgan was rightly sacked from her role as education secretary. When Justine Greening took charge I was gutted she was once again not a qualified teacher (in fact none of our politicians within education are, see photo below and check their backgrounds) however she seemed more open minded than others that have been in her role. Unfortunately there does not seem to be any talk of moving away from this teach to test culture – instead there seems to be a focus on grammar schools (I am not saying there is anything with Grammar schools but this is not the priority for our education system at the moment).

Our non-teacher leaders of Education:

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To me the most important subject is not Maths or English, its you. Learning to understand yourself through developing self-awareness, emotional intelligence and a set of strong values is far more important than any academic subject and helps to developing a well-rounded student (and no of course I am not saying Maths and English are not important but we should definitely put all subjects on an equal par as Finland do). At my school there is definitely a clear focus on developing well-rounded students. Last year we trialed out a positive education programme. We taught students in year 7 and 8 wellbeing through psychology, neuroscience and philosophy based lessons and introduced value based lesson objectives in PE. It was a huge success! Our wellbeing tests showed over 80% of students wellbeing improved and we were rewarded for our efforts with the ‘Outstanding Sport Award’ from Youth Sport Trust and our programmes helped us win school of the county. We were also invited to the House of Lords to talk about our work. This year we are stepping things up a notch. I will break down our programmes now and be tweeting some of the work we do over the year. If anyone wants to know more please contact me. All the work is also part of my PhD in Psychology:

My schools approach to developing wellbeing (or what I call developing their ‘Emotional Cocoon’) 

There will be weekly positive education lessons for year 7, 8, 9 and a selected group of year 10 and 11 students. All students will take wellbeing tests (EPOCH tests/ Margret Kern) in September, January, April and July, to allow them to track their own wellbeing and set themselves targets. For the second year running we have teamed up with Steve Peters and his team at Chimp Management and designed a 6-week neuroscience programme called ‘neuro-me’. My theory on this is that everything we do starts and ends with the brain so it makes sense to help students understand it. Our brain has been developing for millions of years, its complex and not designed to live in the world we live in (unless you live in an Amazon Tribe!) – therefore we need to understand how it works, especially ‘fight, flight and freeze’ reactions (or over-reactions). Following the first wellbeing test and the 6-week neuroscience programme students then break off into their own specific programmes.

Year 7 – The Characteristics and Virtues programme which is developed by the Jubilee Centre at the University of Birmingham.

Year 8 – A Positive Psychology programme based mainly on the work of Martin Seligman.

Year 9 – The ‘Olympic Mindset’ Programme; something I have developed based on using key sport psychology theories (e.g, NACH v NAF) and teaching them to students. This was inspired after watching the Olympics this year as initially I was going to use another Positive Psychology programme.

Year 10/11 – Follow an edited version of the year 7 programme.

Mindfulness – At the start of all lessons students take part in a 1-3 minute mindfulness session. Here the aim for students is on being able to realign their focus. Check out Mark Williams Mindfulness programme, track 8 is the one we mainly use. We also use diaphragmatic breathing with students.

Mindfulness Meditation Track 8 – The Three Minute … – YouTube

ABC Model – We teach students the ABC Model as developed by Albert Ellis. I wont go into details about this but research it and try it out, it can be life changing for some students and can help prevent irrational thoughts or blowing things out of context.

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Manor Chats – Students in year 7 and 8 also take part in lunch time positive education lessons. Here students take part in what we call ‘Manor Chats’. These are basically mini TED talks in which students present to small groups on a topic of their choice then to the whole year group (great for developing confidence).

My Personal Best – All the work we do in positive education is linked to our work in PE. Students in key stage 3 follow the ‘My Personal Best’ programme, developed by Youth Sport Trust. This is a series of values which students use as learning objectives at the start of each lesson. We may focus on the value of ‘resilience’ but through the smash in badminton. We then bring the students in at the end and discuss how we might use resilience in life.

We feel that not only do these programmes improve wellbeing but also give students some of those key skills that they require to ‘thrive’ in life. It would be great to hear from any teachers who are doing something similar.

Thanks for reading, hope it made sense!

Talking Wellbeing at the House of Lords

Today I had the pleasure of taking at the PE2020 Active Healthy Minds House of Lords reception. The reception was held in order for the Youth Sport Trust (YST) to highlight some of the work their trailblazing schools are doing across Northamptonshire. I spoke about the changes we had made to PE at my school. PE is now PE and Wellbeing and students have their usual practical lessons but also a theory based wellbeing lesson. ‘My Personal Best’, a YST initiative, is at the centre of our key stage 3 practical PE. My personal best is a set of 12 life-skills/values which we use as the lesson focus. For example, in badminton we would focus on the life-skill of resilience and develop this through learning the technique of the smash. The smash is a very technical skill and to get it right takes focus, practice and definitely resilience. At the end of the lesson we would then discuss how students showed resilience whilst developing their smash technique. One of the common answers is that students use positive self-talk to help them overcome barriers and stay resilient. We would then discuss how we might use resilience in other aspects of school and in their current and their future lives.

 

Key stage 3 students also take part in two wellbeing sessions a week in the form of our ‘Positive Education’ lessons. Each year group follow a different programme, for example year 7’s use an adapted version of the ‘Characteristics and Virtues’ programme developed by the Jubilee Centre, University of Birmingham (http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk – they have tons of resources just ask!). At the start of the positive education lesson students come in and take part in either mindfulness (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTCXcxLjNcA) or diaphragmatic breathing. Once they have done this we may talk about being mindful in different lessons during the week or in other aspects of their lives, e.g, having conversations with friends or family (and not being glued to their phones when they are engaging in conversation). After that students will take part in a lesson from the programme, for example recently we have been looking at ‘good sense’ and ‘head over heart’ decision making. In every lesson we also try to link everything back to the brain and how it works. This may sound odd to some people but if you think about it every decision you make starts and ends in the brain. It is an incredible and complex organ (the only organ that can vote!) that often (more than you realise!) works on natural hardwired drives and instincts. The brain is also underdeveloped in adolescents, something I think we forget or do not realise as teachers. Therefore educating students in this area is crucial and it kind of glues everything together. We work closely with Prof Steve Peters (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R-KI1D5NPJs) and his team at Chimp Managemet – well recommended to teachers who really want to give students a life-long skill (they are a great bunch!).

 

Although the talk was very brief, my colleague Carl Brown (who spoke about a programme we run called ‘Get to the Start Line’) and I were received some excellent feedback for the work we had done. What I have explained is only part of what we do and there are other programmes and lessons in place. But why we do it is what is most important – to give students the best opportunity possible to be the best version of themselves that they can be. We are teaching them life-skills which will be vital to them whilst navigating their way through adolescence and into adult-hood. ‘You’ is surely the most important subject to a student and understanding who you are should be a priority (motivated by a moral purpose) for schools to teach.

 

It was interesting to hear what all the other wellbeing projects schools were doing. Unfortunately the frustrating fact is that although many schools do a lot of excellent wellbeing work, it is schools themselves and of no fault of their own, that are part of the wellbeing problem. This is because of exams and the pressure the government puts on schools to get the right grades. Whether it is SATS in primary school, end of topic subject tests, mock exams, GCSE exams or A-Level exams it is putting huge pressure on our young students. When you think about it scientifically we are putting students through highly stressful situations in which their fight or flight response system is being tricked into kicking in and we are doing this over prolonged periods of time – that is simply not healthy for their bodies and counter-intuitive to the wellbeing work many schools are doing. I have seen students display full on ‘grief reaction’ before, during and after tests and exams. Yet whilst the government tries to climb the international education league tables (PISA in particular) exams are not going anywhere. Who knows, maybe we will improve and move up these tables. But at what cost and to who’s benefit? This current level of exam pressure will certainly not improve student wellbeing of which UNICEF ranked the UK 16/29 on a recent wellbeing study. Interestingly, many Scandinavian countries were in the top 10 for wellbeing, with Finland in 4th. Although Finland may have dropped in the most recent PISA rankings, they topped them in 2000, 2003 and 2006 and until recently were still pretty high. Nevertheless they offer a refreshing education system which values true knowledge over frequent standardised testing, teach to test narrow curriculums and all the accountability that goes with it. What is more interesting is the changes that Finland made to their education system came some 40 years ago, they really were ahead of their time. Maybe its time our education took a maverick approach such as Finland.

 

For any change to happen Nicky Morgan must listen to the teachers who are seeing first hand on a daily basis just how much pressure her system is putting on students and how it is turning schools into exam farms. If she listened to what psychologists and neurologists were saying about the effects of exam stress on the brain then maybe she would think about a complete overhaul of standardised testing in our schools. With all the evidence out there she could really go down in history as someone who made a real change to education for the better of the students. Remember teachers are not saying completely get rid of assessment, far from it as this is essential to any education system. But there has to be a better more healthier way than present. Einsteins definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results… So if Nicky Morgan is genuinely interested in improving the wellbeing of our students as she so often says maybe she needs to do something different….

 

 

 

The benefits of educational trips:

At a time when primary school students are taking their SATS and GCSE and A-Level students are preparing for their exams it can be easy for teachers to forget why we do what we do. Of course exams and qualifications are key to our education system but if every teacher thinks back to when they first thought about becoming a teacher I don’t think getting their students top exam results was the most important thing… For many teachers, including myself, the chance to educate students so they could become well-rounded individuals was the key reason to why I went into the profession. Now having taught for 10 years I am unsure that our exam factory take on education is really what’s best for our students… as Nicky Morgan herself said ‘there must be another way’. Unfortunately whilst our government (run by politicians and not educators) are trying to get England up the PISA league tables it is political agendas that drive what we do. As teachers what we can’t do is let that completely get in the way of what we do and why we truly do it.

When I worked at an international private school in Abu Dhabi, UAE I was genuinely taken back with how mature, positive and creative the students were. They were definitely well-rounded individuals. One of the key reasons for their amazing attitudes was clearly down to the fact that they had travelled. I taught students from all over the world. In my tutor group alone I had students from the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Bahrain and Portugal. Students would often talk about their travel experiences, especially after half-term. They also loved listening to others stories. It was clear that these students were able to take another’s perspective and appreciate how others lived. Travel was certainly a huge part of why these students were so confident and simply a pleasure to teach.

I myself love travelling too and think it has given me a great insight and understanding of the world. Out of everywhere I have been too my two most memorable ‘wow’ moments were certainly seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York, USA, for the first time and climbing Mount Rapehu, New Zealand and seeing my first volcano crater. As a teacher I definitely wanted to get involved in organising schools trips and by the end of my NQT year had got the ball rolling.

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Mount Rapehu, New Zealand (2011)

 

As an NQT I worked at a challenging school in Cambridgeshire. I wanted to run a football tour because as a secondary school student at the Deepings School, Lincolnshire we had always gone on tour and they were great experiences (in fact my friends and I still talk about Holland and Barcelona tour to this day). However when you are an NQT and working then at a failing school the last thing the head wants is for his newest PE teacher to run a football tour. However I decided to do it anyway. So in April 2008 we ended up taking 50 students to Barcelona and it was the first, but not the last time I used the travel company ‘Equity’ (however back then they were known as ‘Pavilion Tours’). When you’re doing your first tour you want things to go as smoothly as possible and having been recommended Equity by a friend I was not disappointed. They simply could not do enough for you. The tour was a huge success and the students and staff had an incredible time. What made it even more special was that for several students it was their first trip abroad.

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First football tour with students outside the Nou Camp (2008)

I joined Manor School Sports College, Northamptonshire in September 2008 and found the head and I shared a similar interest in travelling. It really does make a huge difference when you have a supporting head and thankfully Manor has just that! My first trip was New York followed by a Holland football tour, both in 2010. In 2012 we returned to New York and also went to Barcelona for a football tour. All four trips were a huge success but by no means easy to organise. Thankfully the team at Equity were pretty special and helped tremendously. Of course one thing is organising a trip, the other is what happens when you are there. Let be honest things are at some point going to go wrong. I think we made it through every trip pretty much fine until Barcelona. Unfortunately one of our students had their wallets stolen which contained a lot of money. Thankfully our rep at the time Laura took us down to the police station and helped us do all the necessary paperwork to claim back on our insurance. But of course that didn’t damper the experience, far from it.

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Manor School Holland Football Tour (2010)

All the trips we have done at Manor have been special in their own way. But out of all of them I have to say New York for the first time (2010) with sixth formers who have never been before is something you will never forget. I still remember their the first groups faces when they got to Times Square for the first time… priceless and humbling at the same time! When I look back on my career trips and tours are definitely highlights.

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Manor Sixth-Form students 2010: Times Square (after a spending spree in American Eagle and a meal at Bubba Gump Shrimp)

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Manor Sixth-Form students 2010: Brooklyn Bridge (it was freezing!)

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Manor Sixth-Form students 2010: Central Park (again… freezing but the students loved it!)

I left Manor to work aboard and started back again last September (it’s good to be back!). But of course I want to do a trip. I arranged with Equity to come in and they went through a few different ideas. So it looks like we’re going to Iceland next! If you’re thinking of running a education tour, sports or ski trip yourself but are worried that it might take up too much of your exam preparation time remind yourself why you became a teacher in the first place. And if you’re looking for a company to support you then trust me, Equity are fantastic, before the trip, during and after. You can find everything you need on their website, www.equity.co.uk.

Hopefully I have planted a seed in a few teachers’ heads… See you on the plane!

A Values Based Approach to Education

Personal-Values-Quote

 

My main role at my school is to develop wellbeing and leadership as part of the Youth Sport Trust PE2020 project. I mentioned in a blog last month that there were several different aspects to this that have been going well including Positive Education lessons (using evidence-based programmes), our own version on ‘TED Talks’ called ‘Manor Chats’, our leadership academy (learning about sport psychology and chimp management) and todays blog topic, ‘My Core Values’.

My Core Values is a set of 15 values that have been selected from both my own experiences especially within teaching and football coaching and also from a number of leading organisaitons including Apple, Adidas and in particular the All Blacks. For me personally, values were at the core of our family. Although we were ‘cash poor’ we were ‘value rich’. My father who was a farmer instilled the importance of values to us in particular humility, respect, self-discipline and resilience. His own father a WW2 and D-Day veteran was a huge influence on his life with work ethic being a key value he instilled in him. You are a product of your environment and I am certainly grateful to have had good values passed down to me. These values guide you and are something I pass down to my own students and certainly to my own daughter.

As a teacher and parent I believe having a set of values are essential to our character development and success in life. If schools were more ‘values focused’ and not just ‘grades focused’ I genuinely believe we would develop better all round students. Not only would their wellbeing increase but, based on the research, so would their academic achievements.

‘My Core Values’:

  • Commitment
  • Communication (listening and speaking)
  • Courage
  • Emotional Intelligence (self-awareness & managing your emotions)
  • Enjoyment
  • Gratitude
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Leadership
  • Reflection (Evaluation)
  • Resilience
  • Responsibility (for your behaviour and actions)
  • Respect (self & for others)
  • Self-Actualisation (reaching your full potential)
  • Self-Confidence

 

These values form the main focus of our PE and Wellbeing programme. Within practical PE the values are used as lesson objectives. At the end of the lesson we then review how well a particular value went during the lesson. We consider ways of improving it and how this might help students in later life. Resilience might be a focus in a volleyball lesson when learning a new skill or communication in a team sport such as rugby. At the end of the lesson students would then be asked questions such as ‘where in life may we have to show resilience?’ or, ‘who has a particular job they wish to go into when they are older which requires good communication’. Within Wellbeing, in particular our Positive Education lessons, the values are then used as discussion points. For example we talk a lot about emotional intelligence and how to manage our ‘inner chimp’. Students love this and it will often lead onto discussions about the importance of perspective taking in life and trying not to make a ‘mountain out of a mole hill’ or a ‘Himalaya out of a mountain’. Out of all the programmes/models we teach chimp management is by far one of the best and I recommend all teachers read Steve Peters ‘Chimp Paradox’ book. We could all do with understanding our brains a little better!

It is early days to say the least. My colleague Mr Brown and I only started developing our programmes in September last year. Its new to the students and to the staff who can both be reluctant at times. We have a long way to go however so far so good. Students seem to really enjoy the concept of values in particular. They enjoy looking at the display in the changing rooms and discussing them. Our wellbeing data shows clear increases in students engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness and happiness and I firmly believe that the value system played a huge part in this. The All Blacks believe that ‘better people make better All Blacks’. We believe that ‘better people make better students (and teachers, and parents, and coach’s and every job you can pretty much think of!). Having a set of values and leading your life according to them makes you a better person. So for our students to be the best version of themselves that they can be, the value system can make a real difference.

The next stages for us will be to develop this further within other subjects and within our primary schools. We then need to promote it further with staff and parents. We will get there! I will be talking about this further at the Youth Sport Conference next week and also the Positive Schools Conference in July.

I would be keen to hear from your own experience. What are your school values? How do you promote them? If you are looking to develop values within your school and would like to share some ideas please just message me on twitter.

Thanks,

Graham (@PEandME)

A schools approach to developing student wellbeing:

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My school is part of Youth Sport Trusts ‘PE2020’ project in Northamptonshire. The project involves eight different schools developing leadership and wellbeing through PE. Each school has complete autonomy over how they develop their programme. Our programme (developed by myself and my colleague Carl Brown) has already gained some recognition from Youth Sport Trust having been invited to speak at several events for them. On March 3rd we will be helping deliver a work shop with Kay Batkin at the Youth Sports Trust Conference in Coventry and sharing our take on the PE2020 project (http://www.youthsporttrust.org/events-awards/events/2016-conference.aspx ). Carl and I will also be delivering at the first Positive Schools conference at Cambridge University in July (http://www.positiveschools.com.au/UK/Positive%20Schools%202016%20UK%20Home.html).

I am going to briefly outline some of our main programmes, however if you have any questions please contact me via @peandme. We are more than happy to share information with you if it helps:

 

  • Positive Education (year 7 and 8 students) – Students in year 7 and 8 have one core lesson a week (one hour) of ‘Positive Education’. For year 7 their positive education lessons are based around the ‘Characteristics and Virtues’ programme designed by the Jubilee Centre at University of Birmingham (http://www.jubileecentre.ac.uk). Year 8 students follow a ‘Positive Psychology’ programme based around the work of Ilona Boniwell’. We have adapted both programmes to meet the needs of our students and have included work on values (‘My Core Values’ which I will mention at the end and ‘Chimp Management’, mind management based Professor Steve Peters model). At the start of each term we measure students wellbeing through a test (developed by Dr Margret Kern), which focuses on students engagement, perseverance, optimism, connectedness and happiness.

 

  • Manor Chats (year 7 and 8 students) – In addition to their weekly core lesson students also receive a 35 minute lunchtime lesson. The lessons are based around the concept of TED talks. In Term 1 students planned and presented 5 minute talks on a topic of their choice. In term 2 students are currently being taught about resilience through a programme we have developed. This programme is 6 weeks long and once complete students are set the challenge of planning and delivering a true story of resilience (in pairs). Within this students present in their smaller groups and then the best presentations are put forward allowing several students to then speak in front of their whole year group.

 

  • Leadership Academy (year 7 students) – This is a group of 24 students who are taught skills in leadership including theory and practical. My colleague Carl Brown works on the practical element of leadership through the delivery of the ‘Youth Sport Award’ (Youth Sport Trust) and also through a number of coaching opportunities with primary school students and peers. As part of their theory students were taught something we call ‘Junior Sport Psychology’ in term 1 which covers basics of sports psychology within a leadership content. In term 2 students have been learning about ‘Chimp Management’. Steve and his team have been very supportive over what we are doing. One of the key reasons for using Steve’s model was the fact that we wanted students to have a take home message, one that they could use for the rest of their life (after all school is about lifelong learning). The inner chimp model is certainly a great way for students to manage their emotions effectively both now and in the future.

 

  • ‘My Core Values’ (year 7, 8 and 9 students) – What underpins everything is ‘My Core Values’. My core values are 15 essential values we work on with students in positive education and also form the lesson objective for key stage 3 PE. Humility, emotional intelligence (managing your inner chimp), respect (self/others), taking responsibility for your actions and resilience are some of the values we work on. Not only are they at the centre of our positive education and PE lessons but they are also used to challenge students behaviour which has proven to be very successful.

 

Although we have only been going since September 2015 the quantitative and qualitative data collected suggests that students wellbeing is improving. When we speak to students the most popular thing we do with them is chimp management. If you are not familiar with Steve’s work here is his TED talk:

 

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Chimp-Paradox-Management-Confidence/dp/009193558X

 

So far so good. Students are enjoying what we are doing and it seems to be working. So what about your school? Do you have a wellbeing programme or a set of values in place? Are you trying to develop a positive culture and if so how are you doing it? I am interested to hear from you.

 

Thanks,

 

Graham (@PEandME)

 

So what is an ‘Amygdala Highjack’?

Newcastle United v Aston Villa

I have always been fascinated by human evolution and often wonder how our behaviour now has been influenced by our ancestors experiences from the past. Our emotion of course influences this behaviour, so what emotions are we hard-wired to have and what influence do they have over us? We are built with a neural circuitry which worked best for humans survival thousands of years ago and this has not really caught up with todays modern world.

Evolutionary Psychology with Stephen Pinker:

One unique aspect of our neural circuitry is the human survival mechanism which Harvard physiologist Walter Cannon called the ‘fight or flight’ response system. He believed that all animals including humans evolved a survival mechanism which allowed them to physically react to stress. Imagine your distant ancestor 100,000 years ago still in Africa and searching for food when suddenly right in front of him there is a salivating tiger (who is very hungry!). The brain has to very quickly make one of two choices… Do I run? Or do I fight? As humans if we successfully used this response system we survived and therefore the more and more humans had to use this the better we became at surviving. You have to hand it to your ancestors as without the successful use of the fight or flight response system some of us would not technically be here today!

So how does this survival system work work?…

The simplified version of it is that when our ancestor sees the tiger an area of the brain called the amygdala recognises that this is a life-threatening situation and activates the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the critical part of the brain that organises the response to this particular stress. A message is sent through the central nervous system to the adrenal medulla that is instructed to release the hormone adrenaline. This release of adrenaline into the bloodstream (along with a number of other hormones) causes several changes in the body including an increase in heart rate, pupil dilation, more energy given to the muscles and a shutdown to nonessential systems (digestive and immune system). Our ancestor either fights or runs away but what is at the heart of the decision is survival (on this occasion I think he run!).

So fast forward to 2015 and thankfully there are no tigers attacking us or tribes we have to fight off so therefore we don’t have to use this system anymore… Well actually this is not the case and definitely not how evolution works. The neural circuitry we have now as humans is based on what worked best for the last 50,000 generations, not just the last 5! So we still have this system but unfortunately we do not use it properly!

‪Understanding Emotional Intelligence: The Amygdala Hijack‬

The term amygdala highjack was coined by Daniel Goleman in his book ‘Emotional Intelligence’. I had heard the term before, especially in sports, however after reading his book I can now clearly see how this is an issue in everyday lives (and its something that we can control!). An amygdala highjack is when we have an immediate and overwhelming emotional response to a situation without really thinking about it logically or rationally. The response is completely over the top and on hindsight we often regret it.

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Just think of different examples of when people have completely overacted and I am sure you will be able to remember when you have seen an amygdala highjack first hand. An obvious one in society today is road rage. Having lived in Abu Dhabi for two years I can say that on a daily basis I saw lots of crazy driving, however strangely little road rage (in fact I cant remember any at all). When I moved back to the UK last summer I was shocked by how much road rage there was. For example just on my street alone I have seen several arguments with people getting out of their cars because one car wont let another pass on a narrow street. The reactions I have seen are appalling and I am shocked that within society today we think this behaviour is acceptable and appropriate. I can not believe that some humans use the same energy and response system to react to someone not letting you go before them as to how our ancestors did when they were trying to save their own life. We have highjacked a system that is built to keep us alive not cause pointless arguments and needless stress on our body (especially the heart).

As a teacher of nine years I have also too often seen this type of behaviour both in the classroom and on the sports field. Through working within the pastoral system I have witnessed students getting extremely aggressive purely because they have been asked something as simple as removing their coat whilst inside. On the sports field I have seen overreactions from students playing football because they have been fouled by accident or given an offside when they thought they weren’t. Ironically one of the sports which you see a lot of physical contact in, yet more control over emotions is rugby (I am definitely an advocate for teaching this more in schools!).

In professional sports there have been a number of high profile amygdala highjacks when an athlete has seen red and completely overreacted. For example:

Zinadine Zidane headbutt –

John McEnroes tantrum –

Mike Tyson biting Holyfield’s ear off (possible the worst amygdala highjack in sporting history) –

It is strange to think that in todays society the threat to many humans in the UK is more often symbolic (“she called me a name”, “he’s looking at me funny”) than physical (life threatening), yet we respond in the same biological way. As a teacher I think this is something we need to address more with our students and also their parents (social learning is a major factor in shaping childrens behaviour). Remember education should be about life long learning. If we are sending our students into the world with top grades but little social skills then we are doing them an injustice. Emotional intelligence is just as important as traditional academic intelligence. So as teachers speak to your students about amygdala highjacks and get them to not just react but act accordingly to situations as it is going to be a very useful skill to them when they leave school! We want students to be able to assess situations sensibly and therefore respond accordingly.

If you are a teacher and currently run a program to help students control their emotions I would be grateful if you could contact me as this is an area I am interested in studying further.

Sperry (1968) – Split Brain Study

This is a blog for my AS Psychology group who have just completed the Sperry (1968) study.

So what was the study about?
The study demonstrated that the left and right hemispheres are specialised in different tasks. The left side of the brain is normally specialised in taking care of the analytical and verbal tasks. The left side speaks much better than the right side, while the right half takes care of the space perception tasks and music, for example. The right hemisphere is involved when you are making a map or giving directions on how to get to your home from the bus station. The right hemisphere can only produce rudimentary words and phrases, but contributes emotional context to language. Without the help from the right hemisphere, you would be able to read the word “pig” for instance, but you wouldn’t be able to imagine what it is.

HW task:
There were lots of strengths and weaknesses of the study. Your task is to discuss what you think the overall MAIN strength and MAIN weakness was. Feel free to also comment on what other students say as well. The next study we are looking at is Dement and Kreitman (info on the website in your section).