BrainWise Instructors Share Stories

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Singley BlairSchool psychologist Karyn Singley Blair, M.S., has been teaching BrainWise to high school students for 15 years.  Her expertise is working with special needs youth, and one-third of her students have IQs under 70. She adapts the lessons to fit their abilities and uses concrete examples in creative ways to engage them. These include fun activities that incorporate games, stories, movies, and crafts to reinforce the 10 Wise Ways.

When she teaches about the brain, she makes a jello brain from a mold. Students have fun touching the slimy, wiggly,lifelike brain and identifying both the Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain areas.

BrainWise Founder Dr. Pat Gorman Barry had an opportunity to interview with Karyn after a Challenge Day event that she helped organize for students at the public high school where she is on the faculty.   

Some of Karyn’s students participated in the Challenge Day activities, and she will incorporate BrainWise into the ones she uses in her classes.

Here is the conversation:


Karyn, please tell us about your experience teaching BrainWise.

KSB:  I learned about BrainWise through our school social worker, who has since retired. She had encountered a special needs student from another school who talked about using his Lizard Brain and Wizard Brain. Impressed, she found out that he was learning BrainWise at his high school and got more information. I got involved immediately, and we introduced the program at our school. That was 15 years ago, and I have been teaching BrainWise ever since.

My caseload is entirely special needs students.  Their disabilities range across the spectrum, and include more than one of the following:  learning disabilities, health impairments like ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, emotional disturbance, speech or language impairment and  visual impairment — including blindness, deafness and hearing impairments, orthopedic impairment, intellectual disability, and traumatic brain injury.

BrainWise gives me tools that help my students. I can adjust the lesson to fit their needs and abilities, and use whatever learning approach works best for them. I can use BrainWise with any curriculum and customize it to fit my students. We address problems that range from gossip and bullying to talking about suicide, school shootings, and depression. The 10 Wise Ways can be used to address any problem.  I use it all the time because it can be applied to everything.

PGB:  You have helped blind students learn the 10 Wise Ways with Braille teaching tools. Please share this story with us.

KSB: This was a fun project! A vision specialist worked with me and the blind student, who had special needs, to help him learn the Wise Ways. We made a tactile brain, Constellation of Support, Red Flags, and Emotions Elevator using fabric and other materials.  For example, we used different textured yarns to create a brain and represent the Wizard Brain, relay center, and Lizard Brain. The specialist typed in Braille on each teaching aid and explained the concept.

PGB: You use games as a fun way to help students practice using the 10 Wise Ways.  Please share how you integrated BrainWise into a template for Who Wants to e a Millionaire? 

KSB: The Internet has game templates online, and I used a template sent to me by another teacher.  I replaced his questions with basic information about the first four Wise Ways, and projected the questions on the board (see pictures).

I divide the students into two teams and have them choose a captain and a name for their team.  I write the team names on the board (or flipchart paper) and write down Points/Money Won underneath.  The team captains flip a coin to see who goes first. All of the students participate, with help from me and an aid or student intern. The team chooses a final answer and wins a “money” amount if the answer is correct. The team with the highest amount of money wins.

PGB: Do you have any suggestions that would help BrainWise instructors get parents involved in learning about and reinforcing the 10 Wise Ways at home?

KSB: We were fortunate that one year we had a grant that gave us funds to offer a BrainWise parent program. Even then, because our parents often work one or more jobs, it was difficult to get them involved. I talk with parents who come to parent meetings and try to find ways to get information to them, such as sending home worksheets with the students.  It is hard to involve parents, and I would love to have some suggestions!

PGB:  What would you tell a new BrainWise instructor?

KSB:  The curriculum has everything you need from lesson plans and activities to reproducible student worksheets.  The language is simple, but it explains complex concepts.  The program can be adapted for students of all abilities,from special needs students to students who understand neuroscience research on brain development. Repetition is key to learning, and the examples in the curriculum show you how to integrate the 10 Wise Ways into your classroom culture and course materials. Put up BrainWise posters not only in your classroom, but in the school hallways. Use news and current events at the school and in the community for problem situations.

Special needs students thrive on concrete examples, and BrainWise provides many opportunities to use them. For example, students can identify parts of their bodies where they feel Red Flag warnings. One student said that her “tongue feels thick” before she has a seizure.  Other students identify their internal Red Flags as seeing stars, hearing ringing in their ears, or feeling tight.

I worked with a social worker whose schizophrenic student had a psychotic episode and saw flying clocks coming to steal his brain. In response, he said that he “needed to find the green.”  She did not know what he meant, and another student told her that he meant he wanted to use his Wizard Brain. The youth had colored his Wizard Brain green, and wanted to use it to help him get rid of the flying clocks.  This example shows how BrainWise can work for everyone.

Homework Stress

Homework Stress

As we learn more about research on the brain and the toxic effects stress has on our bodies, we are finding  ways that we can prevent  and manage problems.  BrainWise teaches coping techniques, and past newsletters have introduced  BrainWise instructors who have infused the 10 Wise Ways into their teaching and counseling,  as well as their mindfulness, contemplation, and meditation (MCM) practices (Link to October 2016 and April 2017 newsletters).

Scientists support the effectiveness of mind and body interventions.  Today, the techniques involved  techniques are embraced by athletes, astronauts, physicians, Fortune 500 CEOs, welfare moms, soccer moms, inmates, celebrities,  and others seeking a stress intervention.  And while MCM may seem like a simple process, it still is difficult for many us to practice it.

The deep breathing, focused attention, and abstract thoughts are not as easy as they sound, and often require expert guidance to learn and retain.  Without help, and even with help, they can be puzzling and

Work Stress

Work Stress

uncomfortable, conditions that make it easy to give up.   Some effort is needed to locate a good instructor, as they vary widely in their training. Finding the right fit takes time and effort, as well as money.  These barriers contribute to reluctance to become serious about learning MCM.

BrainWise helps bridge this gap, a fact that appeals to instructors who also are mindfulness and contemplation masters.  They recognize that using the 10 Wise Ways establishes strong links between body and mind.  The Wizard Brain over Lizard Brain lesson and “building brain connections” activity that follows  each wise way provides a visual reinforcement that helps everyone, even young children and  developmentally disabled adults, understand the connection between their brains and bodies.

Practicing Buddhist and BrainWise instructor Dell Brooks immediately saw the 10 Wise Ways as tools he could use to teach contemplation methods to high-risk teenagers in his classes, many of whom had returned to school after previously dropping out.  He found that students had learned about the Wizard Brain and Lizard Brain and about building brain connections  were motivated to learn and practice contemplation.  His students recognized that MCM was a form of control self-talk that helped them lower their emotions elevator.

BrainWise also helps children, teens and adults recognize how a mantra – the repetitive use of word – can help them control their emotions to lower their Emotions Elevator and use Wizard Brain thinking.  In fact,”mantra” is based on a word in Sanskrit that means ”to think.”  People pick a number of simple words and statements such as  “Calm,” “Peaceful,” and “Happy,” or “You can do it!” and “Keep going!”

A BrainWise instructor shared a clever use of mantras that helped some combative parents in her caseload . When asked to pick a word that would help them lower their elevators and calm down, the couple happened to chose words that made them laugh.  When issues started getting tense, they agreed to use a nonsense mantra they had chosen.  For him, it was “Popcorn!”   This funny mantra defused the situation by helping them quickly lower their elevators.

Here are other tips for mantras:

Customize the mantra to fit the situation.  Whether you are giving yourself an emotional boost (“You can do it!”), want to get rid of anxiety (“Stay calm and carry on”) or are trying to go to sleep (“Sleep”), choose a word or phrase that fits the specific  situation.

Make it realistic.  “Breathe.” “Cope.” “Get through this.”

Select a favorite line or phrase from a song, movie, or book.  Pick a word or phrase that brings a smile to your face or makes your feel good.

Personal mantras  affect stress by lowering our cortisol levels, blood pressure, and numerous other reactions triggered by the Lizard Brain.  Placed in the context of control self-talk, individuals quickly understand  that using personal mantras is an effective way to lower their Emotions Elevators.

No Stress

No Stress