Hi and welcome to BrainZones. We are a unique and dynamic duo with shared values, personal and professional, bringing out the best in one another. We each bring laughter, honesty, and creativity to the table, but understanding and recognizing our emotional strengths and weaknesses are what have unified us through the thick and thin. We have shared many life experiences as our husbands’ carved out their career niches, our children grew from toddlers to adults, and we built and developed our careers in the same urban district as teachers, collaborators, coaches and friends.
We both graduated with special education degrees in the 80’s and we both started out with a Bang! Marcey taught in a psychiatric hospital and Debbie in a boy’s reformatory. As with most teachers, for the first two years, we questioned our decisions about going into the field of education, like every day on our drive home!
Co-teaching Severe Behavior Handicapped (SBH)
Violence, vulnerability, and uncertainty were part of our everyday life. Tucked away in the basement of a very old inner city middle school, our Severe Behavior Handicapped (SBH) units were hopping (literally). The seven SBH classrooms were made up of about 85 students, some who raged with anger, while others cowered in fear. We collaborated with Children Services, probation officers, advocates, and attorneys on a regular basis. Officer Smith was a constant in our neck of the woods, dealing with rival gang affiliations, parents with restraining orders, and students who were violently out of control. We had three “Time-Out” rooms; these were isolation areas, to be used when students were out of control. The environment was extremely stressful for all, but out of desperation came inspiration and opportunity. Why did something work one day and not another? Why did it work for one student and not another? With emotions and aggressive behaviors running rampant throughout the units, we knew the answer to stability, and our sanity, lie within calming the turbulent emotional minds, both our students and ourselves.
A Solution Evolves - Brainzones
This started us down what has become a lifelong learning journey regarding the brain, the mind, and emotions. We are continuously reading books, collaborating with experts, experimenting, questioning, and reflecting. Utilizing resources from the fields of neuroscience (affective and neurobiology), education, psychology, self-help, and the practice of meditation, our teaching practice and our outlook began a gradual transformation. Moving away from what was a traditional teaching style to what is now known as a whole child brain-centered approach.
Throughout this process BrainZones emerged. We learned teaching students about their emotions and their brains, teaching them strategies for staying calm, integrating practices and techniques that reduced their reactivity were paying off. Student achievement scores on state proficiency tests grew exponentially, violent outbursts became a rare occasion and classroom disruptions diminished greatly.
Trauma, Social Emotional Skills, Relationships
Offering our students a safe environment, teaching them skills to manage their unacceptable behaviors and learning lifelong skills that promoted prosocial behaviors, trust, peace, and empathy became our passion. We could not address academics in isolation because emotions were driving everything that mattered: behavior, engagement, achievement, relationships
Our Middle School Alternative Program
We moved the BrainZone model to an Alternative Program (we designed) working with students identified as at-risk. We integrated community supports from counseling to a carpenters workshop. With the evolution of a data-driven educational landscape, the effectiveness of BrainZones Alternative Program was very successful; significantly improving attendance, grade point averages, and standardized test scores, while reducing and eliminating office referrals and suspensions.
Our final eight years were spent as instructional coaches for our inner city district. We each served assigned buildings as well as supporting district-wide initiatives. We continued to deliver professional learning and encouraging the Brainzones approach. Modeling techniques for getting all students focused, and strategies for enhancing learning, collaboration, social emotional skills and lifelong success.