Shay Sun is a middle school teacher, Certified Coach and graduate of both our Advanced Coaching Series (NCTC) and Train the Trainer programs. As a public middle school teacher, Shay has a unique opportunity to apply the concepts he learned in our programs to the classroom, both as content and in his approach to teaching. It’s been such a joy for us to learn about the impact the Seven Levels and neuroscience have made on his students, so much so that we interviewed him on the subject on our Blog Talk Radio show a few years back.
In his interview below, Shay shares the creative ways he has integrated BEabove material into his teaching, the impact it has made, and how it has shaped what he believes about how children learn.
Tell us a bit about your work.
I teach in a Title One school district which means a large percentage of my students are low-income. I am an 8th grade language arts teacher and in addition to my normal classes, I have also started an Emotional Intelligence Club that students can elect to join, which is probably the number one place I use the tools I learned with BEabove.
When did your training with BEabove take place? How long have you been using it in your work?
I graduated from the Coaches Training Institute around 2014 and that’s where I met Ann. I wasn’t even done with CTI yet when I signed up for Neuroscience, Consciousness and Transformational Coaching (NCTC). I then did Train the Trainer in 2016.
As soon as I started learning Ann and Ursula’s thoughts on this stuff, I started integrating it in the classroom. Even when it comes to more mundane moments it has been useful. For example, once I had to sub for a French class so I had the kids do a worksheet. Instead of just letting them go off on their own, I interrupted them every 10 minutes or so and asked some questions about what they were doing. I had two or three students recognize that I was asking them to toggle between TPN and DMN, so that was pretty cool.
What Ann and Ursula did for me was gave me a way of looking at life from a different perspective. As I am going about my day with my students I can bring forth these different tools from my utility belt whenever they are appropriate. There are moments when it becomes super intentional like with the EI club, but typically it’s just a new lens through which to look at human beings and human awareness.
What drew you the BEabove training?
I have always been interested in the brain. I actually had my own brain scanned while I was in the process of adopting kids and I learned a lot about how my own brain worked. I am also very interested in the process of transformation so this seemed like a perfect marriage of the two.
BEabove’s content heightened everything I learned in CTI. It gave me the “why” behind how coaching works – the science behind the art.
What is the unique way that you are using neuroscience, NCTC work?
Well I have two of the Seven Levels banners in my classroom and my students and I regularly refer to ourselves as “above the line” or “below the line”.
When it comes to the EI club, a lot of times I just listen to the kids to see what they’re struggling with and I work in the tools I’ve learned with BEabove depending on what I think is relevant. Some that I use often are the wheel of neuroplasticity, the 5 keys and 4 enhancers, and the Default Mode Network vs. the Task Positive Network.
In my regular ed classes, I teach a lot of these tools as content. For example, I talk about goal setting in the context of DMN and TPN – what’s happening in the brain when either of these networks are activated and how we can use that to our advantage.
We have analyzed literature using the Seven Levels as well. This was really cool. In my mind it was just a way of looking at literature from a neuro-consciousness perspective – through a human development lens. The Seven Levels created a common language we could all use. As public school teachers, we are required to cram down so much information so students can meet standards, but this framework is a way to process and package information for them. It’s worked really well for me.
This neuroscience material has really given me the “why” behind how things work, and I’ve been able to share that with my students. Kids need to know the “whys” behind things. Sleep is a great example. Knowing what happens in the brain while we sleep makes them so much more interested in getting enough of it. I have noticed more buy in from kids because of this. Instead of just “shoulds”, I can give kids the bigger picture so there’s more at stake for them.
What has had the biggest impact on students? On the school?
To be honest, there has been some backlash at my school since I started integrating this stuff. We give lip service to emotional intelligence in education but sometimes when you bring up emotions, people don’t actually believe they’re relevant. They think it’s touchy-feely or something. I’ve had colleagues make dismissive comments about the EI club, etc.
I don’t think they’re trying to be mean. I think it’s partly because of the way we view things in our society. EI isn’t super mainstream so people sometimes react with fear or misunderstanding rather than curiosity.
But when it comes to the students, the impact has been really encouraging. A great example: at the beginning of the year there was a kid who said he was stressed because he said he wasn’t good at math. I asked him when that thought came into his brain. When did you start to believe that? I helped him recognize that it was a belief but it wasn’t the truth and that he had the power to create new neural pathways to change that belief. I used the image of skiing down a slope and creating new paths to get down the hill.
That was on a Wednesday, and by the time Friday rolled around he had aced his math test. He had rewritten the script in his brain and it was because he took time to rewire his thinking. I made sure to highlight and celebrate that win with the class.
How has this learning enabled you to go to places you would have otherwise been unable to go?
Confidence and competence come to mind. Most of us intuitively know that we have to connect to the people that we are trying to influence. I don’t know if we always feel confident in how to do that. Ann and Ursula give us the language around how to say we have something to offer. It’s a new framework in which to describe the transformation we can provide.
For more on how Shay has used this material in the classroom, listen to our interview with him from a few years back on Blog Talk Radio.