Not-live blogging: Understanding the Teen Brain or ‘Teen Whispering’


This could also be subtitled ‘my journey from negative to positive head space through frustration to futility and emergent adaptation and integration’. This will make more sense as you read through these notes. It’s a long post. But I came to some aha moments throughout and definitely at the end in terms of PD design.

Anything in plain text or italics is mine. Bold text is straight note-taking.

You’d think that an educator’s convention would have wireless networking capabilities. But no. hence the title ‘Not-live blogging’.


I am at a pre-convention activity of the 2009 Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT) annual teachers’ convention. It is a day long session called Understanding the Teen Brain, presented by Eva de Gosztonyi, the coordinator for the Center of Excellence for Behaviour Management (no website), which has as its motto “Building the capacity of the English school boards of Quebec”.


Did I mention ‘presented’? Ok. I should give it a chance, she is just saying her intro, but we walked into a room with a powerpoint on the screen at its front and rows of tables lined up through its girth.


Oh, the day is subtitled


Becoming a Child Whisperer. Learning to read the language of youth.




Great. She just said ‘I don’t have a lot of experience in high schools,’ Somehow this was advertised for Secondary school teachers despite that.


Keep an open mind. Breathe.


Her approach is based on Neufeld. She is going to be reviewing his work.

  • Developmental psychologist

  • Hold on to your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers.


Maturation is a process – ‘ages and stages’. (Are there still people who don’t know this? Do we need to be going over this? )


Oh. I should have prefaced this with some context. It took me an hour and 45 minutes to get to work on Monday, during which time I developed a sickness. I spent an hour or so at work going over IEPs with my colleagues, then went home where I slept for 2 days. Yesterday I went back to school in the morning, still pretty exhausted, and ended my day at 9:00 with the last of the parent/teacher interviews. Got home at almost 10:30, then had to get back in the car at 6 this morning to battle traffic to get onto the island during rush hour traffic.


So I need to be wowed (and in a different way than how the day’s subtitle wowed me.)


Vulnerability – we need to be able to tolerate a feeling of vulnerability, openness ? trust in the process.


(ok, maybe I need to practice some of this today)


Attachment is what allows for vulnerability and maturation


She needs to know that when a workshop is advertised as geared towards high school educators she should NOT give elementary school examples. I know from experience (from both designing/facilitating and attending workshops) that high school teachers are touchy on that subject. A lot of PD is generally given to elementary school teachers. There is bitterness around this. Too often this happens, that a session is described as responding to needs of HS teachers but actually gives examples from elementary.


Teen Brain is under construction and so it is messy, like a construction site. (is she going to be talking at us all day?)


Deborah Yurgelen Todd (2002) adults and teens differ in how they view emotions. (Am I being too tough? But come on. I participated in a workshop 5 years ago, maybe more, that focused on these issues)


Amygdala, frontal cortex yada yada.


Crap. I just flipped to the back and checked out the Suggested Readings slide. There is nothing new on it.


Interesting statement – “the whole educational system in Quebec is developmentally unsound.” (Eva de Gosztonyi, today)


bases this on idea of teen reactions coming straight from amygdala (gut) and not yet developed to use of frontal cortex (reasoning) and that Quebec’s education program is centered on the development of reasoning skills.


Is this based solely on cognitive development? A person’s development is not solely based on brain science as an independent variable. Culture. Gender. Race. Language. Nurture.

Whose brains have been examined in this research?


(Jay Giedd) Bunch of stuff on grey matter development , pruning process. Steinberg talks about the burst of energy that is given to the brain in order to start the pruning process.

This is the explanation our presenter uses for teens need of so much sleep. Again, asked and answered your honour, about, oh, 10 years ago.


(Just rebooted. Was able to get a wireless connection. When I tried to use it I was asked for a credit card number from the Palais des Congres. Come on QPAT!)


******* Ok. Eva just exposed some assumptions. –> we know where stuff is. Even when it is in piles on our desks someone can ask, where is x and we can locate x. Statement —> of course it would be better if we could actually organize it in a filing system.


I’ve tried filing systems. I am less creative. I am less willing to take chances. Ergo this is not better for me. I have seen this in students as well. Is this research based on the assumption that filing system type organization skills are the ideal? I may sound like I am joking here, but I am not.


Brain develops from Cerebellum to Frontal Lobe (executive function). ‘ADHD is a frontal lobe disorder’


She is stating, as if it is a eureka moment, that knowledge and application are not the same thing.


Ok. Let me be fair with some constructive notes


Risk taking – an interaction between 2 brain networks. When emotion goes up, cognitive reasoning goes down.

  • Socio-Emotional Network – increased emotion in presence of peers

  • Cognitive Control Network


Learning – when you need to talk with a student, don’t do it in front of peers.


It’s 10:15. Still two and a half hours until lunch…


I gave similar workshops at BJEC. I was not expecting to see the same workshop as I did when I saw her speak a few years ago. A few YEARS ago. I was looking forward to learning something new. Maybe linking this kind of thing to culture and socio-economic background?

Have links been made between culture and neuro-cognitive science?

Help them make up for what the brain lacks by providing

structure, organized time, guidance for tough decisions, patience and love (Giedd)


Children should not be put with peers until age of 12. Gives example that children were not put together until the Industrial Revolution.


This is VERY European centric. Native cultures successfully had independent children, with tasks needed for the survival of their communities. It is when Europeans came here that they were determined to be wild and needed to be disciplined. This discipline happened in Residential schools.

Is the answer to recognize the specific tasks children can provide to our communities and allow them to fulfill them?

I’m really hungry and can’t focus. We need a break. It’s going to happen at 10:45. Why do breaks always seem to happen late so that that the last 15 minutes before it happens is spent thinking about the break?

There is a believer in front of me. Every time a statement is made she murmurs, yup, yup, mmm-hmm, that’s right.

process of maturation

Attachment (to a parent/caring adults) – Emergence (time to reflect, test things out, become yourself) – Integration (functioning in society)


I asked earlier if she would be talking at us all day. 1 hour 48 minutes in –> Yup.

I’m jumping out of my skin. I have been sitting in one spot for almost 2 hours. Listening. Good thing I brought this laptop at least I am keeping my fingers moving.


…Post-morning break…

Ok. I got the skinny from some convention organizers. There is no wireless access for us because it was too expensive for them to purchase for our use. I told them it was unfortunate. The only ed conference I have been to in the last, oh at least 5 years, without access to internet. That they should work that into their working budget or change venues to a place that doesn’t charge so much for internet access. Very unfortunate.


Neufeld, Attachment Theory.


There has been a lot written on this. Here’s a link for Gordon Neufeld. Basically attachment is needed for the maturation process. When adults are not present they create attachments with whoever is – their peers. So peers provide the guidance for each other. Guidance needed for growth and integration. When there is constant interaction with peers there is no chance for emergence.

  • Peer orientation is devastating for kids

  • Peer attachment doesn’t protect from separation, shame, and alarm


Another note about the break. I bumped into a teacher I used to work with at Weston. She loves this and thinks that all high school teachers need to participate in a workshop like this. So maybe it’s me. A combination of I’m tired and hungry (there’s no food here!) and I’ve already learned/studied/practiced the theories and strategies she is presenting. Frustrating that people who provide PD for teachers do not differentiate.

Oh, and now I’ve had to move my listening centre to the seat next to the believer in order to access the plug to charge my notebook. Lordy, lordy.

I wonder when she first made these slides. I’m sure I’ve seen a few them before.

In order to adapt we need our feelings of frustration to turn to feelings of futility. We know when this happens when we see tears.

Tears as an effective way to get rid of the chemicals of action and replace them with chemicals of thinking. Sweating will also get rid of the toxins – boys and men tend to choose this option. A social construction.


*********** Research shows that if you feed the tears of rats who have gone through a frustration –> futility process it can kill them due to the number of toxic chemicals present in the tears.

Have got to look for this research.



  • Adaptive processes – I would like to try something new, realize it’s a bit too much so I adapt to something different

  • Integrative processes – I need to be successful at something (math) in order to achieve a goal (graduation) so I integrate other processes (like being polite, keeping my frustrations in check) in order to achieve success


Stuckness –> when we don’t adapt or integrate

  • happens because of Sensitivity X Stress

    • genetics, pre/peri-natal stressors, separation, shame, alarm


ha ha ha. I’ve moved beyond frustration to futility and have started to adapt and integrate in order to reach my goal ? taking notes to keep sane. Maybe that is why the believer yups and mmm-hmmms.

Don’t teach aggressive children anger management skills. If they can not integrate they will feel shame for something they can not apply. (find out who said this and what she offers to do instead)


Trouble with the QEP is it assumes the only reason kids aren’t interested in learning is because we haven’t made it interesting enough.


I think kids are interested in learning when we show an interest in them ? love and patience. That is how we make it interesting. So, yeah, they are right


Defensive, immature teens –> They are defending themselves against vulnerabilities. They are protecting themselves.

  • These are the kids who need us the most.


So now we are given a think, pair, share activity. At 12:30. 15 minutes before lunch. 3 and a half hours after we started sitting and listening. Wow (another non-wow wow). Brilliant design.


…After lunch…


Attachment is about creating good relationships

  • hierarchical arrangement

    • adult takes care of child, acts with natural authority

  • renders endearing and tolerant

    • when you find a kid you don’t like the problem is not them, it is you. You have fallen out of attachment and you need to figure out why.

  • Creating a sense of home

    • comfort, rest, place of retreat

  • Our brain can tolerate stuff that is scary when we are in safe attachment (Coan, 2006)

    • we feel less pain (Dunbar, Cohen, Ejsmond-Frey, 2009)


Ok. So I dig attachment theory. It makes sense. Now that I have eaten and had a coffee and a bit of a walk-about I am no longer taking notes to keep my sanity, but to record and remember and remind myself why I teach. As a speaker she has warmed up as well. Maybe she also needed coffee and food.


Our job as adults in attachment is to be the compass point (There is no accident that our alternative program is called Directions and has a compass as its logo!)


–> Our biggest problem right now is that our kids scan the environment and choose their peers (other immature kids) as their compass points.


It doesn’t matter what we do but who we are to the kids that counts.

Our relationship with children is very tenuous, we must always take care to protect the relationship.


Senses –> be with, spend a lot of time with

Sameness –> discover interests and share them

Belonging and Loyalty –> trust level. You can up the ante and kids will still believe you will take care of them.

Significance –> they want to believe you spend time thinking about them

Being known –> we want to believe that someone will love us just the way we are.

Engaging Attachment Instincts

  1. Friendly acknowledgment , validation– catching eyes, smiles, nods, morning greetings.

  2. Provide something to hold on to – a common bond, not praise that is conditional on performance. We need to have points of relationships that have nothing to do with academics. I acknowledge the part of you that has nothing to do with academics.

  3. Invite the student to depend on you – reaching out, reassure, come back to check in




Maximize attachment

minimize effects of immaturity

Build a village of attachment

Minimize the effects of peers


Simple solutions

  • remember names

  • provide a students with a pencil/calculator/eraser/paper when she needs it

  • feeding (pie :) )

  • caring in unexpected ways

  • listen with full attention

  • Help me to understand” – acknowledge existence

  • Meet at the bus

  • 10 x 2 strategy – for 10 days find some way to spend a couple of minutes a day with a kid (walking in the halls, waiting in line at the caf, … )

  • attachment homebase – our den in Directions


We have to collect our kids before we can direct them.


Make it easy for kids to focus on the teacher

-desk arrangement, proximity


With-it-ness –> eyes on the back of your head. Kids want to know that you know what’s going on.

(Good & Brophy 2003)


If you are limited by time

  • focus on a few, the leaders, the apha kids.

  • Create attachments


There were many complaints that we spent 9-2:40 on theory and then 20 minutes on strategies. Everyone wanted the strategies. It’s my experience that this happens often in workshops like these. Teachers  are promised strategies but never really get to see what they look like. The issue is that presenters feel that in order to understand the strategies we need to know the theory, which I can understand. So, either stop promising to deliver strategies if there is a time constraint OR redesign how theory is presented. Most of the teachers at workshops like this are already open to the theory. They get it. So a) send out a pre-test of sorts (we all registered by a Nov. 5th deadline) and figure out what we know about about the theory already so that the didactic element can be lessened or the design can be differentiated if there is a wide range of prior knowledge in the room, b) re-envision how theory is presented. I had an idea as I was walking out. What if we started with the end? Start with strategies and then fit the theory in as it is needed. Ex. Some strategies are to make eye contact, to smile, to ask about specific non-school related interests. Why? Because attachment theory teaches us that it is important to feel known, to be validated and accepted for who we are as people beyond school in order to create a yearning to learn with and perhaps even perform for adults and then ultimately for ourselves. This way our presenter could have validated our interests and experiences as people in order to make us want to really learn with her.






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