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The Two Life-Changing Qualities That Make Teachers Extraordinary

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In my job as a clinical psychologist and as a mother, I have repeatedly observed two qualities in extraordinary teachers:

* They provide a warm, calming presence and regulate their own emotions.

* They are relationally connected and engaged with their students.

It’s not difficult to see what a difference a good teacher can make. Again and again, I have observed the benefits for the students who have been lucky enough to learn from such emotionally present and warmly engaged teachers:

* These children feel safe, and brain science tells us that emotional safety sets the foundation for our ability to learn new things.


* This foundation of safety is a platform that serves to enhance self-confidence, promoting creativity and the ability to think “outside the box.”


* The power of connection reverberates throughout a student’s life, contributing to a strong “neural platform,” that continuously serves the student.

A prime example of this kind of engaged and caring educator is Cindy Duzi, who recently retired after 34 years teaching high school English at Sunnyside High School in Fresno, California. Her students have risen to all levels of academic, political and professional success, and to mark her retirement, many took to social media to express gratitude for her patience, care and concern. Whether it was lending an ear to a struggling student or baking cupcakes to let a student know she was thinking of her, she was a constant, upbeat presence in their lives.

Mrs. Duzi had such a profound impact because she formed strong, trusting relationships with her students. And of course, those bonds led directly to their success. Their brains primed for learning, they were better able to absorb the English literature she taught so effectively.

In the language of neurodevelopment, Mrs. Duzi provided “emotional co-regulation.” Human beings have the capacity to help each other feel safe. When a person provides a calming presence and keeps her own emotions under control, she can help others to calm down and feel safe. This is the optimal condition for creativity, learning, and memory.

One expert who understands the importance of this kind of co-regulation in education is Emily Read Daniels, a school counselor and system change expert. Her model, the Regulated Classroom, suggests incorporating tools and practices into classroom routines to help build mind/body safety and establish self-regulation in educators and their students. This approach particularly helps children who have been exposed to toxic stress and trauma.

Neuroscientists teach us that relational safety provides the best foundation for brain development. Educators are wise to incorporate this basic principle, and they could do no better than to follow the model of Mrs. Duzi. She provided a calm presence for her students, who will carry the love and warmth she provided throughout their lives. My wish for all students is that they have the opportunity to learn from teachers like her.

*I invite you to Join our Beyond Behaviors email list, and hop over to instagram to see what I’m learning and sharing from teachers like Cindy.

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