Created by Uldis Abele (psychologist), Dace Medne (Rector of Liepaja University, psychologist, Doctor of Pedagogy), Jānis Erts (Head of EMU)
The EMU approach is based on the understanding of the human brain function and the regularities of the sequential maturation of the nervous system, which is theoretically supported by the Neurosequential Development Model and modern neuroscience (authors: B. Perry, 2006, B. van der Kolk, 2014, S. Porges, 2011, P. Levine, 2012, A. Schore, 2003, etc.). People, as social beings, feel safe when they feel they belong. This means that by feeling a sense of belonging to classmates and teachers, a student feels safe, in which case the cerebral cortex is ready to function fully. These principles are generalizable to every pupil, teacher and the school environment as a whole, and provide the basis for a variety of pedagogical approaches to promote healthy development in schools, as well as expanding the possibilities for each school to create its own unique culture of learning environment.
Teaching and learning are at the forefront of pedagogical work in meeting educational standards and norms. However, effective teaching and learning is only possible if the conditions are right. i.e. the learning environment is designed in accordance with an understanding of the patterns of brain activity.
One of the most common sources of problems is adults trying to explain or teach something to children, i.e. before they have “settled down”. Attunement is based on the ability to self-regulate. Self-regulation involves how pupils learn to organise their perception of internal and external sensory stimuli, regulate their activity levels and state of arousal, and match their emotional and physical reactions to sensations” (Hiebert et al., 2013, p. 38).
Educators therefore need to purposefully promote and support self-regulation skills in the classroom environment in order to optimise students’ social functioning and, as a result, their learning in the classroom environment” (Montroy et al., 2014, p. 307). When students are able to self-regulate, they can manage their actions, achieve higher levels of academic achievement and build healthy relationships (McClelland & Cameron, 2011; McClelland & Wanless, 2012; Sektnan, McClelland, Acock & Morrison, 2010).
Students’ and teachers’ cognitive/mind (cognition) functioning is related to their psychological/emotional state, which may change throughout the day and depending on the situation. Whenever someone becomes ‘out of tune’ (tired, angry, resentful, etc.), they have difficulty making a connection, and consequently learning and/or teaching becomes difficult or even impossible.
Therefore, in order to be able to participate effectively in learning activities, students need support to adjust.
Examples of “resolution” situations. Student – not feeling accepted and fitting in, experiencing mobbing, not relaxed, worried or upset about something; feeling inner turmoil, etc. Teacher – angry; feeling pressured or retaliated against by class or individual pupils; experiencing conflict with colleagues, family; feeling tired, anxious, etc.
Examples of failure to build attachment. If an individual is “out of tune”, it is more difficult to form an attachment with another person, e.g. to approach them, to trust them, to accept what they have to say. Words may often not be used in a meaningful way, but as a means of marking status, releasing discomfort, expressing belonging or detachment, etc. Without the maintenance of attachment, the pupil cannot sustain attention and will not be able to follow what follows; in turn, the teacher without the maintenance of attachment may lose the opportunity to lead the process, end up in a different social role from that of the teacher, etc.
If the pupil is not given the support he needs to “adjust” in time and does not know how to do so himself, problems are more likely to be prolonged and snowball.
The reasons why a pupil is unable to adjust, fit into the school environment and learn are manifold. They can range from one-off, situational difficulties to complex problems involving the pupil’s early development, individual characteristics (including disabilities), family relationships, etc.
If the school environment accepts and implements early identification and resolution of any problems; encouragement to seek help; highlighting problems, supported by clear principles for solutions, a more effective approach to the multi-level support system (VISC) and more efficient use of support staff resources can be expected.
Therefore, in order to use resources in an efficient, targeted and sustainable way, support measures for education (support programmes, support persons, etc.) provided at municipal level should be based on the laws of the brain and, in line with them, create a healthy learning environment for all.
In order to obtain comprehensive data of different cuts, rather than formal information on the learning environment at municipal and school level, it is essential to monitor not only “superficial” static indicators (e.g. number of pupils, number of teachers, number of complaints, types of diagnoses, general surveys, how many courses there have been, etc.), but also collaborative indicators (allowing us to understand whether we are interested in each pupil, trying to help and what exactly is not working at operational level).
In the absence of such monitoring data at municipal and school level, which allows data-driven hypotheses to be formulated about what is/is not being done to create a supportive learning environment, the design of effective solutions is significantly hampered and resource management is ineffective.
To improve learning environments and outcomes, EMU is a monitoring and management tool to gather data at school and municipality level on how schools are creating supportive learning environments – according to an understanding of brain patterns, taking into account the resources, capacities, norms of the municipality.
Principles for monitoring and managing EMU:
We are interested in the main environments in which the student is present (sense of safety – feeling a sense of belonging to classmates and teachers makes the student feel safe, in which case the cortex is ready to function fully):
Relationships with classmates.
Cooperation with teachers (or believes/experiences that teachers are interested and try to help).
Resources available at home (do parents/guardians believe/experience that parents/guardians are interested and try to help).
An additional group of questions is about the student’s attitude towards school (not currently used, has been integrated as schools ask for more information).
The pupil and parent are asked if they think they need support here and now (both in SEM skills and in conflict situations).
Whether we enquire about the pupil (also asking the parent) every term through a questionnaire.
Is support given and what type of decision is made by school staff – separate tutor and separate support staff (did they try to help and decision – will be able to help/not able to help).
Getting feedback from the pupil/parent – was there/was there not support, what was the attitude and did it help them to see and move towards a solution.
This form and structure of the process and data collection allows to formulate data-driven hypotheses as to whether brain patterns are incorporated into the learning environment on an ongoing basis and are a routine part of the pedagogical work, and to identify the exact cause of its omission, which allows to resource-effectively determine the focus of future action.
In order to create a more useful and sustainable integration and development of processes, the EMU approach foresees conversations throughout the school year, integrated into internal management processes, encouragement to address and develop (creating individualised action reminders at pupil, parent, tutor, support staff, school management and educational administration level). Thus, data analysis at the end of the school year is meaningful and directed towards identifying effective solutions. This allows for more relevant development plans at operational and strategic level.