Take Notes with Jen Rafferty

How to enhance learning experiences and make meaningful connections by understanding neuroscience with Chantel Prat

March 14, 2024 Jen Rafferty Season 3 Episode 21
How to enhance learning experiences and make meaningful connections by understanding neuroscience with Chantel Prat
Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
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Take Notes with Jen Rafferty
How to enhance learning experiences and make meaningful connections by understanding neuroscience with Chantel Prat
Mar 14, 2024 Season 3 Episode 21
Jen Rafferty

How can we continue to keep students engaged and motivated? 


If we’re being honest, the traditional education system falls short in meeting everyone's needs. 


In today’s episode, join me and the brilliant Chantel Prat, a professor with a vast background in psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics as we explore why it's crucial for teachers like you to understand the brain's workings to connect better with students and create a classroom that brings out the best in every student. 


Discover how to foster meaningful connections and effective learning environments. Chantel breaks down the importance of self-awareness, empathy, and tailoring educational strategies to suit individual needs.


We'll talk about how stress is a major factor, affecting learning more than you realize, and what you can do about it. Learn why taking care of yourself is key to being a great educator. 


Choice can be a powerful thing in the classroom, and we'll discuss how giving your students more of it can transform their learning experience.


Tune in and join the conversation to make a positive change in our education.


Stay empowered,
Jen

Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Chantel:

Chantel Prat is a Professor at the University of Washington with appointments in the Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Linguistics, and at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, the Center for Neurotechnology, and the Institute for Neuroengineering. A cognitive neuroscientist by training, her interdisciplinary research investigates the biological basis of individual differences in cognition, with an emphasis on understanding the shared neural mechanisms underpinning language and higher-level executive functions. She is a recipient of the Tom Trabasso Young Investigator Award from the Society of Text and Discourse and a Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Health. Her work has been supported by the National Institute of Health, the Office of Naval Research, and the Keck Foundation. Prat speaks internationally at events like The World Science Festival. She is featured in the documentary, I Am Human. Her studies have been profiled in media ranging from Scientific American, Psychology Today, and Science Daily to Rolling Stone, Popular Mechanics, Pacific Standard, Travel + Leisure, and National Public Radio. 



Connect with Chantel:

Website: https://www.chantelprat.com/

IG: @chantelpratphd

X: @ChantelPratPhD

LinkedIn: Chantel Prat

Show Notes Transcript

How can we continue to keep students engaged and motivated? 


If we’re being honest, the traditional education system falls short in meeting everyone's needs. 


In today’s episode, join me and the brilliant Chantel Prat, a professor with a vast background in psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics as we explore why it's crucial for teachers like you to understand the brain's workings to connect better with students and create a classroom that brings out the best in every student. 


Discover how to foster meaningful connections and effective learning environments. Chantel breaks down the importance of self-awareness, empathy, and tailoring educational strategies to suit individual needs.


We'll talk about how stress is a major factor, affecting learning more than you realize, and what you can do about it. Learn why taking care of yourself is key to being a great educator. 


Choice can be a powerful thing in the classroom, and we'll discuss how giving your students more of it can transform their learning experience.


Tune in and join the conversation to make a positive change in our education.


Stay empowered,
Jen

Let’s keep the conversation going! Find me at:
Jen Rafferty | Instagram, YouTube, Facebook | Linktree
Instagram: @jenrafferty_
Facebook: Empowered Educator Faculty Room


About Chantel:

Chantel Prat is a Professor at the University of Washington with appointments in the Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Linguistics, and at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, the Center for Neurotechnology, and the Institute for Neuroengineering. A cognitive neuroscientist by training, her interdisciplinary research investigates the biological basis of individual differences in cognition, with an emphasis on understanding the shared neural mechanisms underpinning language and higher-level executive functions. She is a recipient of the Tom Trabasso Young Investigator Award from the Society of Text and Discourse and a Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Health. Her work has been supported by the National Institute of Health, the Office of Naval Research, and the Keck Foundation. Prat speaks internationally at events like The World Science Festival. She is featured in the documentary, I Am Human. Her studies have been profiled in media ranging from Scientific American, Psychology Today, and Science Daily to Rolling Stone, Popular Mechanics, Pacific Standard, Travel + Leisure, and National Public Radio. 



Connect with Chantel:

Website: https://www.chantelprat.com/

IG: @chantelpratphd

X: @ChantelPratPhD

LinkedIn: Chantel Prat

Jen Rafferty 
Are you caught in the whirlwind of overwhelming responsibilities, and as the very thought of Monday morning sent chills down your spine? Well, it's time to toss those fillings out the window. Welcome to Season 3 of the Take Notes - Podcast, where you get to make yourself a priority in order to show up as your best self. I'm your host Jen Rafferty, former music teacher, emotional intelligence practitioner, mom of two, and founder of Empowered Educator, and I've been where you are. In this season, we're not just talking about surviving, we are diving deep into thriving. Are you ready to take the lead in your life? Well, let's do this.

Jen Rafferty  
 Hello, and welcome to another fabulous episode of Take Notes. I am with Chantel Prat, who is a professor at the University of Washington with appointments in the departments of Psychology, Neuroscience and Linguistics and at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, the Center for Neuro technology and the Institute for Neuro Engineering. Her work has been supported by the National Institute of Health, the Office of Naval Research, and the Keck Foundation. Chantel speaks internationally at events like the World Science Festival, and she has been featured in the documentary I Am Human. And she is also the author of The Neuroscience of You. Her studies have been profiled in media ranging from Scientific American, Psychology Today, and Science Daily, to Rollingstone, Popular Mechanics, Pacific Standard, Travel and Leisure, and National Public Radio. And of course, now, Take Notes. So thank you so much for being here with us.

Chantel Prat  
Thank you so much for having me. I'm excited to talk to you and your listeners.

Jen Rafferty  
I am so excited to have this conversation. So let's just get down and dirty into it. Why do we need to be talking about brains, particularly with teachers and in school communities.

Chantel Prat  
I think when you read the laundry list of people who I've talked to about brains from mechanics to travel and leisure, I think if you're working with people, and you don't understand the brain, it's really hard to do what we all do when we're trying to connect. And that's to reverse engineer, the mind that is driving the behavior of interest. Now, this is just if you want to have a polite conversation with somebody who's bringing you a cup of coffee, I think it's a great idea. But if you're trying to shape another mind, it's really hard for me to imagine how one goes about that without understanding how they got to the place that they're at right now. 

Chantel Prat  
And I think with respect to your audience, who are educators who are trying to understand themselves and take care of themselves, I would say that you have the power to start with you. And that one of the common mistakes we all make is that thinking other people work like we do, we put ourselves we're social creatures. And we learn using this mirror neuron system, which essentially says I observe a behavior. And my brain activates the parts that I would use to create that behavior, we put ourselves into our understanding of the world around us. And it's automatic, and it's invisible. So as you see patterns cropping up over and over in your relationships, you might not realize how much of that is the lens through which you see the world permeating into the way you understand others. 

Chantel Prat  
And I would just say like, so there's two things here. And the answer. One is, if you don't understand yourself through the lens, the perceptual and conceptual lens that your brain creates, you can't subtract oh, that's me. That's a me thing. From the way you're understanding another individual. We automatically instinctively quickly put interpret others through our own lenses. So I think that's super important. 

Chantel Prat  
And the second thing is that behavior, somebody can behave in a certain way for different reasons. We succeed and fail and struggle for different reasons. And performance on a test, for instance, or in a classroom doesn't necessarily give us all the information that we need to understand the why of that. So I think understanding something about not only how brains work on average, but how different brains, think, feel and behave, can give us the tools for knowing what questions to ask what contexts we need to vary, to try and figure out why somebody is behaving the way they're behaving.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, so necessary and a huge part that's missing from pre-service teaching programs, for sure. I mean, maybe we'll get a semester of Educational Psychology, and then that's it, but something that I really want to continue to go back to you because this is really aligned with what empowered educator is about, we have this foundation of the most generously thing you can do for your students is take care of yourself. And what you're suggesting right now, which is so aligned is that so much of our focus is out word, we want to reach the kids, we want to talk to the parents, we want to get to the same page with our administrator. 

Jen Rafferty  
But what really needs to happen is looking inward, and who am I and how do I operate, how do I perceive the world so that then we can do all these other things? And that's challenging to say, you know, okay, this is a me thing. Requires a certain level of responsibility and sometimes uncomfortable confrontation with yourself. Can we talk a little bit about how to navigate that. 

Chantel Prat  
I mean, I'm still thinking about this doing like reading papers about it, and sort of working through it myself, because I guess I'm always like, capital T, truth is so slippery. So the truth as my brain perceives it based on the information it has access too, is that there is no separation between the way we understand ourselves and the way we understand the world, I think we have this, one of the most important tricks our brain plays on us is making us believe that we're seeing these objective truths, but it feels like we open our eyes and perceive the world like a movie. But instead, we're taking low resolution samples of the world around us. 

Chantel Prat  
And we're constantly filling in the blanks based on what we expect to be happening based on our previous lifetime of experiences, like we are inference generating machines. And the way we come to understand ourselves and our place in the world, are intimately intertwined. They're tied to our previous experiences. And so you might think this dress is blue and black. And somebody else might say no way that dress is white and gold. And something as straightforward as the color of an object can be open to different interpretations based on people's previous experience with light and shadows. 

Chantel Prat  
So you think about how that scales up to something like, what do you think of as success in the classroom or success outside of the classroom? Or how do you define well being? It's just the you, like your sense of self, is really, largely like, what is the common denominator on all of my life experiences, you know what I mean? And we are unable to be objective about that. Any more than we can be fully objective about all the incomplete information we have about the world around us. 

Chantel Prat  
So it is, I think it's a delicate balance between learning and having awareness of these things. And also saying, my brain is actually not motivated to know the truth. It's motivated to figure out what works for me, and to move me through the world in a way that drives success. A lot of information that you're presented with, doesn't inform your decisions, if you were trying to understand the truth. There would just be a lot of irrelevant stuff in there. Right? 

Chantel Prat  
So the truth as I experience it, what happens in your brain is that it's looking for information that's important for you. And it's turning up those signals, and turning down signals on things that it's decided based on your lived experiences aren't important to you, it prevents you from seeing the truth. Because that's not what's really important for driving success. What's really important for driving success is like what works for you.

Chantel Prat  
 And so I've been thinking about this a lot, my husband, and my life partner is also a cognitive neuroscientist, he works really differently for me. And so when I am sort of testing my hypotheses about myself or like some other person, it's kind of nice to have an information partner who says, hey, like, I'm trying to notice things that are inconsistent with my ideas of me, because I know that I'll notice the things that are consistent, and I'll keep reactivating those things. Will you help me pay attention to when I am really disciplined or something like that, you know, I think sometimes in order to sort of have an accurate sense of self, in order to update your old beliefs, you need to establish a new practice of noticing things that are surprising or inconsistent with kind of your view of self and it's hard.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, it is hard. And I think doing it from a place of curiosity is obvious. So we're not judging ourselves and coming from that place of shame and blame, for example, being consistent in my mind goes to you know, yeah, I said I would go to the gym as many times and now I'm not so looking at a mirror in that way. I can teeter on the side of judgment, if that's what I choose, and having a mirror of someone like you just describe like your partner, so exciting. But I think that's also why this seems to work and learn about this in community so that we are able to do this. So having a space like a school or school community where everyone speaks the same language, those conversations are able to happen. Can you talk a little bit about maybe how we've seen that play out?

Chantel Prat  
To be perfectly honest, I haven't. But I think it's really important. So I just read a book called Why We Remember by my former graduate Professor Charles Ranganath. And in that he talks about social memory. And there are pluses and minuses. And it's a little bit related to what you mentioned,. There's something about being in community, which is really good, and being in a safe space and being supported for testing out these different vulnerable hypotheses about self and that I can speak too. 

Chantel Prat  
But when it comes to looking for evidence, like having other people help you notice things that you might forget, or ribcage or reclassify experiences that you've labeled in a certain way. I haven't, I don't know, it seems like very in my life, I have this community of too, I think we could learn to do it by ourselves. But I do think that as you read that task, you get more objectivity, which I think brings to the point of the power of working in teams of people who work differently, when you can, when you have the tools and the space to connect with people whose brains don't work like yours. You get these like beautiful, different ways of seeing the world and these different perspectives on what you can become so entrenched, as is this is right or wrong. This is the truth or the not truth, because again, our brains are constantly feeding us things that are consistent with what works for us.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. Let's go back for one second about something you said earlier about success. Because for me, that's that's stuck out, particularly in academia, we have this one size fits all, I was fortunate enough to fall into the type of typical brain that did well in school and collected my A's and gold stars, and associated a lot of myself works to those things to another story for another time. And I'm also a child of the 90s, where like tracking was a thing. And now moving forward, we're having lots of different conversation about neuro divergence. 

Jen Rafferty  
But the truth is, and this speaks to really just the title of your book. Everyone has their own way of being. And so this one size fits all we know cognitively doesn't work, but changing this organizational structure is like moving a mountain, what are some things you can speak to at least start to plant some seeds as to how we can start thinking about moving this in a different direction?

Chantel Prat  
Man. That's a big and important question. So the first thing I want to say is that this idea of like classroom based learning, or good learning, for even typical learning, versus a typical learning, is so largely culturally defined, and also, importantly, is so small when it comes to how your brain define success. And how your brain defines learning, right? So let's just talk about the difference between instructed learning, like if I am standing in front of you, and explaining how to do something, or you're watching a video on YouTube, how much of how you think of yourself, as a good learner is tied to your ability to regurgitate in some way, a thing that you learn through instructions, you know, it could be I mean, most of us don't think about how well we put together furniture with an Ikea instruction versus something else as but that's instructions too. 

Chantel Prat  
But so much of how we think of ourselves as learners is tied to classrooms. And I think the first point I want to make is that is a really probably uniquely human, very evolutionarily new and very expensive way to learn. When you think about learning from your brain standpoint, this is I have had an experience. And by the way, your brain does not care if this experience is real or imagined. So even when you go back and reclassify, oh, that was good, or that was bad. You're creating a new experience that your brain learns from so learning from your brain is I have had this experience and I'm going to use this experience to reorganize the way I think, feel and behave in a way that is going to have a better outcome in the future. That's learning the way all behaving animals do it and it's the vast majority of the way people do it. 

Chantel Prat  
We do it by trying things and seeing what works trial and error learning is how we learn to acquire the language through which we can eventually get instructed learning through, right? So the instructed learning is something that your brain saves for special occasions. It's not the meat and potatoes of how you grow from your experiences. So this is like step one, we have this really weird if you think even just about human evolution, there's this really weird thing, which is like, I'm going to tell you a thing, then you're going to absorb that thing. And then you're going to take a test. 

Chantel Prat  
Usually, it's not even about can you now go fix a car or use that thing to navigate Barcelona or apply it to make better decisions in the future, right like that. Even if we said, okay, let's evaluate, instructed learning by not by somebody's ability to regurgitate it or to make it in their own words and do it on a test, but actually, by somebody's ability to apply it in a way that maximizes their version of success, right? I just learned about world history. And now I'm called to vote or something. And I can apply that in a way that changes my decision, knowing what happened in the past, not like I'm going to take a test and say this war started at this time, but like, I'm going to feel like I make better political decisions now or something like that. 

Chantel Prat  
It's just so the definition of classroom learning is so specific. It's not that it's not how human brains learn. But it's such a small way of assessing how human brains learn. And it's such a specific type of a kind of like, Apex type of human learning, that when we say somebody wild to me to think that up to 10%, of native English speakers can be considered to have dyslexia and this winds up being a huge percentage of the people who are diagnosed as learning disabled, right. 

Chantel Prat  
In fact, these people have a hard time learning through written instructions. But actually written language is really new for human brains. It's like possibly 5000 years old, where spoken language is 50,000 years old or more. A person with dyslexia has a hard time extracting verbal information from these like tiny random squiggles that we learned through thousands of hours of practice to translate into sounds and then words and then the ideas that we want to communicate. And that sort of bottleneck creates that the stigma of being learning disabled. 

Chantel Prat  
And then because of the way that our modern classrooms work, it makes it harder for children who have dyslexia to acquire information about history that then they'll use to vote, and so forth, and so on. Right. It's complicated, I guess it's complicated. And, and what I like to say is a lot of the types of diagnoses that people consider to be neuro divergent things like ADHD, autism, or dyslexia, just for example, these things are increasing in frequency, they're not necessarily a typical, there are just ways of learning being or interacting, that have been deemed to be not working well in this culture that we have defined as how we learn, and with the sort of metrics that we've used as how we learned, but in fact, every brain learns a little bit differently. All of us are trying to learn in a way that sort of maximizes our future success based on our previous experiences. 

Chantel Prat  
And I think, appreciating sort of the bigness that is learning in the brain. And the separation between things that can define and motivate success for an individual and what we have defined as a culture to be good learning, which might actually not really set us up for success. And all these interesting ways other than the confidence that comes from saying, hey, I did. I got straight A's at this school. And so that means I'm capable of all these things that really, as you alluded to, your college education didn't necessarily prepare you for in any way. Other than making you think you can do hard things. It's a really big thing you've highlighted here, in this sort of separation between book smarts or like classroom performance. And the way it's our brains go about trying to maximize our individual success based on what works for us.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. And so, you know, this can feel very overwhelming now, because okay, so I'm in a classroom 26, 30, sometimes even 35 students who all have different brains, and my experience of the world is coming from my own reign and my own experience projecting onto all of these children. So now what? Well, I guess that it's a big question, but we can take it micro too. What happened.

Chantel Prat  
So I think that there's mounting evidence that kids who spend more time in a class with the same teacher have greater levels of success. And the reason that I believe that's true is because if you aren't have the same students for two years, you have twice as much time to get to know them as individuals and I think that what's going on there. I don't know think about like, oh, do you like history and so you learn these things I'm gonna give you these books. It's about relationship building. 

Chantel Prat  
And the reason that I think that's important is that even for people like you and I, who did really well, in school, it's so hard. It's hard. And it's the fact there's part of this fact that we did well in it. And then we got reinforced for it and motivated us to do the work, to work through hard things, even if we were like, I don't know if I'm ever going to need this in my life again or not. And so I think that understanding each individual in from a standpoint of what is important to them, and what motivates them, I think, being able to see this person and motivate them based on what you can glean is their reward system is their "why" is the most powerful thing you can do. 

Chantel Prat  
Like you're sitting here, and you're teaching music, or math or history, and maybe 25% of those students have like self selected into this class and 75% have to do it like how do you lock on to what is important to them, to their why, and get them to be motivated to get the information that you're trying to give to them. And you talked about curiosity, that's the key right there. So once I was in a writing group with people who from all different backgrounds and disciplines, there were like spoken word poets and people who wrote travel guides, and we would take turns writing, and one time a science fiction writer said to me, after I read a blurb from the book, they said, I feel like you're one of those sneaky moms who puts vegetables in dessert. 

Chantel Prat  
And I thought it was such a compliment, because what they were trying to say is I have taken something that they thought they would never care about neuroscience, and said, how can you not care about this, like this, you connect it do the work to you know, I would hope that the things that we've decided to teach in our public education systems are in some way connected to this person's future success or functioning and the everyday world. But we don't always do the work to make those connections clear, interesting and exciting. And to understand that they might look differently to different people. 

Chantel Prat  
So I read a study, we're talking, we're doing research on self education and sort of personalizing neuroscience education in our lab. And I read a study that shows that if you give like a questionnaire about interests to a student, so it might be like, Here are 15 things you rated on a scale of one to 10 like basketball, unicorn, I don't know, I'm just thinking about like, different things someone might care about. Then you put Math word problems into these contexts, like suddenly, instead of doing three plus four, you're doing this many dribbles plus this many points or whatever, or three unicorns and for, I don't know, Stardust trail. 

Chantel Prat  
So as something as simple as like putting the thing into a context that somebody already cares about, dramatically improves their performance and their learning. So I think that's where I would start, if I were a teacher. Instead of this person is problematic, because they're not succeeding in this environment, like spending the time to say like, this person's brain is doing exactly what all of our brains do. It's trying to maximize their success based on previous experiences. Maybe they haven't had the same previous experiences as other children who are doing well. Or maybe their brains are driven by different intrinsic motivators, like how do I imagine what this brain is wanting based on what I see in the classroom? And how do I use that to contextualize and when I'm trying to teach in a way that motivates a student?

Jen Rafferty  
To me that question, lights me up. I did. I'm so excited about that question. What does this person's brain want and need is so much different than this kid is giving me a hard time. And I don't know what I'm supposed to do about this. It's a such a different type of question.

Chantel Prat  
And it can change things because I imagine I mean, you might think I can't imagine this, but I get a group of 18 to 22 year olds, and I've got them in the classroom. And I'm like, I'm teaching you what I think is the coolest stuff ever. And you're showing up with a different set of conditions, right? Like, you might think this was the coolest thing ever, if you didn't just have a biochem test and do an all nighter or you're sick, or your partner just broke up with you. Or there's all you know, you might say, oh, these kids are not motivated, they're not doing their homework, but it's like a lack of an under appreciation of each of these people as three dimensional human beings with a whole bunch of other stuff going on. And with different reasons for it. Some of them are like, I am taking this class because I want to understand myself and some of them are taking this class because it was on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:30 when they were already on campus. But you have the opportunity to make them all learn and love that. You just need to get a little bit deeper into the whys.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. And so can we talk a little bit about motivation for a minute, and can you explain in what's happening inside your brain when you are motivated to do something.

Chantel Prat  
Yes, yeah, that's a great question. So in general, I would say motivation comes from a two part process. And one is, I anticipate that this thing is going to bring me a reward. Right. And if I have two, three, four choices, and the first thing I'm going to say is like, how likely in the past are these two, three, four things to bring me a reward. And if every time you do this thing, it brings you a reward, your brain will start giving you those feel good chemicals before with dopamine, most likely, before you even do that thing. 

Chantel Prat  
So it's kind of like dopamine, we think of as as the reward chemical, but it's really like motivating the actions that get the rewards. It's like dropping these breadcrumbs along the series of decisions that get you to good stuff. And what's so important about dopamine for learning is that not only does it make you feel good, it's all yeah, this is the drive to do this thing. It induces neural plasticity. So even if in the lab, for instance, in the scanner, you can give people trivia questions. And if you ask them, how interested are they to know the answer to that question. 

Chantel Prat  
Like some trivia questions you know the answer and you're not interested. If it's about a topic you don't care about, you're not interested. But some trivia question is like, oh, man, that was my favorite band. And I can't think of that their first hit song. I'm so curious about that. If you report a high level of curiosity, not only do you see these dopamine reward areas lining up at the question, you're much more likely to remember the answer because this dopamine is inducing neuroplasticity, that neuroplasticity is meant in the world to rewire your brain in ways that help you go down that path that gets you to rewards again, right. 

Chantel Prat  
But the beautiful thing about the human brain is that it considers information or reward. In fact, the parts of the brain that are anticipating information rewards, are exactly the same parts of the brain that anticipate a food reward when somebody comes into the lab food deprived, and you give them a picture of a cheeseburger or a salad and you ask them which thing they want to know it's the same exact driver, as do you want to know the answers to this trivia question or that trivia question. 

Chantel Prat  
So part one of motivation is I anticipate a future reward. And I think this is where teachers become really important. Because if you don't think you're going to be successful at something, if you have a history of being not good at this thing in the past, or being corrected, publicly corrected, or whatever. One of the things that we all have in common is that we don't work to be bad at things like when in the real world, would you choose something that you suck at, that you've stably been bad at? That's hard. Like, it just wouldn't be a good evolutionary strategy, right? 

Chantel Prat  
So if you are anticipating not being good at something, it might manifest as, oh, this kid doesn't care. They're not motivated. But in fact, it's because they have this history of perceived failure, when they might really care and have a lot of shame around that. And it's just I'm going to avoid that like the plague. Because that's been painful in the past. 

Jen Rafferty  
Can I ask the question about that, then just for clarity. So then this type of motivation, if we have those consistent experiences, really affects our own self efficacy? 

Chantel Prat  
Correct. That's correct. Yeah. And self efficacy is based in part on social comparisons with others and in part on your history of success with this thing, right, and the feedback you've gotten. And that's correct. So like, and I think that like dopamine and motivation is a big part of not only the neural basis of like, why self efficacy has such a strong effect on performance, but also this idea of a growth mindset. So like, you struggle at something, and it's hard, because it's hard for all of us. And then there's a level of story that you add to that thing. 

Chantel Prat  
And because that's what our brains do, they make up stories that tell us that connect the events in our life. And if the story you add is, this thing is hard, because I suck at it. And every time I try, my teacher says, nah, do it again or whatever, if the story is I'm bad at x, that does not motivate you to put in the work to do it. If the story is I'm struggling because this is a hard thing. That's the growth mindset like not yet. Right? It's so then it's I'm struggling because this is a hard thing, but everyone's struggling and that struggling might be invisible to me because they're not all getting publicly, whatever is going on or you just can't see other people's effort. You might not see that the person who got a better grade than you studied twice as much as you did, right. 

Chantel Prat  
But if you say this, I'm struggling because this is a hard thing, but I know that if I master this thing, I'm going to feel so good about myself and I'm gonna, it's gonna allow me to do x, y and z, then you are more likely to make the choices to work hard, you know, you're more likely to be motivated. And especially if you're like a person whose previous experiences have set you up to like a challenge, oh, this is a hard thing. Only 5% people can do it, like some people will find that all yeah, I'm going to be one of those 5%. And I'm going to work really hard. But those are people who haven't told themselves the story that they're deficient. 

Chantel Prat  
I want to tell you one more thing. And that is that, even within that dopamine estimate of rewards, there's two sides to that street, our brains have a path that move us towards the things that we think are going to be rewarding, and I've been talking about that. But the human brain as opposed to like AI has another path that moves us away from things that are not rewarding. So you can and it's separate. And there are genetic differences that shape how strong those two paths are. 

Chantel Prat  
So some people are really motivated by like potential like stickers, or a positive. Everybody likes positive feedback. And nobody likes negative feedback. But the strength of those two things as motivators like I'm motivated not to make a mistake in public. I'm motivated not to do something that feels like socially embarrassing, or that feels hard, like the stick learners might move through the world almost entirely by avoiding negative consequences. So I think that's important for teachers to know about themselves, and about other people. And I will just say that you can go to my website, which is chantelprat.com, there's an experiment button, then you can actually do the carrot and stick task yourself and find out the extent to which your brain learns from sort of like successes and setbacks, which I think is a pretty powerful tool.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. I love all of those things on your website. And in your book, all of the activities in your book find so fun. 

Chantel Prat  
Yeah, I think it is amazing. Me search, me search, me research. I love it. Sorry, I got a little carried away there. I'm obviously carrot. I'm very carrot learning, too. But the second part is the estimated effort, right? So motivation is about cost benefit analysis. Every decision we make, little decisions we're not even thinking about whether to hit the snooze button, your brain is quickly making an assessment of how hard this is and how much the reward is. And I think that in this space to go back to the like, our brains are not motivated to understand the truth, but what works for us. And I think it's really important to realize that how harder or easy something is, or how harder or easy we believe something will be and how rewarding or not rewarding we believe something like both sides of this coin are shaped by that person's individual experiences. 

Chantel Prat  
So I have this really salient mentorship failure that I remember early in my career. So when I was getting my PhD, I was also I'm like, first gen college student, I'm super scrappy, I was that person, it was like, this is hard, you're gonna do it anyway. I was also a single mom, I had a four year old. And I just was like, I'm doing this because failure is not an option. And I just like stubbornly bullheaded my way through. So, one of my first graduate, who is amazing, she's so one of my most precious friends, we talk all the time, was struggling in graduate school, she was having a particularly hard time where there's a lot on her plate, and I made a mistake that I think all of us make. 

Chantel Prat  
And that is I interpreted her level of struggle through the lens of my experiences, right. And she was sharing with me feeling overwhelmed and everything like that. And I said, if this is the hardest thing you've ever had to do, you're really lucky. That I thought I was being motivational. False, that was not true. And she said, I'm very thankful for the trust in the relationship, because she said, I know, but it still feels bad. And that was such a wonderful learning opportunity for me because I had the science to understand that what I was doing was wrong. But I was doing what we all do, which is like putting ourselves into someone else's situation. 

Chantel Prat  
So how hard we think something is or how motivated we are, how rewarding we think it's gonna be. It's tied to our own experiences. And we can't fall no, this you know, that they're like, the world doesn't divide itself into people who bad things happen to them, people who don't, right, it doesn't work like that. Instead, what you see is how people respond to those things. And I think it's just really important to contextualize that, that that like how bad or good something it is not an absolute truth. It's a relative truth for that person. Right? As my student who so graciously reminded me to shut up with your toxic positivity. This feels bad right now. Okay. This is my reality.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. And that's, I think, underscores what we've been saying all along is the importance of knowing yourself. Even just that situation. Which think thank you for sharing that. Because I know we can all relate to that resonated with me for sure, too. I remember actually saying that to a student of mine early in my teaching days, and looking back on that I cringe at that moment, but I didn't know what I know now. And you need to know yourself, in order to navigate through all of it in a way that feels aligned, at least that's the word that comes to me is alignment. And so I want to stay there. 

Jen Rafferty  
But I also want to ask you this other question, because I think that's really important, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask it. Because we've all just lived through a pandemic. There is a certain underscore of stress that exists in all of us simply because of the trauma that we've all experienced. And so when we talk about anything regarding our brain, I think we have to talk about stress, and how that affects our ability to do all of the things that we're talking about. And can you speak on that and how that is relevant to the role that we have to play in the classroom?

Chantel Prat  
Yes, so I would say from my perspective, what's really important to understand is that just like I talked about classroom learning is only a fraction of how we learn from our experiences. Behaving according to our just like you and I just said, we did a thing, we didn't understand the thing that was like a natural response for us, then we learned that this is not a subway to support another person. But even though we know that there are different ways of knowing that's what I want to say, there are different ways of knowing this trial and error type knowing gives rise to the energetically efficient, intuitive ways of behaving that are actually often very good. And like empathy is an intuition. 

Chantel Prat  
That's not if you learn it, you have like this rational kind of way of understanding, that's great, that breaks you out of this kind of mirror neurons and system. But I don't want to say that our intuitive way of behaving is always bad, it gives us the right answer a lot of times, and it's efficient and easy. It's when we learn better and want to do different. Want to override, because that's also where our biases live, and where our baggage lives. And we might be trying to thrive in a different environment than the one our brain adapted to. 

Chantel Prat  
So when we want to use a piece of information that we learned through instructions, to behave better, Maya Angelou said, Do the best you can until you know better than when you know better do better. And that is great. And it's hard. Because that requires this really expensive part of your brain, these frontal lobe executive systems that have to come online and say like, don't behave right now, stop, think for a second, don't let the fastest horse out of the gate. You know, there are things in there that you can use to guide your behavior. But it's important to acknowledge that's expensive, you can only really use one goal at a time to guide your behavior. 

Chantel Prat  
So if you have three things going on, that you're trying to do to override your pre potent automatic responses, you're gonna have to juggle those things. If you're stressed. Stress eats those neural resources, right? So it eats away your cortisol, eats away at your frontal cortex. When you're stressed in nature, your brain doesn't want you going, wait, let me know. When you're stressed because something is trying to eat you. 

Chantel Prat  
And your brain doesn't want you to go wait, let me consider like the pros and cons of these three different ways of responding to a student. That's not the mode your brain is in. And for many of us speaking from personal experience, I will say that January of this year, was the first time I felt fully energized in so long. So I had the pandemic, we had two losses in the family. I wrote a freaking book during all of that, like all of us were depleted. And I sort of just thought like, oh, this is me, I'm just aging like the early 2020 was so long ago, I just thought oh, I'm never gonna feel like I did. I just thought I was just getting old. 

Chantel Prat  
And then finally I just like I'm on sabbatical this year, and however long that took, I had enough days of sleep or whatever months years to process that I finally felt for this three to four week period of full fuel fully leaded and I thought holy crap, I have been fatigued burnt out for years. But for those of you who are still there, I am telling you like it just keeps the lights came back on for me which is amazing. But within this space of trying to be your best, and do your best. I think it's really important to have compassion and understand that these ways that we when we want to do better and use what we know to do better they are expensive from your brain standpoint. 

Chantel Prat  
And you need to have as much sleep as you can like sleep gets rid of the toxins in the brain. When you wake up and you feel like sand in your eyes, and you feel like the cogs are just turning slowly, your brain is literally just sitting in its own waste. It's really important to sleep and rest. And I think the other thing is to be compassionate with yourself and to understand that reading a book or knowing better isn't magically transforming you into the person that you want to be. 

Chantel Prat  
And although I have never seen a scientific experiment on this, I feel as a human being quite confident that beating yourself up about your mistakes does not add to the while. We have to be compassionate with ourselves. And we have to understand, if you are failing over and over, then you are probably setting unrealistic goals for yourself, set them back a little bit. So you can have successes and build your own self worth and self confidence. 

Chantel Prat  
And then it's just like, everything that's good for the body is good for the brain sleep, good nutrition, exercise, you might think, oh, I'm not going to the gym, because I'm a failure or whatever. But like if going to the gym is not intrinsically rewarding to you at some costs energy and your brain, you really need to be like sleeping, eating better, be kind to yourself, so that you can have the energy to go to the gym, which will then give you the energy to also like, take another person's perspective, all of those things that are not easy for us. They fight for the massive amounts of glucose that your brain consumes every day.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. And that really brings us back to the beginning where the most generous thing you can do for other people is take care of yourself.

Chantel Prat  
That's right. That's right. And it's not how we're wired. And it's not what culture tells us to do. But that's another mistake that I have learned over and over is to say, yes, I'm going to show up for someone else when I can't give, especially if it's like a vulnerable person, I am so motivated to say yes, to this person, they have had a hard time or this or that or the other. But if you're gonna say yes to a person who needs your help, and you're not going to show up for them a hundred percent, and give them the help that they actually need. Are you doing them a favor? The answer is no. Like you have to say yes less often to people who you can truly show up for, like you could actually be doing harm if you say I'm going to help you. But you don't have the energy to do it well.

Jen Rafferty  
Right. And I think we know this cognitively, we say oh, of course we know put our own oxygen mask on before we put someone else in but doing it is totally different. And then doing it when it feels hard is also a totally different thing, too. And I think having conversations like this, bringing it back to the neurobiology, this is your humanity. This is how you're wired, really, I think leverages something important that could hopefully tip someone over the fence and okay, I get it.

Chantel Prat  
And then also think about what I try and do is going back to this whole instructed learning is only part of how we learn others learn from what you do also, right? You can be a mentor in saying I don't have space for that right now. And a person who I really like and respect asked me to participate in this kind of outreach artsy thing recently. And I want to help this person, but I bet and but I have these things going on, you have to say like, where is the spare time in my life? Where's that time coming from? You know. 

Chantel Prat  
And so I had a very authentic conversation with the person I said, I really love what you do. And the truth is, when I think about this, it only feels like an obligation for me. And so I need to say no, to me participating in this thing. Because right now there are a lot of passion projects that I really want to have time for. And this would come in between that. So it's not about you as what you're doing is wonderful. But when I think about doing it myself, it feels like this. And I'm honoring that. Which are hard. The person was very supportive. I took the time to explain it. And not just I don't have time right now, because I think they get that all the time. I think you get that all the time.

Jen Rafferty  
Sure. Well, I think that you're right, showing up in that way, I think gives someone else permission to show up that way, too. And the more that we're able to have these conversations openly vulnerably, human to human of, hey, this is what's happening with me right now. And this really has nothing to do with you. Love what you're doing. And that's awesome. I love that journey for you. And this is what feels good for me. I think the more that we can do this, you're right. We learn from each other through that behavior, whether we're in the classroom or whether it's with your own kids watching this with your colleagues or your friends or even your family seems really more sticky.

Chantel Prat  
And there's something even on top of that there's something that I found more powerful and that is there are a lot of things that we choose to do that somehow become encoded as an obligation. I have weekly meetings with all of my students. And I could wake up one morning and go, I have three meetings today. That's three hours, I'm never gonna get back in my life. And I've have had moments like that, right. 

Chantel Prat  
But if I remind myself, like, I'm meeting with my students, because I want to know what's going on in their lives, like, I want us to have this connection, this opportunity. And it's a choice. Like, I'm very fortunate, there are a lot of things that I choose to do every day that I could choose not to. And sometimes I do, and my students have told me that they're very thankful that I'm so transparent, like, they don't think I'm Wonder woman. They know if I get sick or stressed or I have something else going on. 

Chantel Prat  
And if I give myself permission to cancel one in 20 of those meetings, because I'm not feeling good, it lets them see that I'm a real person. And also the other 19 of 20 meetings, I'm excited to show up too, because I'm like, I chose this. And I think there are times there are things like that in all of our lives, right? I think there are things like that in all of our lives that becomes so that we chose, but that can start to feel like an obligation, whether it's like, oh, this is my book club that started out really fun. And then you're like crap, I gotta read more ePad pages or bacon to like, just hang out my friends or whatever. And it's there are things in our worlds that become like, they start to feel like an obligation. And I think if you give yourself permission to cancel it, and remind yourself that you chose it, you can have the opportunity to be more excited about it.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah. And you touched on being Wonder Woman, I think briefly, that's this narrative that educators have fallen into of being the superheroes, and that feeds into that narrative of, we have to do everything, because we're martyrs. The selflessness is something that we signed up for. And it's simply not true. And that paradigm is dangerous, not just for your own healthy longevity in your career, but for all of these beautiful young humans looking at you to how to be a human. And so the more we can be transparent about this, the more we can make that generational shift. 

Chantel Prat  
Right. Yeah. And that goes back to like, self efficacy and like social comparisons, and it seems so easy, because the all of the struggle is happening in our brains and it's oftentimes and it's invisible to other people. And we seem, oh, we have it all under control. And we have great vacations and our T-shirts are ironed. And it's a lie, right? It's a myth. So at least some people do have great vacations and their T-shirts ironed. I have great vacations, with my T-shirts.

Jen Rafferty  
My T-shirts are not ironed. Maybe they're the study. What's the trade off there?

Chantel Prat  
Yeah, exactly. We're making this our carrot brains are making the same choices here.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, for sure.

Jen Rafferty  
So, I do need to ask you the question I asked all of my guests, which is from where you're standing and the work that you do in this world, what is your dream for the future of education? 

Chantel Prat  
My dream for the future of education is that we learn to value different things. That we learn to value what each individual brings into the room in terms of their previous experiences and their perspectives. And I think that, instead of, if you just really look at what we say, as good learning and how that actually pans out to making the world a better place, I think we might start to break apart our very narrow view of what success looks like in the classroom. 

Chantel Prat  
And I would love a world in which teachers are motivated. Of course, it's not the teachers, it's whoever is supporting whoever's the finding the teachers group of success, right, that the education system is motivated to see children and adults and whoever's being educated for the sort of beautiful different people that they are and that the work is motivating that person to be their best version of themselves. 

Chantel Prat  
So I agree in this kind of core common things that we want every citizen to know. But I wish the work was not about demonstrating this on a test, but about exciting that students so that their brains can do what they do best. Just learn about things that they think will be useful to them.

Jen Rafferty  
Yes, more of that.

Jen Rafferty  
Yes, please. I wear rose colored glasses unapologetically on my face. I've shared this many times, especially when people share their dreams. And I really do believe the more we say them out loud, the closer we are to actualizing them. So let's do it. Let's move some.

Chantel Prat  
Yeah. I know in my class, I start like so I taught a neuroscience view class last year. And I started by just applying it to myself was like, okay, well step one, I'm going to let the students choose how they want to demonstrate their knowledge. And that's a pain in the butt from an administrator, it's much easier to give them a multiple choice test. And some students want to do a multiple choice test because that's what they've been trained to do through their whole academic careers. 

Chantel Prat  
But like I let them also write an essay on or collage or whatever they want or presentation about their brain and what they learned about themselves or do a project so I gave them, how do you want to show what you know, as just a little starter, at least in the assessment piece, but yeah, I'm trying to walk the walk.

Jen Rafferty  
Yeah, you are. And I do appreciate you being an example for that, and I so appreciate that you shared your time with me and the Take Notes audience today, it's really been a pleasure to get to know you and deeper into the work that you do. Thank you.

Chantel Prat  
Oh, my gosh, thank you. I thank all of you for the work that you do. And importantly for the work we do on ourselves, because it is so easy to turn all that outward and see what's wrong with the world and society and stuff. And it's much harder to love, accept and be kind and patient with ourselves as we continue to be calm, right? Because that's another thing I want to say is like, learning it, knowing, and growing does not stop in the classroom. Like it stops when we're dead, I think. That's my view.

Jen Rafferty  
More science to figure that one out. But before you go, can you share where people can find you and your work? I know you mentioned your website earlier. What's the best place for them to get in touch with you?

Chantel Prat  
Yes, please come to www.chantelprat.com. You can find all my social media handles there., you can play brain games, you can see some of my talks. I think that's a good jumping off point to find out more about me and what I'm doing.

Jen Rafferty  
Awesome. And all those links will be right there in the show notes. So it'd be super easy for people to get in touch. So thank you again so much. And for those of you who loved this episode, which I know you did, make sure that you subscribe, share with a friend, and write a great review and we'll see you next time on Take Notes. Incredible, right? Together, we can revolutionize the face of education. It's all possible. And it's all here for you right now. Let's keep the conversation going at Empowered Educator Faculty Room on Facebook.