Examine the magnitude of the chemical cortisol in the brain and why it is important for teachers to understand its impact on students. What assumptions can be made as to why these chemicals are so important to be familiar with when it comes to student learning? As a teacher what does this awareness promote?
Cortisol is a biological response to stress. The release of cortisol is a reaction of the hypothalamus and reflects a reaction to stressful conditions. This neurological reality automatically creates realities that the modern teacher has to understand in the condition of their students. Psychologists have been able to draw a connection between the classroom reality and the release of cortisol in the experiences of students:
We found that cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, can either be tied to a student’s poor performance on a math test or contribute to success, depending on the frame of mind of the student going into the test.
This statement helps speak to how teachers can create the conditions that both alleviate and magnify stress in the lives of their students. This reality is not merely in presence, but actually reflects a neurological experience in the brains of their students.
Modern teachers have the benefit of understanding how the brain operates and learns. The study of neuropsychological conditions of students can help teachers understand why students react the way they do. Understanding what conditions enable the release of cortisol can help teachers create conditions where such stressful conditions are alleviated. It is evident that student success might not necessarily be solely an issue of will, but rather a reality that is rooted in part to a neurological and biological condition. When teachers understand this, then the discussion about student achievement is more of a dialogue whereby teachers can understand what they can do to enable students to be more successful. It is not a condition where "The kid doesn't get it," but more of a reflective discourse in which teachers armed with an understanding of, for example, the reality of cortisol can ask themselves, "What do I need to do to create a less stressful atmosphere?" or "What do I need to do to decrease the level of cortisol in my students?" In this dialogue about student achievement that places understanding about the impact that biological reality plays, a more holistic approach to student learning is evident.
Such an awareness enables teachers to see their students as human beings, as opposed to data points on a scatter graph or as repositories of learning. When teachers engage in an understanding about the chemicals released out of the brain such as cortisol or dopamine, teachers grasp a wider understanding of the student experience. This can help teachers create approaches that truly authenticates the student voice in the learning process. For example, teachers can build in time into their lesson to allow for transitions in the hopes of alleviating stress within a class period. Another approach teachers can take is to "cushion" assignments, where they acknowledge the stress level to their students and actively work with them to reduce such a reality. When teachers have awareness of the biological reality within their students, there is a validation of the student experience within the reciprocal process of teaching and learning.