New Paradigm in Education Leading to New Possibilities

In 2019, the Anat Baniel Method®NeuroMovement® (ABMNM®) team were approached by Lloydminster Catholic Public School District in Alberta, Canada to explore the possibility of bringing ABMNM® to their six schools.

What brought them to us was the challenge posed by the continuously increasing number of children in their schools with learning, behavioral, social, and emotional challenges (what we will call children with special needs or CWSN).

They were looking to help their teachers, educational assistants (EAs or aides), and the administration team learn ways to interact with the children that would reduce their challenges, increase their ability to learn, and foster a classroom environment that was safer and less disruptive

After many fascinating discussions we all found a way to launch an innovative pilot program in two of LCSD’s schools.

This article features the remarkable results that were achieved during the program which ran across two school years in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, both of which were impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The results

Each year, the LCSD schools collect third grade reading test results. These have the highest positive correlation to long term graduation. They also collect serious behavior incident data, and student injuries data.

We used the school year before the ABMNM® program was introduced (2018-2019) as the baseline year, and compared the results from the baseline with the results from the two subsequent years, both of which included the ABMNM® program.

Grade level reading results – 3rd grade reading competencies:
2018-2019 (the baseline year)         Below 90%
2019-2020 (first year of implementing ABMNM®)         91%
2020-2021 (second year of implementing ABMNM®)        95%
System-wide, there was a 4% increase in reading results.

Behavioral, serious incidents, and social services and police involvement over both years in the two schools that received ABMNM® coaching:
40% decrease in serious behavioral incidence in School A
66% decrease in serious behavioral incidence in School B
50% decrease in student injuries in both schools combined

The Educational Director at LCSD wrote:
“As Educational Assistants learn to move From Fixing to Connecting and employ the 9 Essentials of ABMNM® their expertise serves the school as a whole. Professional Development for the Educational Assistants was the primary goal of this program. It is clear that in growing their competency we decrease student time away from school and the learning readiness of the classroom environment has substantially increased. There is data to support this provincially as well. In a year when COVID impacted learning, LCSD did not see the learning loss that was so prevalent locally and across the United States and Canada. I offer as evidence of this claim the Grade 3 reading test results. Reading tests at this level have the highest positive correlation to long term graduation statistics. It is also related to other factors such as incarceration and earnings potential. In this case, our Grade Level Reading Results in 2020-2021 increased by 4% to 95%. Our baseline year was less than 90%. Again, there is evidence that the Anat Baniel Classroom program has had a positive impact system wide.”

Our Process

Open minds working in close collaboration
When the Educational Director, Deputy Director of Education, Deputy Director of Learning, and Chief Financial Officer met with us for a few days to learn about ABMNM®, they quickly realized that ABMNM® was very different from what they imagined it to be, and that it would require openness and the implementation of a new approach to learning. Thankfully, the leadership team got fully behind the project and embraced the opportunity to become students of ABMNM®. For us at ABMNM®, working with this school district and using the power of collaboration to bring remarkable transformations turned out to be a dream experience.

ABMNM® training for staff
The school administrators fully supported us in guiding their teaching staff, the principals, and the EAs through a multi-day workshop which offered an immersive, whole-person learning experience focused on the body, emotions, and mind. We introduced the fundamentals of the theory underlying ABMNM®, and demonstrated ways to apply what they learned to specific individuals and situations.

LCSD staff experienced the power of the brain to change for the better by harnessing the power of neuroplasticity through the practice of NeuroMovement® and the 9 Essentials. They felt those changes first in themselves, and were guided in the adoption of a “whole child approach.” Rather than focusing directly on problems, challenges, or limitations, they were invited to focus on connecting with the child through the 9 Essentials, all of which wake up the brain and drive powerful learning.

ABMNM® movement lessons in the classroom
We talked to the children about their brain and how powerful it is, before teaching them short NeuroMovement® lessons during which they were able to experience in themselves clear and, at times, dramatic changes.

Monthly online coaching of small groups of EAs and teaching staff
Each coaching session focused on one or two of the 9 Essentials of NeuroMovement®. The participants brought short videos showing a child who was challenging for them. They were asked to describe what they did, or tried to do with the child. Anat then guided the EA as to ways they could experiment interacting with the child the next time they were with her or him. The following meeting, or earlier through email, we got a report on how things went.

The main experience that the EAs reported back to us was a total surprise at the transformations they observed in the children and the immediacy of these changes. Often they expressed how these new ways of doing and understanding were very different from what they were taught previously.

Throughout the process, the Deputy Director of Education at LCSD was fully supportive of the program. She herself became a student of ABMNM® together with her staff which led them to feel safe, supported, and free to experiment with what they were learning.

Sample outcomes reported to us:

  1. At the end of every week, the six schools had Mass. One week, the Director of Education (DOE) happened to be standing next to Sammy, a child diagnosed with ASD who had a hard time following instructions. As a result, Sammy was considered behaviorally, as well as cognitively, challenged. When everyone began kneeling, Sammy stayed standing, oblivious to what was happening. First the DOE tried talking to Sammy asking him to kneel, holding his hand, and trying to direct him to the floor. None of it worked. The DOE then recalled the 9 Essentials and the concept of differentiation. He realized that perhaps Sammy had no awareness of the existence of his knees, and therefore couldn’t grasp what was asked of him. The DOE got up, faced Sammy, and with a kind touch he placed his hand on one of Sammy’s knees and said, with a clear voice: “you have this knee,” then placed his hand on Sammy’s other knee and said: ”and you have another knee.” He repeated this 2-3 times and then started kneeling slowly. To his amazement, Sammy knelt on his knees and stayed there with the whole congregation.

    Now, what you just read may seem implausible since Sammy could move fine, had two knees, and should have been able to kneel with everyone else. However, Sammy’s brain didn’t recognize his knees – they hadn’t been mapped into his brain as two felt, distinct parts of himself. The short interaction that the DOE had with Sammy helped him make sense of what was asked of him and as a result he was able to join everyone in the keeling. Later, the DOE approached Anat and her colleague Neil Sharp and told them the story with great excitement. Even though he was the one that brought the Anat Baniel Classroom Program (ABC program) to his schools, experiencing firsthand the power of using the Essentials to bring positive and immediate change was exhilarating.

  2. Rufus, a 12 year old boy also diagnosed with ASD, had been demonstrating the same challenging behavior every day at school. Usually, when asked to go into the classroom, he would cry, throw things, and refuse to enter the class. It would take much work to finally get him to go inside. The EA brought this up in one of our coaching sessions, at which time Anat suggested for her to “go with the system.” Rather than try to force and attempt to exert control over Rufus’s well grooved behavior, Anat advised the EA to meet Rufus outside at his drop off location where he didn’t cry. Once there, she suggested that the EA say, “I’m meeting you today before you go inside. Do you want to be upset now? Or shall we go inside to the classroom door where I usually greet you and there you can get upset?” Taking this approach invited Rufus to notice and become aware, perhaps for the first time, of his habitual behavior. Even though his behavior seemed pretty extreme from our perspective, he was unaware of it, he had no idea what he was doing. By asking him the question and introducing to him two options for intentionally crying and getting upset, Rufus, for the first time, had the opportunity to become aware of what he was doing.

    During our next coaching session, the EA shared: “you should have seen the look on his face, my question caught him so off guard. He said, ‘I don’t wanna throw a fit Ms. Mason.’ He totally de-escalated, and was ready to participate in class. And we had a super successful class. So that was pretty cool.”

The Educational Director also wrote: “It is important that we spend time to study this evidence further. The system-wide impact of undertaking the Anat Baniel Classroom Program is clear anecdotally, but further work supported by granting agencies would enable us to clear attribution errors and tie impacts of Professional Development of Educational Assistants as well as the direct interventions for high needs students to the success of the entire school.”

Things you can do at home

Realize that the process starts with you
It is understandable that when we see a child suffering, or having challenges, we want to “fix” them. However, unlike inanimate objects that we can impose our will on, and often get the outcomes we want, the child is a living, feeling being, and the changes have to occur within themselves. We need to create conditions that tap into the great potential of the child’s brain to learn and change. With ABM®NeuroMovement® we do it by shifting from trying to fix the child to connecting with the child by using the 9 Essentials.

Get interested and wonder what your child is feeling
Get interested and wonder: what is my child seeing, or not seeing? Hearing or not hearing? What are they actually trying to accomplish with their actions and behavior? That’s your starting point (unless their actions pose a danger to them or others, in which case appropriate actions are needed to protect all involved should take place). You can be quite certain that what they are seeing, feeling and understanding is not what you are seeing, feeling, and understanding. Be interested in their experience. This will help you to pull back from the fixing mode so you can shift into the connecting mode.

Know that your child is having a felt experience all the time
Make sure that as you or someone else are trying to help your child learn and change, the felt experience the child has is one that you want them to have; that you would like them to associate with what they are learning. Fear, shame, and/or a sense of failure hamper successful learning. It is not about coddling the child, or giving them everything they ask for – rather it is about finding ways to do what we do with the child that wakes up their brain for positive brain change, i.e., learning.

How to wake up the brain and ready your child for learning

Each of the 9 Essentials of NeuroMovement® shows you ways to wake up the brain and potentiate it for learning. The Essentials can also work in tandem to deliver even more potent results.

The following three Essentials help the brain in perceiving differences, providing it with the information it needs to create new connections and networks, which translates to new possibilities:

  • Slow
    Try to slow way down to learn new skills and overcome limitations. When you go fast, you and your child can only do what you already know. Slow stimulates the formation of rich, new neural connections.

  • Flexible Goals
    Stay focused on your goals while also embracing all the unexpected steps, mis-steps, and re-routes along the way as they are a rich source of valuable information (unintended Variations – another Essential) for the brain. Knowing the goal and detaching from the need to achieve it is an incredible way for you to connect with your child and get creative with the Essentials. We hear so often from parents we work with that with Flexible Goals they see their child and appreciate them more, and are freer to simply love them.

  • Awareness
    First become aware of what you are doing, sensing, thinking, and experiencing at any given moment. Are you connecting with your child, or trying to force on him or her something that they’re obviously not capable of doing at this moment? Be the leader in this conversation by upping your awareness quotient and bring the child’s awareness into the fold. It can be done through simple, sincere, non-manipulative questions that give the child an opportunity to notice what they are doing and eventually also what is around them. When you, or your child are awaring, both your brains are working at their highest level and opening opportunities for transformation.

The Essentials are not therapy

They are a way of applying oneself in relation to the self and to others. We suggest that you choose one Essential that appeals most to you and practice it for a day or two anywhere you can by yourself, and NOT with your child at first. Once you are familiar with it, you can start experimenting with that Essential with your child for a week or so. Then do the same with the next Essential. Eventually you will find yourself using a number of the Essentials together, since each Essential enhances the rest.

To learn more about all 9 Essentials, please see our free eBook and Anat’s books Kids Beyond Limits and Move Into Life.