Posted - April 2016

Educational consulting: a personal and professional perspective

by Marie Davis, CIS Affiliated Consultant

As an educational and counseling psychologist consulting with international schools, I target key participants of the educational process- children, parents, teachers, administrators. I link several domains, providing insight to child’s functioning, including educational assessments, counseling, neurological preferences and sensorimotor reflexes. I communicate with parents, teachers and administrators about support, development, and best practice. I facilitate leadership training for interested stakeholders. Positive psychology and neuroscience underpin my philosophical approach.

A first approach touches the territory of educational assessments, a battery of ‘tests’ providing statistical information concerning the connection between functioning of the brain and academic achievement. Dyslexia, dyscalculia, attention deficit, and weak processing speed are common results. Quite often, primary pupils develop expert compensation tactics to hide their labors of learning, believing them “normal." Matriculating to rigorous, text-driven curricula magnifies many deficits, leading to behavioral, emotional and social insecurities. Educational assessments relieve negative impact, providing evidence of individual struggles and sanctioning support, extra time and use of computer for schoolwork and formal exams, such as the IB and SAT.

A second, counseling, role obliges listening objectively to personal and interpersonal conflicts from a courageous generation of children and adolescents. Presenting issues vary, though anxiety, depression and identity top the list. Deliberate discussions and expressed emotion often lead to root issues of love, connectedness, or angst concerning present studies and future paths. As necessary, teachers and parents engage in the process through shared strategy or intimate, group dialogue. One young lady berating herself for perceived incompetence in math, procrastinated a major project. With permission, I invited the teacher into our conversation only to discover that the student was near the top of the class, with a reputation of diligence and precision. This public affirmation unlocked a pathway towards greater self-discovery and strength to tackle defeating beliefs. I am ever humbled by the resilience of these youth, daring to attack personal issues while simultaneously managing rigorous academic, social and physical programs.

A third tactic, termed neurological preferences, encompasses brain-body connections. Basic theory proffers that movement highlights function of the brain. This, in turn, translates to physical, mental and emotional preferences. Traditional personality traits can be identified, revealing an individual’s inclinations for interacting with the environment. Useful applications include teaching/learning styles, leadership, team development, career choices, and conflict management. I have presented several workshops to teachers and administrators, leading to personal understanding, improved collegiality and appreciation of different styles. After one such presentation, a participant privately declared, "Now I know why I'm not made for teaching primary school." Six months later, he emailed from a tropical location, having launched freelance work in graphic design. Another commented on how empathetically she could now identify with a struggling student, prepared to approach teaching through a new lens.

Only recently did I incorporate sensorimotor testing as a fourth consulting method. Frustrated at the dearth of English speaking professionals in my area, I trained in identifying and treating primitive reflexes, which silently impact learning, movement and behavior. The Moro (fight or flight) reflex is one example. Parental love and adoration usually encourage its disappearance at a few months. For some, however, it remains. While unnoticeable to the naked eye, this retained reflex sets a child on constant alert, making him sensitive to light, noise, movement, or generally timid and easily startled. Imagine how this plays out in a busy primary classroom or a bustling playground. Deliberately inhibiting this reflex relaxes the nervous system. Whereas some children are advised, simply, to "work harder" or "settle down," this perspective embraces the notion that our actions and reactions are not always conscious choice.

A theme guiding much of my work is the relatively new paradigm, termed, positive psychology - the study of what makes people happy. Research reveals that we can, in fact, train our brains and bodies to be happier and healthier. Additional studies about motivation unveil that extrinsic rewards, except under very precise conditions, hinder creativity and productivity, while intrinsic, self-guided inspiration produces vigorous results. Considering the organization of our current educational systems, I feel it imperative to address these ideas in our classrooms, teaching styles, staff meetings and school structure. The theory has become a key element of courses I teach for a master's level program aimed at international school educators. Even veteran teachers tend to profit from its relevance. Words central to the movement include flow, gratitude, and resilience. Success is not judged by intelligence, money or even our Facebook 'friend' count. On the contrary, the most fulfilled lives are those embracing simple elements of positive choice, and positive choice can be learned.

There are numerous other entry points to educational advancement and well-being, including pharmaceutical intervention, meditation, music and art therapies, to name a few. My repertoire, including educational assessments, counseling, neurological preferences, sensorimotor reflexes and positive psychology, grant access to an individual's functioning, while integrating the system -school, family, community - into reinforcing constructive development. The adage, "It takes a village to raise a child" endures. I thrive when impacting the lives of children, adolescents, families and educators of our global village and aspire to continued contributions as an educational consultant. 

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