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Starting off the year with the Heart and Brain in Mind

Updated: Jan 12

The more I teach the more I realise the impact of how my learning about the brain is evident in the choices I am making…

I realised a few years ago that I plan my year (and my day) with the heart and brain in mind. I hadn't initially done it intentionally but obviously what I teach and talk about explicitly, was something that worked implicitly for me and my learners too.

Teaching with the Heart and Brain in Mind is underpinned by the Magic Brain which is a metaphor created by Glenn Capelli. This metaphor compares the brain to having three main rooms, each room has a job, and we think better when the doors between the rooms are open. I focus on teaching my students about how to open those doors so they can learn better.

I start with addressing the basic needs first.


It is said that belonging is an innate human need and so it is the first thing that we work on together. I truly believe that if our learners don't feel like they belong then their capacity for learning is compromised, for some the compromise is enormous!

Learning chant:

Room 5 has a name, it is called The Place to Stretch and Grow. (My thanks to Adrienne Rennie for the inspiration to do this) We start with a class learning chant which encapsulates how we will work as a class together and our school values. This is now a tradition in Room 5, so the poem is passed to each new group of students that join us.

Room 5’s Learning Chant:

Welcome to Room 5, the place to stretch and grow

Working together we STRETCH and learning flows

Self belief, self belief - we know we can improve

Talking to learn, talking to learn - and listening to learn too

Resilience, resilience - we try and try again

Excellence, excellence - aim high - we do our best

Talented, talented – there’s so much that we can do

Care and respect - showing kindness to me and you

Honesty, honesty - every single day

Together we stretch and grow in so many ways!

We will discuss this, unpack each of the seven qualities listed and establish what they look like in action so we can demonstrate this in the classroom. I have found that with this being done it makes having class rules redundant.

The children create vision boards or portraits that sit near our door so people coming in can get to know us a little better and we can connect with each other more too. We also have our mihi where we share where we come from and how we are connected to each other.


Rituals, or routines, give a familiar structure to the day that provides security to learners whilst at the same time reinforcing a sense of belongingness. We start and end our day in familiar patterns, I don’t necessarily lead them all, in fact often the students lead and I participate along with everyone. The rituals we have are as follows, please note that this is just what works for us in our classroom so far, it may shift and change depending on student needs and what is happening around the school.

At the start of the day:

I sometimes keep a fruit bowl in the classroom so students can get a piece of fruit before school starts, there is music playing and things that we can do in the classroom to get engaged and connected. Here is one structure I have used to start a school day once the bell goes...

  • We do a shared activity as the bell rings and students are coming in- it may be watching a video from The Kid Should See This (so many great clips to ignite curiosity), dancing or singing, a mindfulness task. This depends on the nature of the group of children I am working with and their specific needs.

  • Our class leaders for the day start with our morning book where they record the day, date, weather etc.

  • We do a karakia (a incantation to create unity and set our intention for the day), a waiata (a song) and the class leaders share their mihi (introducing themselves in Māori)

  • We may sing another song that links to our concept or a specific need (singing together is a great way to create unity and connection)

  • Students go into partners for a given oral language task then come as a class to share

  • We do five yoga type stretches with associated statements supporting qualities we value as above the line learners and focus on our breathing (breathing is one of our superpowers so we practise taking deep breaths)

  • We go through our plan for the day and then get on with selecting tasks to support our learning

At the end of the day:

  • We say a karakia to end the day

  • We reflect on the day, sharing discoveries, telling about the great things we have seen others doing etc. I use Triple A's (that I learned from an Edutopia post a while ago) where we sit in a circle and say either something we Appreciate (gratitude is a really healthy habit to learn), something we want to Apologise for (so we can let it go before the end of the day) or something that was an A-ha (new learning we want to share)

  • As the bell rings I stand at the door and we do hug, handshake, high five where the class lines up and each child gets to choose how they would like to be farewelled for the day (we also have non-touching options as well of course!)


I try to make sure I connect with every child each day, that is what our farewell is about. I also schedule at least two free time slots after lunch during the week. This 15-20 minute slot in the timetable gives students a chance to continue a learning task from the morning programme, follow something that interests them, play games, read, paint, draw etc. It is a valuable time for me as a teacher as it allows me the opportunity to catch up with students who might be a little isolated, who are having a tough time for some reason or who I might need to connect a little better with in some way. I may play alongside them or offer for them an opportunity to learn a new game or listen to a story. At times I use the time to just observe particular students. Other times I will offer to teach a new game that will then be an option in our morning programme and those students who join in to play become our experts and teach others.

Once we have spent time building up our class culture and laying the foundation for belongingness then we will move into exploring our brain, in particular, our emotions.

The Glitter Room of Emotions:

I teach the class about The Magic Brain (outlined in the image above) first and then we focus on the Glitter Room of Emotions.


Name them, read about them, talk about them and how we can manage ourselves if the emotions we are experiencing are making it hard to learn or connect with others. We also explore the concept that others may experience different emotions to ourselves.

Understanding our emotions:

I love the meme that says ‘never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down’, because it makes me giggle a little and at the same time, in my experience, it's true. This is why I believe we need to teach strategies to build emotional literacy, we help manage emotions along with supporting learners to recognise the feelings they are having. Here are some of the tools I use:

  • I have a calm down space in the room with a little basket where I have a range of fidget-tools (these are tools not toys, that is a discussion I have with the class very early on), colouring books and other tools, students can go and select an item to help them calm down and take it with them or stay in that spot if they want

  • We watch a clip called Just Breathe by Julie Bayer

  • I teach them star breathing using their hands- we stretch out the fingers on one hand and slowly trace around them, breathing in slowly as we go and up and out slowly as we go down each finger

  • We sometimes create a calm down scrapbook of images from magazines that help us calm down

  • With permission children can go for an extra run outside if needed, or bounce a ball

  • I have mindful colouring books available

  • We spend a lot of time learning about our emotions and relationships with others, using literature and working across the curriculum

The Big Blue Thinking Room

From here we delve further into The Magic Brain- learning about how we think and learn... the big blue thinking room!

We learn about our neurons, how we learn and what helps us to learn.

We create a learning environment together that meets the needs of our unique brains as much as possible.

We learn about people, places, our world… we work our inquiries… we play, communicate, make connections, create, read, write, play with numbers and patterns, make discoveries, ask questions, and, well you get the picture.

This is the plan of action that I have in place, of course there is a lot more going on but the basis is being aware of the Magic Brain. I think often we do this intuitively, it's always a good feeling when what we do naturally fits with what we are learning from science. :)

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