Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Driver's education for the brain teaches social and emotional competency in the classroom

Evidence-based curriculum provides foundation for safe schools initiatives

BOSTON — Driver's education for the brain is the theme of an innovative curriculum that weaves strategies for emotional self-awareness, self-control, and conflict resolution into the study of literature in high school English/Language Arts class. The Brain Driver's Education curriculum, available at no cost from Massachusetts General Hospital's School Psychiatry Program, integrates social and emotional skill development into everyday academic learning.  

The curriculum is built around an engaging handbook for students, Brain Driver's Education: Operator's Guide to Using Your Brain to Get Where You Want to Go.  In classroom exercises and written assignments, students examine how the thoughts, feelings, and actions of characters in literature affect story outcomes. Students are then asked to reflect on events and choices in their own lives, thereby developing a better understanding of their own capacity to "steer" events and manage their thoughts and feelings. The handbook helps students place themselves "in the driver's seat" of their own responses to situations, by teaching methods for self-calming, stepping back, and reassessing difficult situations before reacting to them.

"Studies show that programs to create a physically and emotionally safe learning environment, such as curricula for preventing bullying and school violence, are more likely to be effective when combined with development of core social and emotional skills," says Jeff Q. Bostic, MD, EdD, director of the School Psychiatry Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Students who master these skills feel more in control of their lives, tend to make better choices, and are likely to enjoy more inclusive school communities. By bringing these discussions into the context of mainstream academic classes, schools can more successfully reach all segments of the student population."

Lessons and assignments in the Brain Driver's Education curriculum can easily be modified by teachers or school mental health professionals to fit any English/Language Arts curriculum. The activities and readings — developed by an interdisciplinary team of mental health clinicians, educators, and parents — incorporate evidence-based, widely accepted therapeutic approaches including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and collaborative problem solving.

The School Psychiatry Program, of the Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, works with schools, families, and clinicians to help youth who have mental health conditions to thrive in school and at home. The program staff works regularly in public, private, and charter schools in the greater Boston area, and provides specialized support to schools outside the region. The program staff provides direct consultation services to schools, on-site teaching to psychiatrists-in-training, support services for schools, and educational materials on school consultation. For more information, the School Psychiatry Program can be reached by emailing info@schoolpsychiatry.org or by calling (617) 724-6300, mailbox number 136-1415. For more information, visit www.schoolpsychiatry.org.

The Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry was established in 1934. In the course of seven decades, its scientists and clinicians have made significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of mental health disorders. Today, the department includes more than 600 affiliated psychiatrists and psychologists and has the largest clinical research program in the hospital, which includes research in neuroscience, genetics, and the assessment of new and established treatments for mental health disorders. The Department of Psychiatry has earned the #1 ranking in the U.S. News & World Report annual survey "America’s Best Hospitals" each year since 1996.  For more information, visit www.massgeneral.org/psychiatry.

Massachusetts General Hospital, established in 1811, is the third-oldest general hospital in the United States and the oldest and largest hospital in New England.  It is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School.  Its 900-bed medical center offers sophisticated diagnostic and therapeutic care in virtually every specialty and subspecialty of medicine and surgery.  With an annual research budget of more than $625 million, Massachusetts General Hospital conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States – a program that spans more than 20 clinical departments and centers including psychiatry, cancer, digestive disorders, heart disease, transplantation and vascular medicine.  The hospital is consistently ranked among the top five hospitals in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Jennifer Gundersen Harris, 617-724-6433

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