Behaviour Matters focuses on establishing some ‘serotonin time’ during lessons, which will have a positive effect on the mood of pupils, engage them in the learning processes and act as a catalyst for workIntroduction

Serotonin, first identified in 1948, is a substance found extensively in the human gut, as well as in the blood stream. In the human body it is synthesised from the amino acid tryptophan by various enzymes. A tiny amount can have a huge impact on behaviour. Imbalances can cause changes in mood, emotional states, sleeping patterns, appetite and other behaviour. When students are in an environment that enables them to feel secure, both physically and emotionally (ie where they are relaxed and engaged with the learning process) serotonin is naturally released in the brain. This leads to greater cognitive awareness and reflexes. If we can establish some “serotonin time” during the lesson, a time specifically designed to affect mood, it can focus the group and act as a catalyst for work. As a member of an audience you have probably found it is difficult to remember any of the specific jokes told by a comedian or what exactly was said in a discussion that you found very interesting, but you will remember how it made you feel: “I won’t remember what you said, I won’t remember what you did, But I will remember how you made me feel.” How then can we provide opportunities for serotonin time in the classroom? Clearly there is a requirement to provide an environment that is stimulating, interesting and physically safe. Your delivery style should be reflective of the individual learning needs of your students and within all of this you should be creating opportunities to positively affect the mood and emotions of the class group. The orderly classroom that focuses entirely on the curriculum and learning outcomes is not necessarily the most interesting, stimulating and exciting place to be. It is not my intention to promote a teaching and learning environment where the teacher must also be a source of interest and entertainment. I advocate one where there are periods of time during the lesson that are specifically aimed at having a positive influence on the emotions of both teacher and student.

Practical Tips

Beginning with yourself as the teacher in the classroom, on a daily basis, how would you score your emotional state on your arrival at work? 10 = fantastic, 1 = terrible! Clearly your mood is going to be influenced by a range of issues and “baggage” that has been carried into your workplace. Remember that this is also true for your students. Try this tip as a practical suggestion to influence your mood and that of your colleagues:

  • ensure that on a daily basis you go out of your way to make a positive comment or statement to a work colleague/student.
  • make a note of how many similar comments you actually receive from colleagues (many members of staff feel that positive comments only go one way, given but not received!)
  • encourage students to do the same both to members of staff and peers.

For some students (and members of staff) you will need to provide opportunities to practise giving appropriate comments, considering skills such as active communication, attaining eye contact and sincerity. Within the lesson consider how you can enhance the learning and active engagement of students through the use of serotonin time. The lesson should not be one long period of entertainment, often leading to off-task behaviour, but should be punctuated with carefully timed and structured opportunities when interest levels are restored and the “feel-good” factor has a direct influence on the learning.

  • Be prepared to use timed interruptions or breaks during the lesson (approximately every 20 minutes as a guide) to lighten the mood. A brief video clip or a one-off change of activity for one or two minutes can be highly stimulating and productive.
  • The show-and-tell sessions in the primary classroom could be structured in such a way as to be brief intervals throughout the day, rather than all at the start.
  • Use the staff room to practise serotonin time.
  • Positive notes home, stickers and phone calls can produce incredibly powerful serotonin times for parents. This raises esteem and creates strong partnerships

You will need to carefully “risk assess” your use of serotonin time. The aim of the activities is to enhance and improve the learning and emotional state of your students, not to make the lessons disjointed with all manner of interruptions. We are involved in the development of emotional literacy in all our students. Emotional literacy improves and increases your life chances − feel good, learn good!

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This e-bulletin issue was first published in January 2008

About the author: Dave Stott is the author of Behaviour Matters. He has nearly 30 years’ teaching experience including seven years as a headteacher level. He has worked in mainstream, special and Local Authority Behaviour Support Services, and is now a successful consultant and trainer.

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