#216 – Supporting Student and Staff Wellness, with Allison Morgan

Unpacking Education September 6, 2023 46 min

In this episode, we are joined by Allison Morgan, the founder and CEO of Zensational Kids. Allison helps us unpack the current state of emotional well-being among students and staff. She explains the neuroscience behind how we behave and provides practical strategies for beginning to manage our feelings and emotions. She also shares strategies that work for students and educators alike.

Read a transcript of this episode.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Love your classroom. Create mindful, safe, and connected classrooms to support the mental health and well-being of educators and students.

Allison Morgan, founder and CEO of Zensational Kids


The following resources are available from AVID and on AVID Open Access to explore related topics in more depth:

Hubs of Joy and Love

“I truly believe that classrooms should be hubs of joy and love,” shares our guest, Allison Morgan. “Classrooms are sacred spaces. They need to be treated that way. We’re not creating machines. . . . We’re creating human beings, and we all deserve to be happy and loved in that community of the classroom.”

Allison helps us understand what educators can do to facilitate this type of learning space. She talks about the role that self-regulation plays in managing our nervous system and suggests some starting points for educators. The following are a few highlights:

  • About Our Guest: Allison Morgan has been working in education for over 25 years. She is an occupational therapist and the CEO of Zensational Kids.
  • The Beginning of a Journey: Allison began exploring mindfulness and yoga 10–15 years ago as she noticed mental health issues escalating in both students and school staff. She discovered practices that helped her feel calm and relaxed, and she says, “It really helped me just to feel within my body, like calm, and happy, and joyful, and a little bit of freedom there, and I thought, ‘I don’t think the kids that I work with ever feel this way. The kids that I work with are anxious. They’re depressed. They’re scared. They’re frozen. They’re confused. . . . What if I can help them feel safe in their own body? What if I can help them through the tools I’m using? What difference would that make?’”
  • Working With Classrooms: Eventually, Allison began bringing the practices that she was learning into classrooms. She says, “I could see that it made a difference, and essentially, what started to happen is the educators around me could see it as well, and they started asking me to come and work with their whole classroom.” This journey of success led to the birth of Zensational Kids.
  • Stress and Burnout in Educators: Allison admits, “It’s bad out there. I mean, like there’s no way to candy-coat it.” She explains that teachers “are overworked, burnt out, stressed, frustrated, angry, confused, disappointed. . . . It’s very hard to see so many adults suffering because I know how that translates to the kids that we work with. If the adults in the room are suffering, it’s 10 times as bad for the kids.”
  • What Can We Control?: Allison says that many of our actions can start by understanding our locus of control. She says we need to understand that we can’t control anything outside of ourselves. However, she says, “We can have control over ourselves. We can manage ourselves. We can manage how we feel every single moment because nobody else is responsible for making you feel a certain way.” She says that we need to identify how we want to feel. “How you feel matters,” she emphasizes.
  • Student Well-Being: Student behaviors are a top challenge for teachers. In fact, Allison cites research that “80% of teachers are challenged by the behavior in their classroom.” “It’s real,” she says. “There’s something going on with kids right now where this is how they’re showing up.”
  • Dysregulation: Trauma is “your body’s response to what happened to you,” says Allison. The nervous system is responding to what did or didn’t happen. She shares, “What we know about trauma is that it literally does change the architecture and the neural pathways within the brain. So what it creates is a nervous system that is always working to survive; it’s always on guard.” To put that in perspective, she explains, “The behavior is not this child is giving you a hard time. The behavior is this child is really having a hard time.”
  • Self-Regulation: Self-regulation is the ability to independently manage our nervous systems—to move us from the sympathetic nervous system, which revs us up and protects us from danger, to the parasympathetic nervous system, which brings us back to balance and helps us “rest and digest.”
  • Co-Regulation: Allison explains, “We are designed to help each other regulate, so self-regulation doesn’t happen until we first co-regulate. We regulate together.” An example of this is when babies learn to regulate from a parent or caretaker. When we’re working with a classroom of students, we need to regulate ourselves. Allison says, “Get your own nervous system on board for how you want your community of learners to feel and be. Get yourself there first because then you don’t have to actually do anything to help them regulate. You’re gonna be the regulatory model for them.”
  • A Starting Point: To help our students, we must first build our own self-awareness. Allison suggests starting with a 2-minute exercise: “Take a moment, stop, breathe, notice your breath, and notice how you feel.” She says, “Getting in touch with where you are right now, that’s the best place to start.” She adds, “You want your external environment, your classroom, to be calmer and more focused? How can you be? Don’t worry about them. How about you?”

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your instructional team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What have you noticed about the state of mental health among students and educators?
  • What do you know about mindfulness exercises?
  • What are the elements of your day that are in your control?
  • What are dysregulation, self-regulation, and co-regulation?
  • What can you do today to begin implementing some of Allison’s suggestions?

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