Student Achievement Opinion

Why ‘State Management’ and Physical Activity Matter to Academic Achievement

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — January 11, 2018 4 min read
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We welcome guest blogger Mike Kuczala, author, keynote speaker and professional developer in education and corporate settings.

I had the opportunity to spend nearly a week in a Tony Robbins seminar in 2014. I’m a long time of fan of Tony having spent decades reading his books and listening to his audio programs. Just hearing his voice makes me stand taller, pay greater attention and raises my motivation level. Being in the same room with him took my experience of his work to the stratosphere! Everyone in attendance was there to learn about business mastery but as an educator one of my greatest takeaways was his ability to manage state. A typical day’s schedule started at 7:00 a.m. waiting in line to get as close to the stage as possible at 8 a.m. Most nights didn’t finish until around 10 p.m. with only a one hour break during the day (mushroom soup was provided throughout the day to keep our energy up)! Truth be known I could have stayed until after midnight every night. Why? Because Tony is a master state manager. His ability to engage and keep our attention applies to every classroom no matter the grade or subject area. Tony used his voice, body, music, lights, entertainers, guest speakers and of course ... lots and lots of movement and physical activity to manage our states. We stood on floors and chairs, talked to our neighbors, screamed at our neighbors (literally), experienced his priming exercise, danced, jumped, spun, worked cooperatively and much, much more. Oh, and we listened, paid attention and took notes but much more effectively because he constantly managed our states and readied his audience to learn.

Maybe you’re asking yourself “what is state management”? It is managing the brain/body emotional states of learners. Not something we’ve normally been exposed to in our educational experiences as a learner, teacher or leader. Why is it so important to the teachers you lead? Because in my humble opinion it is at the core of the teaching and learning process. In fact, there is nothing more important to the success of a teacher as managing the states of their students. Why? On the surface it’s because how students feel about content matters; how they “feel” while learning content matters. We are brain/body creatures and no matter how hard you try you’ll never get away from that simple fact in any classroom. The more you embrace it, learn about it and have educators use it to their advantage, the more success they’ll enjoy.

At the heart of a teacher’s job is making sure information makes it into long-term memory. Wouldn’t you agree? Everything we want children to learn is to be learned so the information can be used again whether it be tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, ten years from now, and quite possibly on a test. Of course, information with a strong survival or emotional component is often stored quickly and permanently. That type of experience is normally absent from a classroom experience. Therefore, Sousa (2017) tells us that there are two main criteria for storing information in the long-term in a classroom setting and the following questions make that crystal clear. (1) Does the information make sense? (2) Is the information meaningful? Of the two criteria meaning is the more potent. If something has become personally meaningful to you it’s usually surrounded by an emotion and emotion embeds learning on a deeper level. What does this have to do with state management? Here comes the most important sentence of the blog and one you might make careful note of: meaning making is state dependent (Jensen, 2000). Take that in for a moment. I repeat. Meaning making is state dependent. If meaning is the most critical criteria for storing information in the long term and the making of that very personal meaning is dependent upon my state of being - physically and emotionally, it is therefore critical that teachers put managing state at the top of their to-do list on a moment to moment basis. Tony Robbins understands this and uses it to his great advantage in his live events but classrooms don’t have to look like a Tony Robbins seminar to be effective.

What is the most potent manager of state at a teacher’s disposal? Movement and physical activity! Physical activity in the classroom is a powerhouse state manager! When teacher’s begin to see the very quiet conversations start, the eyes staring out the window, the body language droop and slouch and the yawns becoming the norm, I always advise them to STOP! - and manage the states of their students! Give them a brain boost or energizer, or engage them in a class cohesion activity! It is imperative to the learning process! Better yet make managing state through physical activity part of all daily classroom practice through a 6-part framework for using movement thoughtfully and purposefully so you better meet the needs of learners, create learning scenarios more aligned with how the brain prefers to learn, and manage the states of everyone in the room.

Jensen, E. (2000). Learning with the body in mind. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Kuczala, M. & Lengel, T. (2017). Ready, Set, Go! The Kinesthetic Classroom 2.0. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Sousa, D. (2017). How the brain learns. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz are the authors of The STEM Shift (2015, Corwin) a book about leading the shift into 21st century schools. Ann and Jill welcome connecting through Twitter & Email.

Photo by hibrida courtesy of 123rf

The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.