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Emotions vs. Moods

In the new book I’m reading Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become author Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D. reminds readers that emotions are fleeting, temporary experiences.  This triggered me to dig deeper into how emotions are measured.  I found interesting research that explained the distinction between emotions and moods.

Emotions are discrete experiences triggered by an identifiable event which consist of three parts:

  1. A psychopysiological expression (how we react verbally/our thoughts)
  2. A biological reaction (how our body reacts)
  3. A mental state (how we process in light of our emotions)

Moods are less well defined.  They are considered a mental state which can occur without a trigger and can last an indefinite period of time.  If you’ve ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed,  you’ve experienced a “mood“.

Another difference: emotions can occur simultaneously.  Moods, on the other hand, are experienced in sequence.  Typically, we have to conclude experiencing one mood to move into another – consider those days you are just “in a funk”.

So, as educators, what can we do with this information?  First, let’s explain this to our students.  Let’s give them the appropriate vocabulary with which they can explain their experiences.  Then, let’s listen to them.

Once we can all distinguish between a mood and an emotion, we can take better care of one another.  Personally, I feel lighter knowing that emotions are temporary.  No matter how challenging, I know they will pass.

On the other hand, with an understanding of these differences, I can now communicate with my students in a way that sets their expectations.

When I explain that I am in a sad mood, they will know that this (1) has nothing to do with them and (2) might last a while.  Likewise, when they come to me with that explanation, I can tailor my approach to them to support what they are experiencing.

Imagine how these words could change student-to-student interactions!

What do you think?  Have you ever discussed with your students how you are feeling?  How did they respond?




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A quick trick to promote fluency

In order to truly incorporate a new word into your vocabulary, you must encounter it twenty times.  And, not just any twenty, twenty iterations in context.  To fluently use a word you must witness it used fluently.  (No, flash cards won’t help!)

Many vocabulary terms students will have come from historical references or literature.  These are great sources because they provide the first encounter with the word in context.  However, it can be very difficult to provide a subsequent 19 exposures to the word in context.  A few years ago I shadowed a teacher who had figured out a brilliant solution.

This teacher had provided her English class with a list of vocabulary terms which were sourced from the text they were reading.  From there, she did something different.
She offered students two bonus points for using the words during class discussions.  An unaware bystander, I realized this only after hearing a student comment in class.  When she casually slipped a vocabulary term into her answer, her classmates raised two fingers.  This was the signal that she had earned her two points.  Her classmates were excited for her.

This quick trick is brilliant for a few reasons:

  1. It encourages students to use new words in context.
  2. It encourages classmates to listen for new words used in context by their classmates, which provides them a chance to get closer to 20 exposures.
  3. It is an alternate assessment strategy for students who may struggle with traditional vocabulary testing.
  4. It’s fun.

In our case, it gets even better.  Using vocabulary terms that describe how we feel makes us vulnerable.  By providing incentive for the use of these words – by offering points for their usage – teachers can take a little of that vulnerability away.


– AK


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The toxic stress cascade

Today I want to dive deeper into our discussion of how stress can physically alter the brain and explain how long term exposure to stress can be toxic.  In fact, the response of hormones and neuro-transmitters to habitual stress can damage the hippocampus.

The hippocampus, named for its resemblance to a seahorse, is a region deep within the brain which is integral to learning and memory. The hippocampus is particularly vulnerable to stress because of its abundance of glucocorticoid receptors.  Glucocorticoid receptors are the site of cortisol binding.  Hormones can’t be effective until they are bound to a receptor, so when the cortisol finds a glucocorticoid receptor, it gets to work.

Cortisol is rapidly becoming a household name.  It is a stress hormone.  More stress = more cortisol.

High levels of cortisol keep the body primed for fight-or-flight response which means, among other things, a decreased immune system.  When we need it, this is an important redistribution of resources.  But, too much can be toxic.  Sustained, elevated cortisol levels have been linked to atrophy in the hippocampus.  In other words, flooding that region with cortisol causes drowning; the brain cells there die.

With the hippocampus under attack, the potential for learning and developing new memories is diminished.  You see, our emotions do influence our ability to learn.

As educators we wear many hats and have an increasing number of responsibilities.  I hope that these details about the influence of stress on the brain will convince you that providing emotional wellness to your students is the foundation upon which learning occurs.




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Why the teenage brain is a unique animal

Teenagers can be unpredictable (understatement?).  They are quick to anger, very emotional and like to test their boundaries.  They have trouble explaining themselves and may defensively proclaim, “It’s not my fault!”  Well, I’m here to agree with them.  The teenage brain is a unique animal, not unlike a toddler’s brain.  Let’s explore.

Puberty is a labyrinth of change and development.  Even though you can’t see any physical changes to their brains, teen brains are changing just as radically as the rest of the teen’s out of whack body.  For adolescents everything can feel out of sync, including their brains.

Two of our major brain regions are the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.  These two parts influence major aspects of our personalities.  The limbic system is responsible for sensory data, including our sense of smell,  for our memories and for…dun.dun.dun. our emotions.  Meanwhile, the prefrontal cortex is like the uber-responsible watchdog.  It takes care of conflicting thoughts, decision making and weighing consequences.  Certainly we would be challenged to have one region without the other.

For teens the issue lies in the relative development of these two regions.  Instead of developing alongside one another, the limbic system begins changing first.  Because the limbic system controls emotion this means that teens are experiencing swells of emotion they may be unfamiliar with.  High highs and low lows.  Unfortunately, without an equally developed prefrontal cortex, emotion can override reason.  I don’t need to tell you about how sometimes teens let their emotions override their reasoning.

Eventually the prefrontal cortex catches up and things balance out.  In the meantime, weather these storms by explaining to teens why this is happening.  Agree that, yes, this isn’t their fault.  And help them slow down so that they can attempt to rationalize all the emotional flooding they are experiencing.

This, too, shall pass.



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