The 4.B.E.L.S.- The 4 Brain Essential Learning Steps for Inclusive Environments
Everyone has a brain; however, many do not understand the complexity and power of it. This is a research-based method that illustrates how to use brain research to effectively instruct and communicate with every participant/student whether it be in a mentoring format, in the classroom, during presentation events, and in workplace interactions. The 4B.E.L.S.™ is an instructional process that enables mentors, teachers, coaches, presenters, and administrative leaders with the tools for positive communication. Being a mentor is the ultimate opportunity to differentiate instruction and guidance. The process develops emotionally safe educational and working interaction creating an environment that respects diversity and inclusion while promoting an anti-bias culture. A learning and work environment that is emotionally safe promotes diversity, inclusion, and understanding of cross-cultural relationships for all participants. Educators and leaders learn the importance of diverse perspectives and behaviors that are a result of the differences of each person’s long-term memory storage. The concepts and ideas of the 4.B.E.L.S. process fosters the development of high-quality positive connections.
Everyone is unique and has a complex brain. Genetics determine whether we are right or left-handed, whether we prefer auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learning and interaction. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory is based on a person’s genetic structure and development regarding intelligence strengths (Marenus, 2020; Gardner, 1999). It is beneficial that education and business leaders be informed of the variations of each person’s brain differences to better understand skills, knowledge, and behaviors for optimal learning and productivity. However, a person’s true potential is approximately 90% influenced by the environment, by acquired knowledge and skills gained through experience (Carter, 2010; 2014). 4B.E.L.S. takes into consideration the foundational factors of the brain in order to maximize learning, skill development, and life success. This paper discusses the areas of the brain that effect emotions, behaviors, and learning. It indicates that assessment both formative and summative foundationally require changes in criteria to ensure an anti-bias, accurate evaluation. The focus is on a person’s strengths and not on labeling weaknesses. Assessment is for the purpose of positive learning, for the purpose of mentoring, and for the purpose of determining an emotionally safe classroom and work environment where every unique brain is in control (Earl, 2003). This information specifies that emotional safety is at the core of a student’s ability to illustrate and perform to maximum potential. The Four Brain Essential Learning Steps (4B.E.L.S.) is an instructional process that offers information for how to create an emotionally safe, differentiated learning environment (Tomlinson, 2021; Seif, 2021). It improves instructional strategies for effective professional development and interaction among colleagues in the workplace. The process complements a mentoring practice to build effective relationships. Emotional safety in all aspects of life determines positive attitude, cognitive achievement, intrinsic motivation, self-worth, and confidence. The 4B.E.L.S. is an integrated assessment process that takes into consideration learning style preferences, intelligence strengths, and brain differences. B.E.L.S. 1 begins the process with the introduction of new material, B.E.L.S. 2 is the time for research and exploration, B.E.L.S. 3 is the planning time for B.E.L.S. 4 completion. Learning has a purpose that is relevant to develop fundamental skills for life success both in and out of the classroom.
The Complex Brain
Brain research became a hands-on life experience with the death of our daughter Talia, due to brain cancer. The fight for Talia’s life taught invaluable lessons as an educator. Most significant is the ultimate power of the brain. The vital importance of a brain-friendly, educational environment became clear just before the end of our daughter Talia’s life journey. Her neuro-oncologist mentioned that he had never seen a brain with more disease than he saw in Talia’s MRI scans, and yet, she was still able to communicate. He attributed this phenomenon to her intellectually stimulating environments during her seven short years of life. Her brain made countless neural connections. These neural connections, within the varied complex areas of the brain, increased her brain’s ability to compensate when each area slowly shut down. Hearing this caused a profound breakthrough as an educator. I realized just how important it was to champion the establishment of brain-optimal learning environments, and not just for the youngest children, but for learners of all ages (Seidman, 2012). Each person’s brain, when in an emotionally safe environment can develop comprehension and solutions to the most challenging problems. It is our responsibility as educators to ensure learning takes place in an environment that teaches the way the brain learns best (Jensen & McConchie, 2020). We may ask, what motivates a person to want to do one thing over another? The mind, for our purpose, is how our behaviors and motivations are affected by what is happening in the brain. First and foremost, the mind tells us that emotional safety feels good. We feel emotionally safe in situations when we are in control. Being in control is when we know what to do in a situation and have the confidence to do it. This is a valuable lesson in the mentoring development. Another perspective is that when we are out of control, we are stressed and subsequently unable to focus and think. Many people are stressed about going to school or work. They anticipate an unfriendly place. There is fear of embarrassment and not being accepted. Fear that they may have to comprehend information in ways that are not comfortable for their brain. Fear of being judged and very few people like to be judged. 4B.E.L.S. students are not judged, they are empowered. Effective mentors empower their protégés. It is important to remember that the brain has neuroplasticity; the ability to rewire itself in new situations (Carter, 2014). The brain is set up for all circumstances that humans may encounter. We must not let our students and mentees waste this power because of a debilitating lack of confidence.
Stress and Brain Factors that Impact Learning
Why are we concerned with alleviating stress? The stressed brain releases chemicals that block our ability to logically think. During the body’s stress response, the brain is drained of oxygen. This oxygen is sent to the muscles in the body for better physical power to survive. The brain’s main source of energy is blood. Blood supplies nutrients such as glucose, protein, trace elements, and oxygen. Therefore, using exercises that bring fresh blood to the brain supplies new oxygen and opens pathways for increased cognitive access. This is frequently overlooked and yet, a nourished brain supports learning capability. During stressful situations when oxygen is depleted from the brain, cognitive reasoning is vulnerable and allows emotional and instinctive behavior to take over. The cognitive brain needs this oxygen to function with optimal focus. We are probably familiar with disturbing emotional and physical outbursts typically exhibited when the brain is in emotional instinctive mode. These stress related, chemical responses that incite survival tendencies can last up to 48 hours in a typical situation if we do not do something to relieve them. Consider how you respond to stress. How often, when you feel anxious, do you say to yourself that you need a few minutes to calm down to think? During these situations, logical thinking is difficult as the brain’s limbic system and emotions take control. We may do things that are not in our best interest as we seek to relieve stress and gain back rational thought. Adults may resort to the ‘feel-good’ of alcohol or substance abuse, and more times than not, both children and adults seek to feel in control with violent actions. We want an immediate ‘feel-good’ and the mind will do what it must to relieve the anxiety. These hurtful behaviors are instinctive responses from emotional power, irrespective of whether they are the best ways to deal with our problems. Stress over time leads to detrimental behaviors. Learning to control stress is a challenge that every child and adult can overcome. Remember that when we feel in control, we feel good about ourselves, and when we feel good about ourselves, we can access the areas of our brain that promote logical thought in the frontal cognitive brain lobes (Bailey, 2000). Therefore, calming the brain subsequently replaces feelings of failure or fear (Lama, TuTu & Abrams, 2016). There are many brain and body exercises that prepare us for learning. Adults and children have fun practicing exercises that calm the brain and open access to cognitive thinking. In a 4B.E.L.S. environment, you want to begin education and mentoring sessions with brain-awakening exercises. Adding exercise to your lesson plans or workday is an effective way to prepare all ages for increased focus, concentration, cognitive plasticity, and creative thinking. Teachers and supervisors no longer come across as negative authority figures but instead as coaches who can offer tools for appropriate behavior. A person learns how to relax the brain and experience a sense of gaining control. The mentor needs to establish this foundation of trust from the beginning of the interaction and relationship.
The next factors to consider are the right and left-brain hemispheres. The right hemisphere works with the left hemisphere to piece together information that creates a complete picture in our minds. The right brain knows what to do with the information and helps to interpret insights. It reaches out to access multiple areas of the brain for ideas and solutions. The right brain wants to arrange facts and brainstorm solutions. Also lodged in the right hemisphere is access to the development of uninhibited creativity (Lehrer, 2012). Keep in mind that we want to continually increase connections and pathways for right brain access. The left-brain concentrates on the details, the pieces, and the specifics of the picture. Imagine you are putting a jigsaw puzzle together. Ask yourself if it is easier to connect the pieces by first looking at the total picture or whether it is easier to start with seeing the individual puzzle parts. Typically, it is beneficial to see the whole picture and then figure out how to piece the parts together. The right brain supports our ability to see the whole picture. However, the left-brain focuses on the parts. Studies on brain damage of right and left hemispheres as well as on the brain’s ability to connect these two hemispheres have revealed valuable information on a person’s perceptions and learning potential (Carter, 2014). The corpus callosum connects these two hemispheres. If this connection is broken or damaged, there are devastating results. A person may be able to memorize words in an entire book (left brain) and not be able to understand the meaning of those words (right brain). The left-brain is remembering the words that are the pieces. However, without connection to the right brain, it is difficult to comprehend their meaning in an overall context. 4B.E.L.S instruction offers opportunities to continually connect right and left-brain hemispheres to strengthen this connection. Instruction becomes most effective when involving both hemispheres. However, those more dominant in the left or right brain hemisphere may have different social skills and perceptions. Those less comfortable with right brain access will tend to have poorer social skills as the right brain is not helping to read facial expressions or behavioral cues. The 4B.E.L.S process necessitates right and left-brain access. It requires right and left-brain support to complete objectives. Students develop the ability to recognize a problem or challenge (right-brain vision) and subsequently, are motivated to explore the pieces (left-brain) that lead to planning for solutions. The details, just like the piece of a puzzle, are meaningless outside of their context. Therefore, the process begins with planning a schedule. Creating a schedule together with participants, engages them in the control of the day’s events. This, too, supports learning for students from different circumstances. Students that experience less stable personal situations in which there is emotional instability are comforted to know what to expect. Surprises unsettle us, while an agenda motivates initiative. The planning process builds fundamental skills such as organization planning, problem-solving, and completion power. These are skills that contribute to a mentee’s success and the responsibility of the mentor to promote skill strengthening during meetings. These are skills that develop self-confidence and self-esteem where they may have been diminished in a mentee’s life experiences.
The next areas of concentration are the auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning style preferences. Learning style preferences can be overlooked in how they affect a person’s sense of emotional safety and self-esteem. 4B.E.L.S. instruction offers learning style opportunities that influence cognitive flexibility. To help you better visualize this experience, I will ask you to experiment on yourself. If you prefer to write with your right hand, put a pen in your left hand. If you prefer to write with your left hand, put the pen in your right hand. Now write your name. I am willing to bet that you are feeling very uncomfortable writing your name using the opposite hand of preference. Now, if I were to ask you to take notes in a science class with your least preferred hand, would you be concentrating on what the teacher was saying about science or would you be concentrating on accurately writing the words? My guess is that you would be concentrating on how to write the words. We know that the teacher’s lesson plan was to teach about science and not how to write words. You feel insecure in your ability to succeed. A visual or kinesthetic learner feels this discomfort with auditory dominant instruction. Data indicate that approximately eighty percent of us are either visual or kinesthetic learners. Yet, despite this revelation, eighty percent or more of instruction in all grade levels favors the auditory learner. This would be like asking eighty percent of the students to write with the weaker of their two hands. This information gives insight into the importance of implementing auditory, visual, and kinesthetic instruction during mentoring sessions. The 4B.E.L.S. process requires options for all learning style preferences and develops connections that strengthen all abilities regardless of a person’s preference. The mentor is made aware to include instructional activities that connect content with a variety of approaches. Everyday life requires us to take advantage of auditory, visual, and kinesthetic situations and instructional sessions should not be an exception. A wonder of nature is that every person is born with unique strengths and talents. We must observe and assess each person’s unique abilities (Seif, 2021; Tomlinson, 2021; Tomlinson & Moon, 2013). Every day is your chance to create experiences that are as inspiring as the people under your mentorship. To quote Albert Einstein: “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.”
The 4B.E.L.S. process is focused on the ability to appreciate intelligence strengths with performance-based, authentic assessment as an integral component. It is significant to mention that 4B.E.L.S. give you, as the mentor, the ability to continually assess your students at each Brain Essential Learning Step. The Theory of Multiple Intelligences suggests that each of us is born with intelligence strengths (Gardner, 1999). This understanding requires us to assess potential rather than static knowledge (Earl, 2003). Should a student be born with musical intelligence, it is reasonable to assume that learning information with a connection to music would be more ‘brain-friendly’. This does not mean that everything is seen through a musical lens however, these observations should consider assessment criteria that focuses on intelligence assets.
It is best to develop mentoring plans in a mind map format. The topic to be reviewed is in the center of the diagram and makes it easier to connect the disciplines with a variety of instructional methods. John Holt said, “Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.” Assessment criteria that pay attention to brain research data ensure inclusion and respect for diversity to strengthen this love.
Consider the merits of being in an instructional situation where the teachers begin with curricular content yet go beyond memorization of facts (B.E.L.S 1). Students are exploring information (B.E.L.S.2) for the purpose of planning (B.E.L.S. 3) how to accomplish a specific project or task (B.E.L.S. 4) with their new knowledge. Mentors exhibit confidence in the mentee’s ability to create a solution to every challenge rather than seeing weaknesses or roadblocks. Every student learns according to individual strengths and innate talents irrespective of culture, race, and disabilities. How much more will that student be able to accomplish than the one whose talents are stifled?
George Bernard Shaw said, “If you have an apple and I have an apple, and we exchange these apples, then you and I will each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea, and we exchange these ideas, each of us will have two ideas.” Brainstorming is a skill that is not always appreciated to the extent that it should be. Let us use a pen as an example. Looking at the pen, we immediately think to write. However, brainstorming techniques can be used to develop a skill that sees the object from different perspectives. Brainstorming expands creativity by listing more ways to use the pen. More creative answers would be to use it as a hairpin, as a percussion instrument or a backscratcher. One of my students said that if he were an elephant, it could be used to pick his nose (sense of humor also his strength). Another student piggybacked on his response and said that if she were an ant, she could use it as a cell phone pole. The point here is that when we are exercising the brain with multiple ways of thinking, creativity is developed and something as common as a pen becomes an object with unlimited possibilities. Students begin to look at everything from multiple perspectives. One of the major complaints that companies have when they hire college graduates is that they lack problem-solving skills. Students may have graduated first in their class and scored well on the required standardized tests, but that does not mean they know how to problem solve. Memorizing material and developing test taking skills do not strengthen essential skills for innovation, product design, and scientific discovery. Brainstorming is a tool to cultivate innovation and collaborative support. In fact, the ability to brainstorm and create a variety of perspectives increases neuronal connections and intellectual potential. Increased intellectual potential enables us to find solutions to whatever problem we may encounter in life. Brainstorming practices begin at the beginning of every day with B.E.L.S. 1 introductions and continue throughout the steps. Developing brainstorming techniques should be one of the first lessons of an orientation. It provides opportunity to exercise the areas of the brain that recall information and connect existing knowledge with new topics. The goal is to generate as many concepts as possible that are related to a specific subject. Focus on quantity initially. Know that the quality of ideas increases with practice while strengthening verbal expression and information. The more words that are generated, the more we need to listen to each other’s replies, the more opportunity we have to piggyback on our peers’ responses while adding thoughts to cultivate additional mindsets. Brainstorming can happen in groups as well as in individual sessions. More diverse introductions to a topic foster increased student attention. The 4 B.E.L.S. instructional process develops cognitive plasticity and creative thinking. And it does so with all age groups, not just with younger children (Seidman, 2012). Overall, the recognition that everyone strives for as an individual, happens during brainstorming informational sharing. Socialization skills are developing as people become more confident in their ability to contribute. Recorded responses represent everyone’s contribution to the session. Students are in control by choosing a variety of ways to participate. A mentor may include picture demonstrations, auditory readings, musical interpretations, and body movement demonstrations. Participants are engaged in the process according to learning strengths. Listening and focusing skills are developed when considering participation in a team forum. Information that we know and that we have stored in our long-term memory becomes relevant when it is connected to new material and viewpoints. Brain connections increase retention, transfer of facts, and recall. In this society when creative problem-solving is required, it is not enough to quickly recall common knowledge. As a mentor, you are developing skills for your mentees to have confidence to participate in varied meeting formats.
The 4B.E.L.S. – Process for Work and Classroom
The process begins with B.E.L.S.1 welcoming each participant into the session. We need to be mindful that people bring various emotions with them when they arrive for the day. We want to observe each mentee’s demeanor and approach with eye contact and positive interaction. A student who is feeling happy appreciates recognition. The upset student appreciates the mentor recognizing his/her sadness. We continue with brain exercises to open pathways to access frontal cognitive brain areas and prepare for learning. Next a schedule is written with participants that informs what to expect throughout the day. It is a total picture (right brain) while filling in the activities and events (left brain). The schedule creates an emotional safety that adds to the calm and concentration from the brain exercises. There is a beginning, middle, and end to the learning or project completion that fosters the skill of completion power, a necessary skill in every circumstance. Informational content is subsequently introduced with a focus on beginning brainstorming. Instructional strategies used when introducing new facts include auditory, visual, kinesthetic, and intelligence strength activities. Throughout B.E.L.S.1 are opportunities to assess the mentee’s knowledge and understanding during the brainstorming of sharing ideas. There is verbal and written accounting of the responses. New information adds to stored memory comprehension. Knowledge retrieval from neural connections begins the fundamental journey of your mentee’s awareness and relevance to new facts. Remember that long-term memory retention depends upon relevant and, many times, emotional experiences. Therefore, the relevance of information is an essential ingredient for retention and for eventual retrieval of material. A student’s knowledge and testing skills at all age levels are strengthened with better retention and retrieval of information when connecting stored knowledge with new information that is discussed in an applicable context. Students that learn information in a variety of settings can retrieve information from different areas of the brain and therefore, increase their ability to remember it. Each day that we use the 4B.E.L.S instructional strategies, we help students connect their right and left brains while connecting the areas of the brain that process auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learning, making countless new neural connections. The brain can be lazy and always wants to default to the easiest and most emotionally safe way of taking in information (Bailey, 2000). Continually establishing instructional strategies that encourage the brain to make new connections, strengthen every area of a person’s brain for optimal learning and skill development. B.E.L.S.2, 3, and 4 complete the process with exploration and research (B.E.L.S.2), gathering facts for planning (B.E.L.S.3), and completing a project (B.E.L.S.4). Albert Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of facts but the training of the mind to think.”
4B.E.L.S in the Workplace for Mentoring Success
Corporations are recognizing the benefits of this information and combining department teams for different perspectives on innovation production. Marketing, human resources, financial experts, and research and developers meet to brainstorm. Combining talents leads to more efficient and creative approaches. Can you remember a time that you may have been puzzling over how to fix something and a friend walks by and says, “Why not do it this way?” and it solved the issue that you were looking at from an entirely different angle? This is the essence of 4B.E.L.S. 4B.E.L.S includes opportunities to develop different points of view. Once your brain has processed the information according to the way it understands best, you are ready to make plans in B.E.L.S.3 that determines how to accomplish the goals of the project that is B.E.L.S.4. In addition, companies tend to be concerned with turnover and ask why people stay at their jobs. It appears that salary is not the first consideration. People want to be recognized. They want to be able to make a difference. They want to be a member of a productive team that increases their self-esteem and confidence. They want to, simply put, feel emotionally safe and good at the job (Ducoff, 2017). These are the skills a mentor encourages the protégé to develop and apply.
We certainly cannot delve into each person’s personal history, life, and how experiences have led to successes or failures. What we can do with 4 B.E.L.S. instruction is determine optimal learning and skill development for every unique brain that promotes an emotional safety everyone deserves for the purpose of accomplishing goals and developing skills for life success.
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