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Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #172 with a veteran principal from New Jersey, USA, who has actively been writing about highly relevant solutions to problems in educational leadership since 2018, Michael Gaskell.  Michael’s second book, Leading Schools Through Trauma[i], was just published this September, and his first book, Microstrategy Magic[ii], last fall.

Watch this interview on YouTube here

Learn more about Dr. Gaskell here

See past Neuroscience Meets SEL Podcast Episodes here

On Today’s Episode You Will Learn:

✔︎  Why we must NEVER give up on a struggling student.

✔︎  What we should ALL know about being trauma-informed in today’s schools.

✔︎ What Dr. Gaskell’s 3-STEP Process says about the importance of educator well-being.

✔︎ How to recognize trauma, and next steps for working with our students in the classroom.

✔︎ The Pygmalion Effect and why our belief in our students matters.

✔︎ What Dr. Gaskell would say to a new, first year teacher, who is struggling in the classroom.

✔︎ Putting Together a Trauma-Informed Plan in your school.

✔︎ The importance of surveys for Teacher Training and Implementation.

✔︎ Actionable Ideas That You Can Implement Immediately.

I’m Andrea Samadi, author, and educator from Toronto, Canada, now in Arizona, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies that we can use to improve our own productivity in our schools, our sports, and workplace environments. My vision is to bring the experts to you, share their books, resources, and ideas to help you to implement their proven strategies, whether you are a teacher working in the classroom or online, a student, or in the corporate environment.

When I first began presenting on the topic of stress, learning and the brain in 2016, in those early days of learning about how the brain works and responds to stress, I started to receive messages from teachers around the country (and the world) with questions about how to handle students suffering from the damaging effects of trauma. Educators would attend the webinar presentations I was offering, and their emails requesting help at the end of these presentations were urgent. Since starting this work, I have always replied personally to every single email that comes in, but the ones about trauma I know I didn’t have the best answers for, and I remember not knowing exactly how to answer these questions. I only knew from my viewpoint or experience working with behavioral students in my first-year teaching what worked for me back then, but I definitely lacked the strategies that are needed more than ever in our schools today, and understand now why being trauma-informed is so important.

I’m grateful that this podcast has not only given us a platform to what’s new and relevant, timely and important as it relates to educational neuroscience and leadership, but where else would we all gain access to the leaders around the world, working directly with the most innovative ideas in educational reform, productivity, and results. I want to thank you again, for all who tune in, and offer interview ideas and suggestions. The reach goes beyond those early days when we would host those webinars, now into over 154 countries, and we remain in the TOP 100 charts for iTunes in the category of education/how-to) in many of these countries around the world. This is only the beginning of our vision for this work so we can answer the questions that I know we all have, with the leading experts in this field.

Which brings us to our next guest, Michael Gaskell, who has a unique story, because he’s not only writing from his experience working in schools, and offering trauma-informed solutions from what he has seen working in his day to day world,  but Michael takes it a step deeper, BEING a former student who was labelled himself as “anxious, low-performing, hostile and other terms that pointed to the characteristics of trauma.” (xi, Leading Schools Through Trauma). We spoke in episode #170 with John Harmon[iii] just how important belief was for students learning their academics, (like math) and for someone who failed math not once, but twice in high school, this belief was not there. Something helped Michael to overcome his early academic challenges,  helping him to reach levels that most educators envision in their mind, but few attain—when he was presented with his dissertation for his educational doctorate.

Let’s meet Dr. Michael Gaskell and learn from his vast experience about how to be trauma-informed in today’s schools.

Welcome Dr. Gaskell, I really enjoyed getting to know you through email before this interview and know that we are all just one person away from knowing someone in this small world with you being from the town where my husband grew up in New Jersey. So good to meet you in this very small world.

INTRO Q: Dr. Gaskell, the story you tell at the beginning of your most recent book about your personal experience of struggle that many children are dealing with today, especially the past few years. What was it, do you think, that made a difference for you? Was there something that sticks out in your mind as a turning point where you did something, anything different, putting you on a new trajectory? You mention maybe accidental fortune, but was there anything that you think helped you to make a shift? The shift we know our students are capable of, but they just don’t know how?


Q1: Since many of us who were trained to work in today’s classroom were not trained in the importance of understanding simple neuroscience, many of us also don’t have a background in abnormal psychology, yet alone trauma. I like how you have taken the important research, and tied it into your book, right from the beginning with the study from Werner and Smith (2001) where they tracked individuals from childhood to middle age demonstrating how they responded to trauma in their life, and the finding that stuck out to be important was that among the high risk group (who we would expect to have challenges later in life) about “1/3 of the high-risk individuals displayed resilience and beat the odds.” (Page 2) We talked in depth with Horacio Sanchez about protective factors in episode #74[iv] but what do you think would be something we should all know about, if we have a student who appears to be going nowhere, what would you tell the teachers you are working with about the importance of understanding these protective factors to make an impact that we might not see right away? 1B) What change can really be expected in a year?

Q2: What is different with your 3-step approach than some of the earlier books written to help save our students, like Ross Green’s Lost at School[v] where they look they say that “kids with social, emotional, and behavior challenges lack important thinking skills” (Page 329 Lost at School) or Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar[vi] that I think builds the character of an educator from the inside out, beginning with “self-awareness, knowing your emotions, social identities, core values and personality” ((page 816) to help you to see your purpose in life, or why you get out of bed every day. What comes first, the student’s well-being, or the educators’ well-being?


Q3: In the training I’m receiving now, we just covered some sessions to help us to understand how trauma impacts people in different ways and that strategies that might help one student, might push another’s buttons and set them off. Where do we even begin to be “trauma-informed” in today’s classrooms?

Q3B) How do you assess a student’s progress?

Q4: I know how important our mindset is, or what we believe about those we are teaching, or coaching, but you have a study that backs this up with science. Can you explain the Pygmalion effect, and why what we think about our students matters so much?


Q4B) I think back to my first year of teaching, with an assignment of 30 behavioral students, and not know how to control them (without any training in behavior management, and Dr. Bruce Perry hadn’t released his Tree of Regulation where we learn that we need to be regulated ourselves, before we can regulate our students, but if I came to you after school and told you that my class was “out of control” what kind of plan would you put in place to  help me as a new or experienced teacher to recognize what’s behind the behavior and help me to better connect with these students?

Q5) What should we keep in mind when teaching children who’ve been exposed to trauma?

Q6) Can you tell me about the “I Am More Than That Program?” I have seen similar programs within education, but reading it in the book, was different, especially when it comes from a student, uncovering their identity, increasing their self-awareness. Can you explain this progam, and why it’s important for all of us to know who we are, to our very core?

Q7) How can curiosity be used as a success tool in a school?


Q8) In a world that’s forever changing, it’s crucial to not overlook trauma like you identify at the macro level (everything we all went through during the Pandemic) to micro (like the unexpected death of a family member). How do you use surveys to identify your faculties concerns, while also giving them a voice for what training they will be receiving?

Q9) How are you using EdCamps for your faculty meetings?


Q10) What are some important takeaways that we can use right away?

John Gottman’s research/other ideas?

Michael, I want to thank you very much for taking this deep dive with me into your most recent book, Leading Schools Through Trauma. For those who want to get a copy to further explore the tools, resources and ideas that we haven’t had time to discuss, I will put a link in the show notes. Are there any other places people can follow you?


Neuroscience and the Brain Conference coming this NOVEMBER


Anxiety vs Relaxation: Relabeling Anxiety as Excitement by Svetlana Whitener April 7, 2021


[i] Leading Schools Through Trauma, by Michael Gaskell, Published September 15, 2021

[ii] Microstrategy Magic by Dr. Michael Gaskell Sept.23, 2020

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #170 with John Harmon on “Our Brain and Mind Under Pressure”

[iv]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #74 with Horacio Sanchez on “How to Apply Brain Science to Improve Instruction and School Climate”

[v] Lost at School by Ross W Greene, Ph.D. Published October 14, 2008

[vi]Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators by Elena Aguilar Published May 8, 2018