One of the questions that have intrigued me for years is: “What makes us decide to want to learn?”

In school, I superficially learned that it was motivation and that if I didn’t learn or retain what I learned, I needed to work on my self-discipline. It turns out that it’s more complicated than that.

One of the misconceptions about how we learn concerns the role of emotions in our thinking. Emotions are seen as irrational and unruly, something that is connected with “acting out of control.” From that position comes the idea that by making decisions without emotions, purely rationally, we become more sophisticated thinkers and decision-makers. As a consequence, we often expect students, and ourselves, to leave emotions outside the classroom. But, we know from the work of many neuroscientists that it is it is impossible to separate emotions from reasoning, on both neurological and even biochemical level.

Thus, to foster an optimal learning environment, we need to pay attention to emotions and how the learner is feeling, as learning cannot take place in the absence of emotion. The brain chooses which aspects of the outside perceptions to pay attention to, and how to make decisions about them, by assigning emotional importance to them. The teacher’s voice, the lesson, the exercises, the homework – all of these are external perceptions that brain has to process, and it will process them according to the emotional state they produce.

Or, in simple terms, one won’t teach much to a student who does not care.

All of this to say that emotions play an indispensable role in our ability to make decisions, learn, and remember. Emotions act as gateways to learning and can help facilitate or stifle learning. My research focuses on examining how we can cultivate a learning sanctuary for our students to help them learn and thrive. Specifically, I use psychometric and biometric tools to quantitatively and qualitatively examine the relationships between stress, self-awareness, perception and expectation, self-advocacy, community, and how these impact cognition, metacognition, and meaningful learning.