The Character Movement

Connection unleashes learning

Connection unleashes learning – this was the main message of our Pilot Mind Conference on May 4, 2017.

That Thursday evening, we gathered with educators from districts across the Twin Cities to talk teaching strategies informed by experience and by the latest brain research. Erin Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting and Youth Frontiers facilitated the experience. Erin shared with us her vision for the conference and her impression of its pilot.

What is the Mind Conference? 

The Mind Conference takes a close look at the art of relationship in education and how to prioritize connection in the learning process. Attendees also have the opportunity to sign up for a one-credit graduate level course that builds on the concepts presented at the Mind Conference and gives educators a chance to implement some of the interventions in their own classrooms. As part of the course, participants read and discuss the book “Why Do They Act That Way?” by Erin and Dr. David Walsh, also of Mind Positive Parenting.

How did the Mind Conference develop and differ from the Mind Retreat

The Mind Retreat is for educators from the same school, but the conference included educators from multiple districts. We believe each educator has a rich toolkit; we wanted to design a program where we could deepen and broaden these toolkits by giving participants the chance to share techniques with their peers from other districts.

What was the main goal of the conference?

We wanted educators to journey with us. We started by discussing recent brain science discoveries, like the effects of too much and too little stress on the cortex, and then worked from there to envision how educators can use positive connections with their students to create an optimal learning space – one that the students feel is safe, organized and supported.

We also wanted to give educators the opportunity to share their students’ and their own struggles, recognize that they can’t fix them all and be comforted by the reminder that through building healthy relationships with students, they can help calm students’ brains and prepare them to be better learners.

Why is this conference important? 

Our education system is constantly asking more and more of our teachers. On top of that, students are facing more stressors than seemingly ever before. We expect students to take in tons of content, but often they arrive at school not ready to learn; for one reason or another, their brains are not calm enough to be in a learning space. What we discussed at the conference is an important reminder that we know, based on evidence, that one of the most potent education tools does not cost money or require building new programming – it’s the simple power of human connection. Our society gives teachers a lot of affirmation for high test scores, but it’s time we learn to appreciate the academic force around positive relationships.

What sets this conference apart from lectures on brain science?

There’s a lot of focus right now on the impact of trauma and stress on the brain. I’m proud and excited that we’ve created a program that takes in the research but also creates an experience for the heart – a space where people can feel their emotions as well as the spirit of the research.

Did you learn anything from the pilot?

Every time I facilitate a program, I learn something. At the pilot, I learned that one participant closes every meeting with students by posing the following question: Can the students identify two friends who support them and one adult they feel like they can trust to talk with about a problem? This was one example of an educator prioritizing connection with students and ensuring they have the support they need to learn well.

Erin shared that she and YF Retreat Musician Josh Cleveland had a blast. They cried, they laughed and most of all they were grateful for the educators who spent the evening with them and for the chance to affirm the incredible work the educators are already doing.


Of all of the Pilot Mind Conference participants, 94 percent agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement: “Because of the mind conference, I learned new practical strategies and tools to create connection with my students.” All participants said they would recommend the Pilot Mind Conference to teachers at other schools.

One educator said, “It was very beneficial to connect with colleagues from different places, to compare and contrast experiences and appreciate how hard we all work.”

We send a huge thank-you to Erin Walsh for helping Youth Frontiers design and facilitate the Pilot Mind Conference and to all the wonderful educators who brought themselves and their wisdom to the event.

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