Written by: Rachel Paling, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
From a very early age, I stood out like a sore thumb. I couldn’t quite understand why until much later in life when I looked back and realized it. You see, as a child, I had light blonde hair, and as we often visited Spain two to three times a year, my hair got even lighter in the sun. In fact, you could say that between the years of two to twelve, I really had “white” blonde hair. I will never forget how puzzled I used to be that teachers always realized when I was not present at morning assembly or if I missed a class at any time.
Now, if you connect bright white blonde hair with an extremely expressive face and an instant frown when I couldn’t understand anything, you might be able to understand the reason that teachers could always instantly spot me. In addition, they would even ask me, “Rachel, what’s wrong?” when I had strategically chosen to sit at the back of the class to be unseen and inconspicuous. No matter what I did as a child to try to blend in, it just was not possible. Looking back, there were advantages. Firstly, I was sorely missed when I wasn’t there. Secondly, I instantly got people’s attention if my face portrayed distress. However, the great disadvantage was that I couldn’t get away with things easily or ever be allowed to be just one of the crowd.
From a brain perspective, how we live those first seven years of our lives really impacts and shapes the brain. We are subconsciously picking up patterns and behaviors relating to our environment. In this respect, I believe that I developed a very individualistic personality from an early age, not so much by choice but by circumstance. In fact, through my teenage years, there were times that it was so frustrating to stand out so much that I even took it to the extreme and became quite rebellious with the philosophy “if I can’t blend in, then I will do my utmost to stand out even more.” For example, at school, instead of wearing my blue uniform jumper, I would always wear a white or cream jumper and was constantly getting into trouble for this. Looking back, I can understand that my teenage brain had a constantly triggered amygdala due to this “odd man out” fact.
It wasn’t until my late 20s that I really started to understand that “standing out” could be an asset. One summer, as a law undergraduate, I worked as an intern for an NGO, attending and reporting on some of the General Assembly meetings of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. In hindsight, it was my greatest awareness trigger. I used to slip in quietly and slip out of those UN meetings at the Palais des Nations, eyes down, trying not to raise heads, unassumingly taking my notes. On one of the final days that I was there, after the assembly meeting, I went to say goodbye to one of my colleagues. The representative from Argentina heard me and came over to wish me goodbye. He was a complete stranger to me, but his final comment was, “I always saw when you came in, your presence was always noted, every time you came into this meeting, you brightened up the room.” That was the moment I realized that, in essence, I could bring a positive impact to any environment and that even in a crowd, there will always be someone somewhere noticing.
When I reflect on my own experience, I cannot help but wonder how we could help children, teenagers, or even adults understand how to accept standing out of the crowd and even encourage it. Also, how to really understand that sometimes a physical or nonphysical trait may make us more memorable. How can we embrace that, accept and acknowledge it, learning not only how to deal with it but also to turn it around into something positive. Parents and teachers could be encouraged to help talk more about differences and individuality with groups of children, encouraging them to talk about these and how it makes them feel.
Some children, like me, may not realize that they stand out for whatever reason. In retrospect, I see how it could have helped me realize why I was always remembered and instantly recognized, as many times I do believe we are left thinking that there is something wrong with us. This could greatly affect self-esteem, self-confidence and even impact us into feeling that we don’t belong. We know that our brains are wired to be social, and we were not designed to be solitary. The need to interact and be accepted by others is deeply ingrained in our psyche. When children grow up feeling individualized and marginalized, it could lead to a pattern of solitude and loneliness, unless teachers and parents can comfort and guide children through this. The understanding of inclusion and uniqueness could be the key for us throughout our lives.
Interestingly, research by Catalyst (https://bit.ly/37q7HJc ) across 250 organizations in six different countries (Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the United States) discovered that “inclusion really does hinge between a feeling of belonging and the feeling of being unique.” Surely then, the art will lie in feeling similar to others but at the same time to be acknowledged as unique individuals, echoing our human dichotomy of wanting to belong while wanting to be distinct.
Recently, I have founded the Neuroheart Education foundation. One of the focus points of this will be to train teachers to embrace a coaching approach to not only embrace the differences of learners but also neurodiversity, using professional coaching skills armed with emotional intelligence. Understanding cognitive functions and neuroscience will really bring more awareness at all times and more sensitivity to be able to intuit what children, teenagers, and even adult learners are experiencing and perceiving at all times. In this way, when we are in educational environments with groups of children, we will be able to really help them preserve their individuality but at the same time feel part of the group and deeply feel their sense of belonging.
Rachel Paling, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Rachel Marie Paling is an International Game Changer in Education, in particular, the education of languages. She has created the method and approach Neurolanguage Coaching, which incorporates professional coaching and neuroscience principles into the learning process. She coaches and trains teachers worldwide, transforming them into certified and ICF accredited Neurolanguage coaches and has created the Neurolanguage Coach network with over 700 NL Coaches in just over 70 countries worldwide and is now bringing the approach to schools and institutions over the world through her licensed trainers and in nine languages. Rachel started teaching language at 17 and has a BA Honours in Law and Spanish, MA in Human Rights. She is a qualified UK lawyer, MA in Applied Neuroscience, and a PCC ICF Life Coach. She is the author of the books Neurolanguage Coaching and Brain-friendly Grammar and has written numerous blog articles about learning, coaching, and neuroscience. She has spoken at many international conferences, and her company was awarded the Bronze Award at the Reimagine Education Awards 2019 in the Science in Education category. She is dedicated to the shift in education and is currently establishing an educational foundation to bring coaching, neuroscience, and heart science into educational processes.