ST. ALBANS – Last Thursday afternoon at St. Albans City School (SACS), over 100 teachers, mostly but not exclusively from Vermont, found themselves gathered in the school’s library. Instructor Kim Hughes stood at the front of the room, with a set of placards identifying structures of the brain on one side and a PowerPoint with the lyrics of “Itsy, Bitsy Spider” on the other.

“You must have that download of dopamine,” Hughes called, pointing to the top of her head. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a chemical released by braincells, that’s usually associated with anticipation of rewards.

Hughes was instructing the teachers in conscious discipline, a relatively young method of classroom discipline and coaching recently adopted by SACS as an alternative to the traditional system of rewards and punishments.

The method is heavily rooted in neuroscience and psychology, hence placards identifying the prefrontal lobes, references to neurotransmitters and an outline of mental states enforced by all of the above. Teachers from across the country had come to SACS to participate in a weeklong workshop dedicated to the practice.

Hughes asked the audience to recite three major neurotransmitters – dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin – and their corresponding emotions. “This is not like rocket science. We know these things.”

“What they’re born into is what their body knows, so for some of those kids who are born into situations where they’re over aroused or under aroused, we need to re-regulate their ‘clacker,’” Hughes told the audience.

For more on conscious discipline, pick up a copy of this weekend’s Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.