Missy and Mary at NCCE 2017

A picture is worth a thousand words! 


Mary and I giggled in Zoom as we scrolled through previous #NCCE17 tweets to prepare this blog. Mary tells me we officially met at the presentation “where we danced on the tables.” 

What? We danced on tables together? 

Correction. I danced on the table while Mary sat beside me and tweeted away from her computer. I can only imagine what she was thinking at that moment! I remember our first meeting differently. In my memory, I recall sitting in a session and tweeting with two new Twitter connections. I was so excited to connect as I was tweeting to @TEACHheartSOUL (Mary Snyder) and @hopeternal777 (Tabitha Ellison). 

Missy Widmann TweetI remember the person sitting next to me turning and saying, “You are @Missywidmann!”  I looked at her and realized I was tweeting Mary and Tabitha as we sat shoulder-to-shoulder in a session. From that moment at NCCE- we were connected, and our worlds shifted. We still stand shoulder-to-shoulder in our work today.

The interesting thing about connecting with Mary and Tabitha is that we were all on separate journeys that intersected. NCCE became the soil where our seeds of curiosity and collaboration were planted. Connections with others are fundamental for our emotional well-being, learning capacity, collective efficacy, and physical health. When we feel socially connected, our brains release neurotransmitters like oxytocin (it also works as a hormone). Oxytocin promotes positive feelings of trust and belonging. NCCE was the catalyst for growing this trust. In this soil, our individual ideas and understanding began to take root. Now, we have thousands of Neural Educators from around the globe who share their own funds of knowledge and experiences as they attend our in-person and virtual institutes, implementation workshops, and book studies. 

Mary and Tabitha

Gamifying education was our starting point in brain engagement and neuroscience after reading the book, SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal. Superbetter is not written for educators, but when we read the book, we realized that much of the neuroscience described reflected our students’ experiences as gamers. Our classrooms are full of students who game–video games, board games, card games, and sports are all ways gaming is incorporated into their lives.  We asked ourselves, “How can we leverage gaming and gaming behaviors for learning?” 

We developed units of study that we incorporated into our educational spaces and experienced so much success as our students began to adopt a challenge mindset when learning new concepts and skills! We were so excited and wanted to share our ideas with others, so we applied to present at NCCE in 2017.  NCCE was an amazing experience for us–connecting with other educators innovating and developing their practice. It has become a touchstone experience for us–the place where we met Missy through Twitter.  Not surprisingly, our interest in neuroscience intersected with Missy’s and we found ourselves in the same workshop–literally tweeting and dancing side by side!  


My journey into educational neuroscience began in 2011 when I read the book Spark by John Ratey. As a health and fitness teacher, it aligned with my interests and showed the impact of exercise on the brain and learning. After reading the book, my boss, Mike Sandner, in the Bethel School District, brought our Healthy Schools Grant Team together. We co-wrote a grant for the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. After receiving the grant, we started working on a project incorporating Brain Breaks into classrooms. After deep collaboration, we co-created a brain breaks toolkit with over 100 content-specific, mindfulness, and crossbody activities. 

In 2016, we submitted a proposal to present Brain Breaks at NCCE. We arrived in Seattle and walked into our presentation room. Mike (my boss and brain breaks co-conspirator) looked at me and said, “Missy, how many people do you think will attend?”. I responded that we were at a computer conference and, therefore, if we had 10 people, we would call it a success. Our presentation started at 9 am. At about 8:55 am, people started to filter in. I looked out the door and noticed a line of people. I was shocked! We counted 102 people in a room that was meant for 40. Participants filled the chairs, sat in the window bays, and sat on the floor – while others stood. At the end of the 50-minute presentation, we looked at each other and shook our heads. What just happened?

The next day I was excited to attend NCCE as a participant. As the escalator crested on the second floor of the Seattle Convention Center, I noticed a sign that stated, “Engaging the Brain with Kieran O’Mahony and Conn McQuinn.” I was like a moth to a flame. I quickly forgot about my schedule and went straight into the session. The room was similar to ours the day before. Forty chairs. I was lucky enough to get a seat, and I watched as people lined the window bays, sat on the floor, and stood. It was in that session with Conn and Kieran that things clicked. In 50 minutes, they shared the neuroscience of stress on learning. I was forever changed! And I understood why so many other educators were seeking answers to explain some of the things they (and their students) were experiencing in our 21st-century classrooms. At the end of the session, I approached Kieran and gave him a brain breaks toolkit. He offered his UW business card. From there, Kieran and I started meeting every Sunday. In those oxytocin-rich meetings, we aligned our work and co-founded Neural Education. Even today, we love to meet in a favorite local coffee shop to collaborate on new ideas, explore neuroscience research, and drink hot tea. 

Neural Education grows from the soil of NCCE

The first Neural Education Institute was held at Pacific Lutheran University in 2017. We partnered with Dr. Terri Farrar, an Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, and started inviting people. Our first-ever session included several people who met because of NCCE – Conn McQuinn, Mary Snyder, and Tabitha Ellison. We were fast on our way. Today, Mary and Tabitha are part of the executive team, the board of directors, and the programming team. Without the collaboration – which began at #NCCE17– Neural Education would not be the robust community of educators it is today! 

We invite you to join us for our 7th annual Summer Institute this summer! In Neural Education, we knock down the barriers of stress, bias, and emotional reactivity with powerful, practical, and proven neural-informed pedagogy so all students can learn.  We offer in-person and virtual Institutes, and registration is open now. We would love to #RaftUp with other fellow NCCE-ers who are passionate and excited about ensuring that all students can be seen, their voices heard, and their potential realized.  www.neuraleducation.org 

Missy Widmann, EdD

Missy Widmann, EdDMissy Widmann is a Health & Fitness Educator, Enriched Core Coordinator in the Steilacoom Historical School District, educational neuroscience consultant, and co-founder of Neural Education. 

FOLLOW ME @MissyWidmann

Website: neuraleducation.org


Mary Snyder, MA

Mary Snyder, MAMary Snyder is a Social Emotional Director in the Steilacoom Historical School District, educational neuroscience consultant, and executive committee member of Neural Education. 

FOLLOW ME @TeachHeartSoul

Website: neuraleducation.org


Tabitha Ellison, MA

Tabitha Ellison, MATabitha Ellison is a Director of Student Services in the Steilacoom Historical School District, educational neuroscience consultant, and executive committee member of Neural Education. 

FOLLOW ME @hopeternal777

Website: neuraleducation.org

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