Reading, Writing, and Relationships

Megan Marcus Pepperdine Magazine

A Pepperdine alumna combines her knowledge of psychology and therapy to train teachers in the science of relationships.

Soon after graduating with a degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2008, Megan Marcus (MA ’11) found herself at a three- day education conference focused on psychology, neuroscience, and education hosted by organizers Learning and the Brain. She was there to gain insights about child development and how the brain absorbs and stores information.

In a moment of reflection prior to the first lecture, Marcus thought about the number of seasoned teachers who had flocked to the event seeking information about psychology, child development, and how the brain learns—topics that had been widely covered during her undergraduate education. She wondered if, beyond subject matter, teachers were properly and sufficiently trained for the relational components of student-teacher interaction.

“When the relational climate of the school is right, it can really transform the life outcomes for students,” says Marcus, who further explored this concept as the lead researcher on The Social Neuroscience of Education, a book that was being developed at the time by Graduate School of Education and Psychology professor Louis Cozolino.

Marcus first met Cozolino, a notable psychologist and author, at the conference after his presentation on neuroscience, a topic that the recent graduate was eager to explore.

While researching psychology doctoral programs following the conference, Marcus reached out to Cozolino, who encouraged her to consider a master’s degree at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology and assist him in the research for his new book. The Social Neuroscience of Education explored the different ways in which teachers and school leaders thrive as a result of their competence in building relationships.

“That was a huge, life-changing moment for me,” Marcus admits, who took Cozolino’s advice and enrolled at Pepperdine in the fall of 2009.

Throughout her research, Marcus gained a well- rounded perspective on topics of psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology. Since her course work also required therapist training, she began noticing parallels between the therapeutic environment and the classroom. She discovered that while therapists are trained to build and leverage relationships with their clients, the same is not done for teachers.

Megan Marcus Pepperdine Magazine

“We are training teachers to be technical instructors with content knowledge and pedagogy skills, but
in reality we also put them in positions to be parent figures and counselor figures every day, and they’re really not prepared for that,” says Marcus.

Through her research, Marcus discovered that this gap often results in high turnover rates, and that the skills instilled in therapists and psychologists could also be shared with educators.

Upon graduation from GSEP in 2011, and after completing a master’s program in education policy and management at Harvard Graduate School of Education in 2012, Marcus launched FuelEd, an innovative company that trains teachers in the science of relationship building and communication skills, thus helping them connect better with their students on an emotional level.

The mission of FuelEd is to improve teacher and student outcomes by developing educators’ social and emotional competencies, which will help reduce their turnover rates and better prepare them to influence the academic, social, and emotional outcomes of their students.

“The program combines workshops and instructional content with therapeutic or counseling services that we provide to educators to help them grow socially and emotionally, and be prepared for those elements of their jobs,” she shares.

The Community Workshop, for example, explores the ways in which strategic teacher-student relationships influence positive learning outcomes, whereas Empathy School seminars primarily focus on the art and science of effective listening. These lessons are also combined within the Leadership Institute, which offers training in areas such as interpersonal skills, emotional well-being, self-awareness, and relationships.

Megan Marcus leads educators in Empathy School at Houston’s YES Prep Public Schools.

Megan Marcus leads educators in Empathy School at Houston’s YES Prep Public Schools.

After participating in any of the FuelEd programs, alumni educators can connect with one another for networking opportunities and additional support through local gatherings and one-on-one meetings.

Cozolino, whom Marcus credits for the path her career has taken, is also proud of Marcus’ accomplishments. “Megan is a wonderful combination of heart, energy, and intellect, which she infuses into all of her work,” Cozolino notes, adding, “FuelEd provides a model of the integration of education and psychology, and the hope for the survival of our current system of education.”

Marcus’ work at FuelEd earned her international recognition in February 2016, when she was elected as a member of the Ashoka Fellowship. Her election was based on her entrepreneurial development of a new, ethically sound, and socially impactful idea, which has been executed creatively in an effort to solve an ongoing problem.

Despite her success, Marcus hopes that “eventually there won’t even be a need for FuelEd, because social and emotional training for educators will be the ‘new norm’ and secure attachments will be at the center of every classroom and every school.”

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