The Inaugural Australasian Conference for Neuroscience, Learning and Well-being

25 & 26 March 2019 - Melbourne, Australia



Our presentations will focus on key principles of neuroscience to understand the new paradigm of learning and provide practical strategies to apply brain-based learning in various educational settings. Key aspects that will be addressed are:


  • What are memory and learning?

  • How does the brain learn and remember?

  • What is fear-based learning? How does that affect the neural development of the brain?

  • The impact of trauma on the developing brain

  • What do we learn from neuroscience about the essential principles of brain-based pedagogy?

  • The impact of age on learning – an overview of the neural development and implications for teaching

  • How to facilitate an enriched environment and take-home strategies to minimize risk factors (e.g. the neuroscience of asking/not asking questions)

  • The social brain and learning – (e.g. the interaction between the brains of educators and learners)

  • The neuroscience of fun and learning (practical demonstrations)

  • The brain, learning, fear and mollycoddling

  • Positive social connections

  • The neuroscience of resilience

  • Confidence and resilience building

  • Increased performance and decision making

  • Increased experience of positive emotions

  • Whole-school well-being and practical tools.

Conference Presenters


Rita Princi-Hubbard 


B.Psych(Hons), M.Psych(Clin), MAPS, FCCLP, MIAAN (Cert)

Director - iN-Ed 

Director - Princi Consulting

Master of Ceremonies



The BrainSmart 4 Learning Model: Brain-Based Learning in Practice


Education is experiencing a paradigm shift from fear-based learning (the classical behavioural approach) to brain-based learning. The impact of this approach has significant implications for both learning and pedagogy.


Learning begins the moment a child is born. Learning that takes place under stress results in performance based only on fear whereas learning that occurs in supportive and thriving environments provides the platform for children to reach their full potential; emotionally, socially, physically and academically. The heightened anxiety a student feels when they fail, suffer ridicule (real or perceived), or find themselves in a fearful situation causes a cascade of stress hormones to flow through the limbic system, which can impede a student’s learning.  As environmental sensory information is received and processed, influential memory systems and behaviours are developed according to the fulfillment or the violation of four basic psychological needs: the need for a sense of belonging and attachment, the need for control, the need for pleasure as opposed to hostile or fearful situations, and the need for healthy self-esteem.


The BrainSmart 4 Learning Program links Neuroscience Principles of Child Development with Early Childhood Education by providing a scientific and practical overview to enhance learning and well-being.


Professor Robyn Gillies


Professor of Education and a Chief Investigator in the Science of Learning Research Centre. The University of Queensland


Professor Robyn Gillies' major research interests are in the learning sciences, classroom discourses, small group processes, classroom instruction, and student behaviour. Professor Robyn Gillies has worked extensively in both primary and secondary schools to embed STEM education initiatives into the science curriculum. 

Robyn M. Gillies PhD is a Professor of Education at The University of Queensland. Her research focuses on the social and cognitive aspects of learning through social interaction. She has spent over twenty years researching how students can be encouraged to engage in class and learn. Her research spans both primary and secondary schools and has focused on inquiry learning in science and mathematics, teacher and peer-mediated learning, student centred learning, including cooperative learning, and classroom discourses and processes related to learning outcomes. Her recommendations on how teachers can translate research into practice have been widely profiled in the international literature and on the website of the Smithsonian Science Education Center in Washington, DC.



Neurobiology to the Classroom: Implications for Teaching


Recent studies in educational neuroscience are providing insights into how the brain¹s emotional and rational areas develop and how this information can be used, in conjunction with information from educational research, to inform teaching and learning practices. In particular, this presentation will focus on strategies that can be used to assist students to become independent thinkers, innovative creators, and effective communicators as they engage in collaborative learning experiences with their peers.




Cooperative Learning: What the behavioural and neurological markers tell us


Interest in cooperative learning has grown rapidly in recent years as research clearly demonstrates how it can be used to promote a range of achievements across different academic domains from pre-school to post-secondary education. It has also been shown to promote interpersonal relationships among students with diverse learning and adjustments needs and among those from culturally and ethnically different backgrounds. In fact, it is argued that there is no other pedagogical practice that achieves such outcomes. The purpose of this workshop is to highlight those factors that have been found to contribute to the success of cooperative learning, including recent research in neuroscience that helps to explain how and why students learn when they cooperate.


Thedy Veliz 



California USA - Neuropsychotherapy - Working with Youth and Their Families 

Thedy Veliz is a Relational & Developmental Neuro-Therapeutic CoachSM, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), a Certified Clinical Neuropsychotherapy Practitioner, and a Certified Resilience Coach (CreC) in private practice in Los Gatos, California, USA.  Veliz is founder of People Systems, a leadership & human development consulting firm through which he works with youth, adults, families, and couples who are experiencing challenges caused by behavioral, relational and emotional dynamics.

Veliz recognizes that children’s symptoms communicate the relational dynamics of the family, and uses a family systems approach to encourage parents to become curious about what aspects of the family dynamics might be showing up as challenging behaviors in their children.  Veliz uses “Relational Neuro-Narratives” as the active ingredient of his Parent Relational & Developmental Neuropsychotherapy Protocol which guides his treatment of youth by working with their parents.


Veliz combines 15 years of corporate engineering design and finance management experience with his experience in motivational speaking, leadership development, and his most recent education and training in neuropsychotherapy, counseling psychology, human development, and resilience & life coaching to provide families with a neuropsychotherapeutic path towards wellness by focusing on the power of dyadic relationships as the medium for healing.


Veliz specializes in working with fathers and sons, and the entire family by utilizing “neuro-therapeutic coaching” in order to assist individuals to achieve resilience through personal fulfillment and creativity while becoming social innovation catalysts.


Veliz has a masters in counseling psychology (MA) from Santa Clara University, a masters in business administration (MBA) from the University of Notre Dame, and a bachelors in mechanical engineering (BSME) from Iowa State University.



Neurogenomics and teenage students  - A relational approach to assisting the self-regulation needs of challenging young people at school.



Most adults that interact with children have come across a type of child that I will refer to as Simon.  The Simons of the world are very sensitive - sometimes to sensory stimuli, sometimes to relational dynamics with other people, and in many cases to both.  They throw tantrums, are not able to focus in class, become quickly aggressive with other children, and at times might come across as disrespectful to the adults that are responsible for their care.  Some have learning disabilities, some get diagnosed with ADHD, others have experienced trauma.  They exhibit anxiety, depression, tics, and at times their behavior might display autistic features. 


While caregivers are aware that these children are struggling, few are able to truly put themselves in these children’s shoes and communicate to them through their interactions that “there is nothing wrong with them,” and most importantly, that they are not bad, dumb, or inadequate.


 This lack of relational connection results in these children feeling misunderstood, alone, and inadequate.  They feel labeled and judged as if their innate qualities are not appreciated by the society into which they were born.  Not only do they feel alone internally, but this feeling is usually validated by active or passive rejection from their peer group. 


If adults are not able to give words to their pain, they start to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, sex, and video games during their early teenage years, and eventually self-destruct by dropping out of school, moving out of the home, and sometimes becoming homeless, engaging in crimes, prostitution, antisocial behavior, and at times committing suicide.


When trying to understand these children, research in the fields of medicine, psychology and education has traditionally focused on psychopathology rather than resilience.  Indeed, it is well known that children’s academic and psychosocial development is severely affected when exposed to adverse environment.  However, we also know that development is not only dependent on genetics, but also on our formative experiences. 


Over the last two decades, researchers have refined our understanding of the interplay between nature and nurture by providing findings that can be used by caregivers (parents, teachers, coaches, and psychologists) to enhance children’s resilience through enhanced self-regulation.  Thus, researchers have switched from focusing only on the conditions that negatively affect development to advancing methods of understanding the variables that result in children thriving.


It turns out that children like Simon usually carry certain gene variants that modulate critical neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine associated with self-regulation processes such as attention, cognition, motivation, memory, learning, and seeking/reward behaviors.  While initially, genetic variants that predisposed these children to being extra-sensitive were deemed to be “risky,” they are now understood as being “plastic” because they make these children differentially susceptible to early experiences.  This means that children like Simon who carry these “sensitive” gene variants are also more likely to improve their behavior, but only if they are exposed to a safe and non-threatening caring environment.  Whereas, children who don’t carry the “plastic” gene variants appear to not be influenced by their environment.


Interestingly, these “plastic” gene variants have been linked to qualities that significantly contributed to the advance of our civilization at different stages of our history due to their carriers’ tendency to being less risk averse and driven by adventure, excitement and curiosity.


In the modern world, these “plastic” gene variants are associated with difficulties in self-regulation including increased novelty seeking, aggression, oppositional defiance, externalizing and internalizing symptoms including hyperactivity and impulsivity, depressive and mood disorders, and increased levels of physical activity.


In a nutshell, children like Simon are not only sensitive and special, but also gifted.  And… just as we have benefited from their special talents in the past, our society needs their contributions today more than ever.  When we are able to see past their emotional and behavioral challenges, they have high intelligence and emotional quotients.  Some researchers refer to them as orchid children, with difficult temperament, physiologically reactive or just plain “quirky.”  Underneath their sensitivities, which in essence is an expression of their inability to self-regulate, they feel the pain of the world.  They talk about the world not being fair, and wanting to help other children.  They are easily overwhelmed because their brain is unable to process the stimuli that they are able to sense.  They form more vivid memories, feel other people’s feelings, and have much lower pain tolerances.  They love passionately and they hate intensely.  While the traditional approach has been to discipline these children through consequences and firm boundaries, these children need approaches that downregulates their highly sensitive central nervous system through empathy and understanding – approaches that can only be delivered by caregivers who are able to truly feel these children’s pain.


Veliz will deliver a keynote address to translate research findings into a Developmental Neurogenomics Model that will:

  •  introduce relational interventions in order to assist educators to enhance the self-regulatory capabilities of children like Simon by focusing on the downregulation of their stress response system to counteract the effect of their sensitivity on their developmental health

  • provide practical insight into how classroom dynamics can affect the level of scapegoating and subordination that these orchid children might be subjected to based on the inherent pecking order of social positioning that often develops in classrooms



Neurogenomics and teenage students  - A relational approach to assisting the self-regulation needs of challenging young people at school.


Veliz will assist educators to integrate the Developmental Neurogenomics Model into their daily interactions with their students in classrooms. He will provide ways  to conceptualize the developmental dynamics that might be getting in the way of challenging children experiencing an educational environment that makes them feel “viscerally” safe and ready to learn. He will share possible narratives exploring and describing how these children might be feeling by using soothing prosody and intonations, and exhibiting a non-verbal stance that communicates unconditional positive regard.

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Dr Sonja Vanderaa

Senior Training Consultant,

Australian Childhood Foundation,

Hobart, Tasmania



Sonja has worked as a teacher, special educator, professional learning leader and behavioural consultant. She brings more than twenty years’ experience working with school communities, interagency teams and professional groups.

Her work has focused on improving the social and academic inclusion of students who have challenging behaviours and intensive support needs. 

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Three big ideas: What trauma-sensitive practice adds to positive behaviour support in schools



If we had to pick only three things for schools to understand about trauma-sensitive practice, what might they be? In particular, how might the fields of attachment theory, neurobiology and neurophysiology of trauma help educators to respond to student behaviour with increased understanding, empathy and clarity of purpose?


Participants will be invited to explore three big ideas from the trauma literature which dovetail with positive behaviour support (PBS). Two questions will be considered throughout 1. How might trauma-sensitive practice enrich each tier of PBS intervention? 2. What might understanding the three big ideas look like in practice for students, staff and families?

This session provides an overview of one educator’s insights. Practical school-based examples will be shared and references made to current research.


Conference theme: Trauma, the brain and education – becoming a brain-based trauma informed educator/school.

Sonja’s award-winning PhD was on school-based functional behaviour assessment. Her interests include: vicarious trauma, professional self-care, simple functional behaviour assessment, positive behaviour support and whole school approaches to transforming trauma.


Sonja is a Senior Training Consultant with the Australian Childhood Foundation.

Dr David Collins

Clinical Psychologist




David is a doctoral trained clinical psychologist who has worked with young people for over a decade. David has worked in a variety of settings in public mental health, been an honorary research fellow with the University of Melbourne, and has been involved in local and international research collaborations developing treatment programs for a range of psychological difficulties. Since establishing his private practice, David has delivered workshops for teachers, psychologists, counsellors, parents, and students across Australia in the neuroscience of young brains. David is also the director of Braingrow, a whole school well-being program running in schools across Australia teaching young people about the neuroscience of well being.




Social Neuroscience in Schools: How Relationships Shape the Brain and Well-being


Brain based approaches to education have proliferated over the past 15 years. An understanding of how the young brain learns, socially, emotionally, and academically, is an important factor in creating positive outcomes for students in the school environment. Social neuroscience (how the dynamic interactions between people profoundly shape the developing brain) will be discussed in terms of how our relationships can harness or hinder the brain's ability to change in a positive direction. Effective strategies for "switching brains on" will be a focus, as well as understanding behaviours that unintentionally "switch brains off".



The developing brain and the school experience: Working together to shape healthy brain development

The developing brain is well known for its neuroplastic capacity. This workshop will focus on how we can create enriched environments that harness the developing brain's ability to change in response to experiences.  The core needs (e.g., safety, control, pleasure) for healthy brain development in children will be discussed, as well as expanding to the power and purpose of adolescence, including the need for independence, social connection, and achievement. Attendees will also learn about how the interpersonal relationships they hold with young people profoundly shape the brain. The role of schools in creating these environments will be a key theme throughout the workshop. Case studies will also be discussed.

Ms Karen Ferry  


Counsellor, Educational Consultant, Certified Neuropsychotherapist

DipEd. B.Ed, MCoun, IAAN Certified


Karen Ferry is an educator with experience in both primary and secondary classrooms. Her roles have included classroom teaching, administration and working with families in home education environments. She has provided professional assistance to educators in Australia and in many countries around the world. Karen is also a Counsellor (Master of Counselling, University of Queensland) and a Certified Neuropsychotherapist. She now works in her own clinical practice in Melbourne, specializing in the well-being of young people, particularly those who have experienced loss, grief, anxiety and trauma. 

Her work also includes assisting school staff with strategies to reach students who struggle behaviorally and find school challenging.  Students who have adopted patterns of behaviour detrimental to their well-being. She has a passion for enriched environments that inspire, challenge and empower students to reach beyond their perceived abilities; school environments where every child experiences the reward and excitement of learning because they are free of anxiety, threat and fear. 


Karen has presented at conferences, community groups, schools and youth groups. Her studies into brain science and neuropsychotherapy has enabled her to incorporate excellent educational practice with the neurobiological evidence behind why certain strategies are effective and other approaches can be detrimental to student learning. 


Karen believes that an understanding of the brain, it’s development and environmental influences, provides the lens to view current school strategies, facilitate change if necessary, and empower teachers, support staff and administrators, so that the school environment can provide a safe and highly effective learning experience for all children.



When life throws curve balls! An educators guide to assist children who have experienced situations of loss.


Life doesn’t always go as planned! Unfortunate and sometimes tragic situations happen and children are often caught up in extraordinary events that are frightening or perhaps even life-threatening. Many children can maintain a relatively stable equilibrium, make healthy adjustments to situations of loss, with seemingly no adverse effects. Other children suffer mild to acute distress and can adopt trauma-related behaviours as a result.


Our brain is continually processing incoming sensory signals, forming memories which are pivotal in behaviour development and the way we adapt to our environment. Experiences that are painful or frightening are encoded, and highly memorable, due to our brain being primed for protection and survival. Subsequent reminders of a traumatic event are likely to bring about the same physiological and psychological fear reactions as when the event first happened. As a result, we find children commonly disconnecting and withdrawing, adopting behaviours of protection in order to manage the grief they are experiencing.


Children, particularly younger children, tend to express their grief behaviourally rather than emotional, so it is not surprising when negative or impulsive behaviors arise.  These behaviors are commonly directed towards learning and the school environment and can be misinterpreted as the child having a difficult attitude or behaviour problem, whereby they are often reprimanded and punished accordingly.


Neuropsychotherapy provides a framework to address situations of loss. It is based on a ‘bottom-up’ approach where the limbic system is calmed, and stress is down-regulated through a safe and supportive educational environment. Emotional safety is essential for effective patterns of neural firing to begin, therefore understanding and not overlooking a child’s situation of loss is important for future well-being and learning to occur. Teachers and school staff are in a position to assist a child when loss occurs. They can be highly influential in promoting and encouraging behaviours that help a child connect, rather than adopting avoidance behaviours.  Teachers and school staff, have the opportunity to move a child forward and change a trajectory, even after sad, distressing or tragic circumstances have unhinged and destabilized a child’s life.


This presentation will provide guidance for principals, teachers and school staff who are faced with the unexpected, sensitive and very difficult area of loss within the school community.

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Anne Southall

Dip Ed, GDSE,  Dip Psychotherapy,

Grad Dip Art Education,

MEd (Special Needs) PhD candidate


Anne Southall has over 30 years experience working in the field of special education and mainstream primary schools in both Australia and the UK. A Principal for many years, she developed an interest in the education of children from traumatic backgrounds and interventions which respond to the profound and long term impact on their brain development. In her current role she lectures at La Trobe University in student well-being while completing her PhD. Her research involves working with special education teachers to develop more trauma informed pedagogies which might alter the trajectory for these students.

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Trauma informed pedagogies emerging through teacher reflection on practice                                        


Since children who suffer abuse and neglect at an early age do not develop the cognitive organisation or security of attachment to explore their world, make meaningful sense of their experiences or connect with others, they enter school without the fundamental preconditions for learning (Van der Kolk & McFarlane, 2012). Teachers can play a central role in the development of these critical social and cognitive learning capabilities for these children through connection. It cannot be assumed however, that teachers already possess the emotional competencies, understanding about trauma’s impact or personal beliefs that enable them to form a close relationship with a child who is dysregulated, unpredictable and avoidant. Teachers of students with complex trauma, need the opportunity to reflect on their own emotions, values,beliefs and assumptions. This self-reflection appears to be critical in enhancing adult social competency in working to strengthen the student–teacher relationship and to promote the internalisation of healthy socioemotional development in their students.This presentation presents the findings of a doctoral study into the trauma informed pedagogies which emerged through teacher reflection at a specialist school in regional Victoria.


Van der Kolk, B. A., & McFarlane, A. C. (2012). Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society: Guilford Press.

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Jacqueline Reid


CPsychol, Assoc Fellow BPS, MAPS

Team Leader

Student Services

2018 Churchill Fellowship Recipient


Strategic Leadership and Education Reform specialising in mental health and disability, Catholic Education of WA

MEd (Master of EducationProfessional Training Course for Developmental and Educational Psychology, University of Birmingham)

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MENTAL HEALTH & WELL-BEING – whose job is it anyway? How Trauma Informed Practice is changing Catholic schools in WA

Ms Jacqueline Reid has worked in the area of disability and mental health in Australia and the United Kingdom for over 30 years. Ms Reid has had roles with the Western Australian Department of Education as School Principal; Principal Consultant (Inclusive Education); Manager, Disabilities and Principal Consultant (Mental Health). Ms Reid is also a Chartered Developmental and Educational Psychologist (British Psychological Society) has worked in the United Kingdom specialising in disability and mental health. Jacqueline is an advocate for equity, social justice and the rights of the child.

Jacqueline’s current role is with Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) where she leads Student Services with responsibility for strategic and operational student service support across the state. Jacqueline also manages the School Psychology and Disability Consultant teams. Jacqueline initiated and leads the CEWA Trauma Informed Schools project across WA which is already producing some very positive outcomes for students and staff. Jacqueline has presented at International and National Conferences on her work with this project.

She holds Bachelor degrees in Science, Education and Psychology (Western Australia) and a Masters degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Birmingham, England. Jacqueline is embarking on a PHD examining support for the impact of trauma on children and young people in a school setting. She is also completely a Post Graduate Certificate in Leadership from Notre Dame University.

Jacqueline has extensive local, national and international links with a range of working parties, consultative and reference groups on disability and mental health. She is Chairperson of the Australian Psychological Society’s Child, Adolescent and Family Psychology Group. Jacqueline has just completed her term on the Western Australian Ministerial Advisory Council for Disability as the Deputy Chair.

Currently, Jacqueline is involved in a volunteer project in Cambodia with the emphasis on developing support for children and young adults with disabilities and mental health issues.


Robert Rostolis is the current Principal of Diamond Creek East Primary School. Robert has been Principal at Diamond Creek East Primary School for the past 24 years. In his capacity as principal, he has developed significant leadership skills to enable the learning community to build a culture of teamwork and mutual respect underpinned by a well-being focus.


Robert has an avid interest in positive psychology and neuroscience and believes that educators can make a positive contribution to all stakeholders through modelling and developing fun and informative brain based activities in the form of rituals, presentations, programs etc. that assist in encouraging growth and a positive mindset. In essence providing lifelong strategies to promote brain fitness and self-care.

Stephen Campbell is the current Assistant Principal at Diamond Creek East Primary School. Stephen is a passionate educator with a keen interest in helping young people reach their potential. Stephen has been a member of the Diamond Creek East Primary School staff for the last 8 years and enjoys playing an active role in the development of the school’s Well-being Program.

Stephen has worked closely with the school’s leadership team and expert consultants in the development of a revolutionary two day ‘Brain Fitness’ Conference which was delivered to the school’s Grade 5 and 6 students in 2017. The depth of knowledge and recall of key learnings and strategies acquired is still resonating throughout the school community.

Josh Gee is the Well-being Coordinator and a Grade 5/6 teacher at Diamond Creek East Primary school. Josh has an interest in well-being and wants to help students become more resilient. Josh has been a teacher at Diamond Creek East Primary School for 4 years. He has assisted the staff and students at Diamond Creek East Primary School in the development of strategies to support mindfulness, gratitude and positive psychology.


Promoting Brain Education: Using student voice within a well-being framework [PERMA+]


Diamond Creek East Primary School is located in the northern suburbs of Victoria and currently has 446 students enrolled from Foundation to Grade 6. Diamond Creek East Primary School is divided into three sub-schools:  Discovery, Challenge and Enrichment. Foundation to Grade 2 students begin their school journey in the ‘Discovery’ Area developing the basic skills for life.  In the ‘Challenge’ Area of Grades 3 and 4, the children consolidate and use these skills in a differentiated and engaging curriculum.  In our ‘Enrichment’ Area Grade 5 and 6 students are provided opportunities to deepen their understanding of the world that they live in.


At Diamond Creek East Primary School, we pride ourselves on providing a comprehensive and all-encompassing curriculum that not only develops students’ academic abilities but also develops them as well rounded, resilient and happy individuals. The school has been on a journey over many years now to develop a culture and climate that promotes a positive approach to well-being. Our current Well-being Program has its origin s in the Feeling Fabulous Program and this still shapes how we approach well-being throughout the school. Over the last 4 years, our program has evolved to include a much greater focus on showing gratitude, being mindful and showing thankfulness. This increased focus has been guided by the work of Maria Ruberto who presented at a Regional Principals’ Conference and further inspired the school’s Principal and staff to bolster the school’s culture of well-being.


Our journey has been underpinned by ensuring all staff are confident and see merit in the program (extensive professional development) as this ensures a great culture is developed and that the benefits are felt throughout the community. Once staff were confident with the content, it became obvious to our leadership team that our students also needed to understand the approach we were taking rather than just being participants in the program. In essence, we wanted to empower our students with an understanding of what happens in their brain and how they can work proactively to foster their own well-being, resilience and learning potential. To immerse our students further, we developed a Two-Day ‘Brain Fitness Conference’, which built critical understandings about how the brain works and how to ‘train’ it. We have come a long way on our journey, anecdotal evidence demonstrates a change in school culture and ultimately a happier school community has developed.

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Ms Maria Ruberto 

Psychologist, Clinical Neuropsychotherapy Practitioner





Maria Ruberto’s work is dynamic, interactive and spirited. Her application of psychology is anchored by research in neuroscience and brain function - and framed by the science of optimism. A psychologist with over 22 years of clinical and industry experience, Maria delivers practical workshops and professional education to forward thinking organisations. Maria is focused on increasing the capacity and performance of individuals and teams who rely on highly tuned relationships and emotional intelligence to achieve professional, organisational and client success.

Positive health activates well-being and success follows authenticity.

Delivering professional learning in schools is a privilege but transferring knowledge to influence change can be challenging. Schools are busy places and for staff to be told that there is a "new" approach to consider, the first issue faced is the cognitive and emotional defences that are raised when staff believe there will be "more" work.  I will briefly talk about the Neuropsychotherapy approach to creating readiness, and leadership factors which enable growth promotion and learning cultures within school systems.