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The new PAR training platform is now available and is the new home for PARtalks, webinars, as well as on-demand learning, and product training. Learn more at parinc.com\resources\par-training.[00:01:00] Hey everyone. Welcome back to The Testing Psychologist podcast. Hey, this is another episode in the Out-There assessment series. This is a series where I’m talking with folks that have unorthodox or unique work environments or specialties. If you haven’t listened to the other episodes, I would encourage you to go back and check them out because they are fascinating.
Today, my guest is Dr. Layne Kalbfleisch. She is many things. Layne is many things. She has an M.Ed. and Ph.D.. She founded 2E Consults ® LLC providing assessment and coaching services for families and children and organizations who work on behalf of families and children. She’s an educational psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist.
Layne studies the relationship between talent and disability and how the human brain supports ingenuity and problem-solving across life. She received the inaugural ‘Scientist Idol’ award for messaging science [00:02:00] to the public from the National Science Foundation in 2010. She’s been featured on CNN with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, SiriusXM Doctor Radio, The Coffee Klatch – Special Needs Radio, Rhode Island PBS ‘School Talk’, and as a columnist writing on brain science and education for the Fairfax County Times. Layne is also the author of“Teaching to Every Kid’s Potential: Simple Neuroscience Lessons to Liberate Learners”.
As you can tell, Layne has done a lot and continues to do a lot in her career. We talk today about the marriage of many of these things. We talk primarily about her work with tribal communities in Northern New Mexico. We, of course, discuss how she weaves in all these many different aspects of expertise and how it creates a pretty unique [00:03:00] environment at least from my perspective. I hope you enjoy it.
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All right. Let’s get to my conversation with Dr. Layne Kalbfleisch.
Hey, Layne. Welcome to the [00:04:00] podcast.
Dr. Layne: Hi. Glad to be here. Thanks, Jeremy.
Dr. Sharp: I’m glad to have you. I’m excited to talk about your work and your specialties. So let’s let’s dive right into it. Tell us what you do, where you do it, how you do it. Anything feels important.
Dr. Layne: I’m Dr. Layne Kalbfleisch. I have a practice called 2E Consults ® LLC. I’m based in Española, New Mexico. I have an office in Rest, Virginia as well. Española is a little village, about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I work situated among the 8 Northern Indian Pueblos here, the Tiwa Pueblo.
I have a practice that animates test results of psychoeducational evaluation or other kinds of data that impact families and children, [00:05:00] especially children and learning environments. My practice involves staff development and psychoeducational evaluation, coaching social skills, and assistive technology. And then within my work context in New Mexico, I’m funded to have a team program for something called ANSMIC: Animating Neuroscientific Skills in Indigenous Communities.
I’m Anishinaabe from Sault Ste. Marie, Ojibwe, but I work here. I landed in northern New Mexico on my honeymoon and got recruited to run a winter college arts program. That turned into one opportunity after the other and when the pandemic hit we were quarantined in New Mexico because it contains less people than Northern Virginia.
And so, I’m full-time in New Mexico and I travel back and forth to the East now, [00:06:00] but this program is a combination of a book I wrote in 2021. I always forget my long editorial title. It’s (W.W. Norton, 2021), “Teaching to Every Kid’s Potential: Simple Neuroscience Lessons to Liberate Learners”.
It’s what a brain would say if it could tell us what it needs to be healthy and well. In my mind, it boils down to 4 skills: being flexible, being ready, being connected, and being unmasked or being able to understand the deep skills that are influencing behavior. In Indian country, I have aligned those with the four directions of the medicine wheel, and then we are grounding into clay with my teaching collaborator, Clarence Cruz, who’s a potter from Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico.
Dr. Sharp: That’s incredible. I [00:07:00] feel like you just gave us so much to think about in an intense 3 to 4 minutes. I want to break down all these different aspects of your work because I think any one of them independently would be completely fascinating, and somehow you’ve pulled it all together to create this career. You are doing work with these individuals, with, would you say indigenous or tribal or native? What term do you prefer?
Dr. Layne: Yes. It’s native teens that are indigenous in Northern New Mexico.
Dr. Sharp: So you’re doing that work, there’s assessment, training, education, those sorts of things. Can you tell me a little bit more about that environment? Would you call it a rural environment? Would you call it more of an urban or suburban? [00:08:00] What does that practice look like?
Dr. Layne: I would call it rural. Rio Riba County in Northern New Mexico is one of the most sparsely populated counties in New Mexico. It’s also one of the most underserved and economically disadvantaged. What’s amazing and ironic to me about it is that on the scales that society measures, it has these bare spots, but in every other way, it’s one of the richest environments that I’ve ever encountered culturally and from a native perspective.
So it’s rural. It’s about 45 minutes north of Santa Fe, which is our state capital. My practice sits between two of the eight Northern Indian Pueblos. There are 19 Pueblos in the state of New Mexico. But the eight Northern Pueblos are all North of Santa Fe. [00:09:00] I sit directly between Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara Pueblos, and San Ildefonso Pueblos. At my elbows are the tribes and communities that I interact with and serve. So, very old.
What’s unique and interesting about the Pueblo Indians is that they’ve always held their land. In the eras where tribes were moved to reservations, they’ve always held their land. And so, they’re deeply tied and have a very vibrant on the surface, 21st century life with those ties. And it’s one of the things that makes it so exciting to practice here and work among these communities.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I know you have your practice. I know in other states there are either locally or federally funded entities to serve this population. Are you [00:10:00] affiliated with any of those or is it solely private practice?
Dr. Layne: I’m in the process of working with the Indian Health Service on behalf of the eight Northern Pueblos. So, in my mind, that is a big leap and it’s a big opportunity and jump because I’m an educational psychologist and a cognitive neuroscientist. I went to medical school for my Ph.D. and combined very intentionally Psychology, Medicine, and Education. I practice in a business model and add things to the clinical model outside of a clinical setting to be able to enrich the lives of the people that I serve. So, to begin to be integrated in this way and more formal bureaucracies is exciting and I’m very excited for the people that will have the chance to benefit because of that.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. Well, you anticipated [00:11:00] my next question or area I wanted to go into. You have such unique training and the degree or degrees that you have pursued. I wanted to talk about the imaging stuff. You phrased it here a little bit differently than in our pre-podcast conversation. You said something here today about animating results. Can you tell me what exactly you mean by that?
Dr. Layne: Sure. What I mean, I use animating very intentionally. In the Anishinaabe language, Anishinaabemowin, our worldview is that everything is animate. Everything has life. All of our language and our verbs are animated. And so my choice to use that verb is very intentional in English because it portrays at its best, what psychological service and assessment is designed to [00:12:00] do, right? It’s designed to see someone from the inside out and fit them with the outside in.
When people ask what I do informally, I usually say it that way. I say, well, as a neuroscientist, I can tell you from the inside out what you look like psychometrically, even biologically, if it’s involving neuroimaging. But then I help fit or shift the outsides to fit the insides or vice versa, and it’s a giant fitting process.
So the word animate is very much on purpose. I use it with families and they understand it differently than just being handed a set of numbers or a school, or a doctor. Here’s the report. But when it boils down to lives, it’s about animating the numbers from the page. It’s about animating the formal vocabulary and the concepts in ways that are meaningful to people on a daily basis.[00:13:00] Dr. Sharp: I love that. I appreciate the description and the context for that. Can you describe for me how that looks in the room? What does animating the results look like if you were talking with clients?
Dr. Layne: Typically, for children, I always have something that I call a playbook session. I draw pictures for kids so that they’re not seeing the numbers. Not every parent wants their child to know their IQ. The formal words are boring and dry. And so, I draw pictures of what their ability looks like. We sketch out their executive functions and I create that constellation for them about who they are.
I tell and show parents and kids where they’re on the same page, where children that are old enough to self-report may show [00:14:00] similar things from the inside out that their parents see from the outside in, and when they’re different because we know what 2 skills are different, then we know why, right? Because that’s the big question. Why Dr. K? Why is it like this? Why do I always get stressed or upset in this situation? So the words give a lot of explanatory power but the animation involves strategies that I might give in that session based on what those results look like.
I always send a family away with a strategy attached to a physical tool. And so the gift of that tool is, it’s dopamine, it’s the connection, the oxytocin, and it’s completely aligned in the same moment with the teaching of what I want them to do so that when they walk out, they’re not like, what did I just learn? What was that word? They learned inhibitory control. Oh, I’m [00:15:00] struggling with a filter today. Everybody understands that concept. And then they have a tool with them. I might send them away with a set of hourglasss because I have a bunch of teachings around how to teach the body and the brain to perceive time a little bit better.
And so, they leave with a gift and the gift is the physical tool, but also the strategy and also words that sometimes they give them to me. I’ll say, what does this remind you of? Does it remind you of something? 9 times out of 10, they’re ready to tell me a story.
So, that storytelling gifting, which is a very native perspective is wound into animating the clinical results, not all of them, but the low-hanging fruits for changing someone’s behavior in a good way. And so, that space and time [00:16:00] animate and align all those things in a way that they have one thing that they’re working with when they leave and then that goes out into the wild with them. And then bigger change can happen.
Dr. Sharp: It’s wonderful. I wanted to ask as well about the component you talked about as far as mapping the material or ideas to the spirit wheel as well, or the medicine wheel. I’m sorry. Tell me more about this.
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Dr. Layne: The short way I describe it is spirit, mind, body, clay. Creating and reminding people that we do have this great. This is how we’re all aligned and present and Knowing that in Native America and the world at large, people’s belief systems are very different from one another.
In Native America, the tribal beliefs are very privately held and even the language attached. And so, the medicine wheel is a common reference point culturally that we can refer to and while we’re maintaining cultural privacy and specific instances, but the 4 directions of the medicine wheel, North, South, East, West, [00:19:00] all align with stages of your life, with plant medicines, with belief systems, with stages of things. And so it was the most immediate thing in my mind of how do I take the neuroscientist doctor part of me and align it with the indigenous part of me.
After I wrote the book it was out about 2 months and I was reading in my native context and saw someone else’s rendering of a couple of the ways that the medicine wheel is applied and just had this moment of wait a second: flexibility, readiness, connection, and unmasking. Each fit 1 of the 4 directions on the medicine wheel.
So then I wrote a curriculum. And this grant to work with native teens here in New Mexico is the pilot of that curriculum that shows that if we take pre [00:20:00] post behavioral measures, in the teens, I’m looking at executive functioning because that’s the most exciting part of the brain in teenagerhood.
So aligning pre-post measures on executive functioning and mental health, and then teaching across a 6-week curriculum, 1 week devoted to each of the medicine wheel beliefs aligned with the teaching from my book and then a deep dive for those kids on their own executive functions because I pre-test them, so each one knows exactly what their strength is and what their seedling skill is. I don’t have to say that or call them out, but they all know what they’re working with as a person and I’m helping to coach them in that context.
And then, because teenagers,
a) don’t want to sit and listen to a direct teaching for very long, and
b) feel self [00:21:00] conscious when there’s more than a dim light shining on them,
my good friend, Clarence Cruz is with me and he’s a Tewa potter. Tewa is the language of these Pueblos I’m surrounded by. One of their values is the masculine and the feminine balance. And so he and I represent that balance. He brings in the Tewa language and teachings when he’s comfortable sharing and I always chip in with the Ojibwe. And so these students are getting two native worldviews from language, the stories that he and I share back and forth, and the stories that come from the kids as they get comfortable.
So, having your fingers in the clay, you start to quickly realize, oh, well, I’m shaping this bowl from dust. Essentially, I’m made of dust and when I [00:22:00] die, my body will return to the ground. This is a huge circle of life. And so being grounded hands in the dirt bringing that clay into a beautiful form is the analogy for our process with the teens.
So we have four weeks of teaching, then we have a pottery firing which has protocol and ceremony into itself, and then we finish with a feast that includes and incorporates their families so that what we’ve done is able again to animate and situate back into the families. So, we’re in the first session. We’ve got funding for 3 sessions a year for 4 years and the students are already saying, could we bring people not in our family to the feast and could we come back or could we keep coming? And that’s the exciting…[00:23:00] Dr. Sharp: That’s how you know.
Dr. Layne: Yes, and the answer to them is yes, the Behavioral Health Services Department in the state of New Mexico is funding this and they want to see it grow. And so I imagine that it will be a combination over time of kids that start that really feel at home that want to stay and continue to grow and kids who are coming in at a specific time for a specific reason the motivation for the program were the escalated levels of teen suicide right now, post COVID and among Indian in Indian country.
With these kids, we’re saying if you have lost someone to accidental or intentional death, this program is for you. We’re not focusing on the grieving per se, but we are trying to put in that space that self-knowledge of executive functioning, the lack of [00:24:00] perfection in this time of life and aligning the science and the spirit into their bodies and their minds and using the earth and the clay as a way to support that process.
Dr. Sharp: It sounds so meaningful. I love how applied it is and it clearly is tied so closely to the native traditions and the interweaving there is pretty magical.
Dr. Layne: It is. I’m very excited about it and we’re excited as people gain trust of the cultural boundaries and privacy, but still that ability to share things that create insights and moments of understanding for teens where they start to realize, oh, I’m not supposed to be there yet. There’s so much pressure and there are so many things [00:25:00] in society and my friends that are experimenting and just wanting to feel better. And it just gives them a way to navigate a little bit better than they might have otherwise.
Dr. Sharp: Sure. I feel like I could talk to you forever about these different aspects of the work, but I know…
Dr. Layne: I’ll come back. I would love to.
Dr. Sharp: Okay. Thank you. I’ll take you up on that.
For this conversation though, I’d love to shift and talk at least briefly about how you ended up here, especially with such a varied skill set. You’ve put together a lot of unique skills. And so I’m curious, was this all purposeful? Was there some element of accident? How did you end up doing what you do?
Dr. Layne: In the beginning, it was, well, it’s always been purposeful, but especially in the beginning, when I went to grad school, I thought I [00:26:00] was wanting to be a college president. I went to the University of Virginia with that thought and ended up in an internship helping some students with learning disabilities for a while. These were those twice exceptional people, people with incredible minds but definite disabilities. I knew nothing about any of this.
The more I knocked on doors, people just kept shrugging their shoulders. It’s not possible to be really smart and have a disability. This doesn’t exist. It’s not measurable. And I thought, wow, this is a grand challenge. And these are some of the most amazing people. I think someone should look into this. I decided to do that and I’ve been doing it ever since.
The neuroscience very much on purpose during a time when education and neuroscience weren’t talking to each other and there weren’t even [00:27:00] education programs for it. I had done my master’s degree at the University of Virginia. And so, when I petitioned to come back and I said, I want to combine these fields, will you let me, and they said, we will let you. We’re not sure how to do this, but we’re going to find you to be here to do it and figure it out. I won the best master’s student award. And so I think that helped them say yes to a really ambiguous thing.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, that helps.
Dr. Layne: And so, I came back and I started knocking on doors. Can I come to medical school for two years? Can I come over to the rat labs and look at what biology is all about? No one ever said no. It was always, sure, come in and try and predicated on that. I was able to get the education that I hadn’t had in my mind and my vision.
And [00:28:00] then after I thought, well, my career will be a patchwork quilt because a classic scientist digs in one way, applied people dig in another way. I had to be open to what sides of my education were going to be open at certain times. So that became the weave.
I went to Cornell Medical School and did a postdoc in Pediatric Neuroimaging. Then I pivoted back and did curriculum development for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Then I went into my tenure track position at George Mason and that was an amazing opportunity because I was an education professor embedded in a neuroscience Institute, and then privately funded to become an adjunct professor at Georgetown in neurology, be a part of their neuroimaging development, and then come back to my own university and spend 2 years of my tenure track engineering their [00:29:00] neuroimaging lab.
The training in nuclear medicine came after my Ph.D. and was completely unanticipated, but it gave me truly this ability to go between fields and to understand the technology in a way that serves people on the ground now.
Dr. Sharp: Absolutely. That’s so remarkable. I hope one day we do get a chance to dig deeper into that journey. We could have a fantastic conversation, even around how do you design an education program like this and advocate for yourself. Anyway, there’s so much, but it was truly remarkable.
Dr. Layne: I will say 2E Consults was born right around 2015 when the autism diagnosis shifted because a bulk of my work was in autism research with Johns Hopkins in Georgetown and [00:30:00] private sources. When the diagnosis shifted, a lot of the funding dried up because it was such a radical change to take away the conversation about individual differences. So, that was the point where I thought I could be a lab for higher in my university. I could stay and work with the challenges in higher education, but at that point, the field of educational neuroscience was growing so quickly that I felt like I was going to miss out on other opportunities.
So I decided to leave my tenured position and go 100% into 2E Consults. It was a nice risk. I landed well, because I was a part of a funded team app after I left and in the National Science Foundation, and we’re looking at group brain dynamics and learning. [00:31:00] That was a very skinny part of the thread of my work, but everything is going well.
Dr. Sharp: That’s good to hear. Well, that’s a nice segue to my next question, which is what you love most about the work that you’re doing now. If you can name one thing, you can name a couple of things. What do you love about it?
Dr. Layne: Every day is different. That animation process is different from family to family person to person. The chance to work on the individual level and also the organizational level, which my book has been a huge bridge to staff development, clinical staff, bigger institutions. To be able to walk that line back and forth between institution, family, institution, families, and kids is a luxury because most people build their career in one aspect or one level of the track. [00:32:00] The fact that I can cross those bridges and boundaries on other people’s behalf is amazing. It took a long time to do. It took a long time to that fluency and it’s one of my favorite parts of my job now.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah. What about things that are more challenging? Is there anything that you don’t love so much?
Dr. Layne: I would say the most challenging part is self-care when everyone’s needs are at a fever pitch. As you know, the pandemic rocked everyone and in psychology and at my coaching table, it’s still rippling. It’s still happening. And when those needs build and swell, you have to be ready for it and you have to have the capacity to be there.[00:33:00] And that’s the hardest part, I think. On the days where the balance isn’t there, it’s the hardest thing. It’s the thing I like least.
Dr. Sharp: I believe you. I’m sure a lot of folks resonate with that. Any positions that we have, there’s always a high demand.
Dr. Layne: Yeah.
Dr. Sharp: My last question is a tough one, I think, in your case, because you do so many things and it’s a pretty unique path, but I do wonder if you have any recommendations or resources for folks if they’re listening and they’re saying, hey, I want to, gosh, I’m not sure which path to even pick, but I want to go in this direction either to have a more patchwork education or degree or work with tribal populations. I’ll let [00:34:00] you take it wherever you want to take this question.
Dr. Layne: Well, my first thought is, everything you do is person to person. It starts with your connection to one other person. Don’t minimize that because every aspect, every step of the way for me, something shifted because of 1 person. There’s an article people can find online. It’s called Thinking Into the Future. It was an interview with the journal, the Roper Review, and I articulate this and I articulate it very specifically, like people who were instrumental in shifting my path for me. And so it’s all there.
Don’t underestimate that person to person when it feels right. When something is extended to you that wasn’t in your own imagination. That’s really important. I think tribal communities, the most important thing to lead [00:35:00] with is your respect: respect for cultural privacy, respect for things that you don’t know, because unless you are a tribal member, there are many things you will never know and so to walk among those communities, humility and respect are the two most important values. And you find your way. That person-to-person is extremely important.
Dr. Sharp: Sounds good. Kudos for taking a tough question.
Dr. Layne: Absolutely.
Dr. Sharp: Yeah, making something that people can hang on to.
This has been great. Like I said, I could talk to you for a long time about so many things. I appreciate your willingness to condense it down a bit and hit some of the high points. I’m guessing that people also found this to be a pretty fascinating conversation. Super grateful for you. Thanks for being here.
Dr. Layne: Oh, [00:36:00] no, when I saw your post, I was excited because to your point, distilling it and talking about it, definitely the interest and the curiosity have to be there for the opening to be there. So I’m really glad you created the opening.
Dr. Sharp: Anytime,
Dr. Layne: Great privilege.
Dr. Sharp: All right. Well, hopefully, our paths will cross again. Take care in the meantime.
Dr. Layne: You as well. Thank you, Jeremy. Bye for now.
Dr. Sharp: All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes. So make sure to check those out.
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