The Perfect SCARF: Use Neuroscience to Boost Collaboration

Fall is my favorite time of year. I love cool weather and Fall colors, spooky season and cozy clothing. Fall also brings the opportunity to accessorize with a scarf. I have several “bookish” scarves that I’m looking forward to breaking out this year. Recently I came across a must-have SCARF for all weather conditions. Let me start by backing up a bit.

I am very lucky to work in a school district with support for school librarians at the district level. This support comes in the form of a Library/Media Services Supervisor, a Facilitator, and a few other team members. Still, I don’t know about you, but it’s been hard to be a school librarian lately. Last semester, in the midst of the onslaught of legislation targeted at school libraries, my supervisor made a school visit because she knew I was struggling with anxiety and stress as a result. It was during this visit that I was first introduced to the SCARF Model by Dr. David Rock.

Dr. Rock is a neuroscientist and author of the book Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long. The SCARF Model was developed in 2008 and published in Dr. Rock’s paper “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others.” 

My supervisor described it to me like this:






Neuroscience has shown that certain areas of the brain light up when faced with primary threats (when your flight or fight response kicks in). These same areas of the brain light up when faced with threats to status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness (SCARF). The same is true for primary rewards (rewards that support survival), meaning that affirming someone’s SCARF related feelings and beliefs feels just as rewarding as eating food when you’re hungry!

When legislators and others attempt to restrict access to books in your school library, it feels really BAD. It should! The same parts of your brain are triggered as if you were about to be devoured by a lion!

The more I contemplated this model and applied it to past experiences, the more illuminating it became. Old work conflicts? Suddenly make total sense. Empathy becomes much easier. I started my school year with the goal of keeping SCARF in mind as I work with all stakeholders in my school library. I dug into some more learning about how the SCARF Model is used for collaborating with others. The school year is just starting but things are off to a great start. Collaboration has never been higher and I’m feeling much more enthusiastic and optimistic!

I am planning to print a copy of the image below that I can laminate and keep handy near my circulation desk. There are many images available online. Find one that works for you or make your own.

I purchased a copy of Dr. Rock’s book that I hope to read soon. I am also planning to deliver a PD presentation for faculty/staff in my building.

SCARF Model explained in a Practical way with lots of Examples

Image is linked to source. Image obtained from Consuunt.

Below, I have linked a TED Talk by Dr. Rock and two articles that I found helpful for understanding the SCARF Model.

Learning about the brain changes everything: David Rock at TEDxTokyo

David Rock’s SCARF Model: Using Neuroscience to Work Effectively With Others

Use the SCARF Model to Understand Our Individual Triggers


Author: Brandi Hartsell

Brandi Hartsell is the school librarian at Halls High School in Knoxville, TN. She was awarded Teacher of the Year at HHS in 2021. Brandi was also recognized alongside colleagues as recipients of the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) Teacher Collaboration Award in 2019 and 2021. She has served (and continues to serve) in many leadership roles within TASL. Brandi has presented professional development sessions for TASL, Halls High School, and Knox County Schools. Brandi loves sharing ideas and brainstorming…also cats…and true crime. Follow her on Instagram @hhslibrarytn.

Categories: Community/Teacher Collaboration

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