Bending Towards Justice in Independent Education

On Monday, I had the honor to walk alongside 35 members of The Bush School community–parents, teachers, staff, administrators, Trustees, alumnae/i, students and Friends of Bush–from Garfield High School to the Jackson Federal Building in Seattle’s annual MLK March. The march, now in its 35th year, honors the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who would have celebrated his 88th birthday on Sunday. The theme of this year’s march was “Stop the Hate! Come Together” and was open to “everyone who honors the goals and methods of Martin Luther King, Jr.”
Dr. King’s goal of securing racial equality through peaceful, nonviolent resistance is almost universally accepted today, and Dr. King remains one of the most admired figures in American history. In 2011, Dr. King boasted a 95% favorability rating, with over two-thirds of respondents indicating that they thought highly—rated 4 or 5 on a five-point scale–of the slain civil rights leader. Clearly, the country’s feelings toward Dr. King have evolved over time. Largely beloved and revered by Americans today, in 1966, only 37% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Dr. King, and 44% held a strongly unfavorable opinion him. Why has Dr. King’s message grown more resonant with the passage of time?  Continue reading “Bending Towards Justice in Independent Education”

Why Baseball Matters in the Classroom

Watching the 9–3 Chicago Cubs victory over Cleveland reminded me how compelling America’s Pastime can be. Baseball has the power to elevate an ordinary player to hero status with the swing of a bat, an exceptional catch, or a remarkable 9th inning save. Baseball is a statistics-driven league. Historians and statistics geeks love to compare players within seasons and across eras to determine their relative value. In the drawn-out 162-game baseball season, there are few anomalies and a player’s worth is easily measured by his stats—often in averages. Good hitters average more than three hits every ten at bats. Great pitchers average fewer than two runs per nine innings.  Continue reading “Why Baseball Matters in the Classroom”

Giving Space for Civil Discourse

One of the casualties of a culture that demands immediate feedback is the loss of time to pause, reflect, deliberate and respond thoughtfully. Most of us have fallen victim to the sensation of stopping a colleague, friend, or spouse as we pass them in the hall and commenting, “I sent you an e-mail about an hour ago…” While we will let this phrase hang in the air as if it were merely a declarative statement, a part of us wishes and expects them to have read our e-mail and responded. This expectation denies us the opportunity to be careful and measured in our responses and causes us to respond in a way we might not otherwise, and may not represent our most civil selves.  Continue reading “Giving Space for Civil Discourse”

Brain Science and the Art of Teaching

brainresearch_imageThis summer, the Bush faculty in all three divisions read Mariale Hardiman’s The Brain-Targeted Teaching Model for 21st-Century Schools[1] as part of their professional development for this year. Dr. Hardiman’s book offers strategies for translating research on plasticity and neurogenesis into effective practices for educators. Our faculty spent part of this fall, before classes began, examining the neural systems that underlie emotions, and considering how teachers can connect with children to improve the emotional climate in the classroom and student learning. We will continue to use Hardiman’s brain-targeted strategies going forward to explore ways to inspire creativity and innovation, develop meaningful assessments, teach content mastery, and create dynamic physical learning environments.

Much like Hardiman, James E. Zull, a professor of biochemistry and biology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, uses research in neuroscience to inform pedagogy. In Zull’s book The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the Practice of Teaching by Exploring the Biology of Learning[2] he offers thoughtful ideas that merge teachers’ intuitive practices with neuroscience to improve teaching and learning. Dr. Zull is also the Director of the University Center for Innovation in Teaching and Education. While Zull admits that his lack of background in education and pedagogy made him an unlikely candidate for the directorship—in truth, no one else wanted the position—he found that his background in science, and biology in particular, gave him an opportunity to approach the task in a very different way.

Instead of focusing on student motivation, families’ demographic backgrounds, and merit pay for teachers as ways to improve student learning, Dr. Zull focuses on the system that he knows best and the one that is most responsible for learning: the brain. He developed an approach based on three functions of the cerebral cortex: to sense an environment, to integrate what is sensed, and to generate the appropriate action.

Simply put, by creating teaching practices and learning environments where sensing, integrating, and acting are at the center, schools can take advantage of the brain’s basic functions to improve learning.  The book reminds me of Bush’s goal to leverage our students’ natural curiosity in order to stimulate their interest in learning.

Zull describes specific functions of the brain and how they affect learning in a way that makes complex ideas applicable and practical. While schools of education and teacher education programs are beginning to adopt these scientific principles to train the next generation of great teachers, many of these ideas are inherently part of the teaching philosophy mapped out by Helen Talyor Bush 90 years ago. Bush faculty are accustomed to creating learning environments in which sensing, integrating, and acting are at the center of their work. Such efforts have helped dispel the notion that good teaching is simply an “art” or an innate talent, when, in fact, we now know much of it is scientific, and good teaching practices are confirmed with robust research. Today, brain research confirms what Helen Taylor Bush knew 90 years ago.

[1]http://amzn.to/1Bbak87

[2]http://amzn.to/ZYO1qH