Reflections on Learning and the Brain – San Francisco


Almost three years has gone by since posting on this blog.  I’ve since taken a position as a Vice Principal and worked in two different elementary schools.  With an 80% teaching role I of have learned loads about teaching, learning and being a school leader.  I am humbled by how much I still have to learn but happy to be on the journey.  Having only taught high school and university aged students prior to this I can now add grades 4 – 7 to my teaching resume.

While in this constant state of new learning, I am fortunate to have opportunities to join network groups with other principals and vice principals.  This past week I had the good fortune of heading to sunny San Francisco to further support my learning journey with one of these groups.  It has been a fantastic weekend of learning, connecting and collaborating and one worthy of reigniting this blog.

At the conference there were many speakers of all different backgrounds.  While I could reflect on each individually I wanted to capture some of the sound bites that have spoken to me and will help inform my own practice moving forward.  Much of the conference was focused on creativity; what it is and isn’t, how to find it, how to develop it, how to support students in being more creative and how we might be inadvertently killing creativity in our school systems.  Lots of grist for the proverbial mill.

Here’s some of the speakers and my take-aways:

David Eagleman

We must teach the past as treasured but not untouchable.  Imitating a model is a jumping off point for creativity.  We need to proliferate options and come up with many solutions to a problem.  Always be asking ourselves, what else?  As teachers we need to get students do something after they have the “answer in the back of the book.”  Finally, we need to teach students to be skeptical and seek out other points of view.  The world needs people who do this.

Larry Robertson

Creativity comes from the breakthrough space.  Who?  The practiced noticer.  The most creative people talk about making a habit of noticing things that don’t seem to fit and look for patterns.  Creativity happens in the ‘adjacent possible;” a place where the known meets the new.  Creativity is the between the known and the new as new intersections are made.  This is what teaching is.

But the key message I took from him is the need for play.  Play is essential.  How do we make room for play?

Todd B. Kashdan –

What happens when we fear difficult questions? We need to be able to ask difficult questions.

Inducing Curiosity
Give a little information between what they know and what you think they want to know. We need to manufacture curious moments.

Three Pillars
Intelligence, perseverance, hungry curious mind.

When curious there is a 20% bump in perseverance.

More variety and intrigue in life prevents brain decline rate.

Our vantage point changes our curiosity.

To become curious

1.  Novel and complex “Is this new or unexpected?”
2.  Coping potential “Can I handle this?” – self efficacy is key. – formative feedback.

I’m a university prof. “What ever you’re doing your not increasing their engagement by the time they get to me”

Dimensions of Curiosity

1.  Joyous exploration.
2.  Deprivation Sensitivity
3.  Social Curiosity – eavesdropping on conversation.
4.  Thrill Seeking – willingness to take risk to try something new.
5.  Stress Tolerance

The world needs relentlessly curious leaders.

Jo Boaler

With math for many fear centres light up (like spiders) and problem solving goes down.

We need to erase myths about math brains.

8 week math interventions can rewire the brain

Value creativity and depth rather than speed.

Anxiety impedes the working memory. Feeling of the mind going blank.

When we ask a question and then take the first hand up it gives the message that speed is important.

Embrace challenge and mistake.

Struggle is good for the brain. Get into the pit. Don’t help them get out of it. Ask them what resources they need.

Encourage Multiplicity in student ideas.

Productive Practice = seeing an idea in different ways, not the representation of one idea over and over.

Group work * rests in the multiplicity of ideas. All group members have to share their thinking. Solve it in a different way.

What if we taught big ideas rather than methods?


As a school leader there are many opportunities to support teachers in our schools to provide opportunities for students to develop their curiosity.  Our job is to continue to support the great work that already exists in our schools and then bring new ideas that encourage each of us to rethink and reflect on what we do in order to put some new ideas in place to move each of us forward.  This is key as our students will see us as learners, inspiring them to continue to be learners to.  Ultimately anything we do as teachers and leaders to better ourselves and our practice will have a direct impact on our students.  And this is the reason we do this work in the first place.

Let’s hope it’s not another three years before posting on here again!




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