Teaching with the Brain in Mind

Kristin Simmers
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Teaching with the Brain in Mind

.December 8, 2020 | Mind, Brain, and Education

By Kristin Simmers

How MBE research can enhance teaching and learning.

This year more than ever, it is clear that education plays a pivotal role in the lives of our students. As schools move to virtual platforms or adjust to accommodate learners across a range of unique circumstances, we can see that education today requires schools to be dynamic, evolving, co-learning communities. 


Student development can no longer be viewed only through academic achievement and must now embrace an inclusive, holistic lens that considers the whole learner. Social-emotional well-being and the authentic development of 21st-century skills must exist synergistically alongside a relevant and essential core knowledge base. 


Identifying these needs is easy, but how do we actually achieve this? 


If our intended learning goals in education are broad, dynamic, interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, and responsive to the ever-changing needs of our student population—then why would we limit the body of research that informs our pedagogy to one domain alone: education?  


As education has (hopefully, mostly) moved on from independent “silos” of topical information and moved toward integrated systems of transdisciplinary, meaningful learning, so too can our research and the usable knowledge that informs our practice as educators.  


Enter the field of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE). MBE is a field of study that looks at the intersection of Mind (Psychology), Brain (Cognitive Science & Neuroscience), and Educational research with the specific purpose of using the most current findings in these three (traditionally disparate) fields to address real needs with real students in real classrooms. In 2011, Zachary Stein and Kurt Fisher of Harvard Graduate School of Education stated: “The emerging field of Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) is growing fast, both as a field and as a movement.”  


So . . . why are you (likely) just hearing about it now? It is kind of incredible that in the field of education, the actual organ of learning, the brain, receives so little direct attention. In the past, one could argue that we didn’t know very much about the brain. We have now discovered that much of what we thought we knew was either incomplete or completely wrong.  


Neuroscientists used to think that the brain contained specific, localized regions that worked somewhat in isolation (phrenology), but current research has illuminated the vast array of complex interconnected neural networks that work in synergy throughout every facet of learning and being.  


Why can’t teacher professional development be the same?  


What if we moved away from looking at educational silos of information and instead embraced the complex, interdisciplinary knowledge and insights provided by MBE for our educational practice? What if we moved from silos to symphonies, with each element adding to the overall experience and with teachers as masterful conductors of learning? 


The good news is: you probably already are.  


Much of good teaching practice is supported by MBE research. Some initiatives, like the MARIO Framework, are making their links from research to practice more explicit, which can help students, teachers, and families better understand how these holistic programs best support student learning.  


But teachers are busy. Incredibly busy with unending demands on our time and attention.  


So rather than expect teachers to sift through primary research and translate the material from lab to classroom themselves, we can look to a growing body of credible sources that have already begun the work of connecting the dots from research to practice in usable ways for all educators. Organizations like The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and Deans for Impact provide a wealth of resources to help guide individuals and schools on the journey to becoming research-informed and MBE-aligned. 


MBE is not a list of more things to do—it is a realistic, holistic lens through which to view our multifaceted learners, along with a massive toolkit to better support their learning journeys, whether face-to-face, mask-to-mask, or screen-to-screen. We have a limited amount of time with our students—why not use it to empower their learning well beyond the classroom walls? 


Let’s start teaching with the brain in mind,

Kristin Simmers 

Kristin is an Elementary EAL Teacher & Team Leader at NIST International School.



Stein, Zachary, and Kurt W. Fischer. “Directions for MindBrain, and Education: Methods, Models, and Morality.” Educational Philosophy and Theory, vol. 43, no. 1, Jan. 2011, pp. 56–66, 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00708.x. Accessed 12 Feb. 2020. 


Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2018). Neuromyths: Debunking false ideas about the brain. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. 


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