The Social Neuroscience of Education

Dr. Louis Cozolino
Author Louis Cozolino (photo courtesy of Ron Hall and W.W. Norton)

I have been writing extensively about the necessity for more sensitivity to the emotional and relational needs of students in our schools. Neuroscientific research prominently points out the need for brain regulation to develop cognitive function in students.  Although brain-based thinking improves the capability to learn, a foundational set of values are required for our educational institutions to deal with some of the issues that face our students and our teachers.

 A deeper understanding of what it takes to be a good learner

In The Social Neuroscience of Education, by Louis Cozolino, the author stresses the importance of social relationships to students and teachers in our schools.  Louis Cozolino is a dynamic author who has much to offer us in our deepening understanding of what students need to be good learners. His book is filled with valuable information that I believe should help reshape the environments of our schools.

In most school situations, this issue primarily surfaces when there is a behavior problem with a student.  The role an administrator or teacher plays handling that behavior problem is based on the philosophy and environment of the individual school.  The excerpted paragraph below is one that should be considered by any school which talks about what role teachers should play.

“Every time children behave in a way they (or we) don’t understand, a teacher has the opportunity to engage in an exploration of their inner world. When painful experiences can be consciously thought about, named, and placed into a coherent narrative, children gain the ability to reintegrate dissociated neural networks of affect, cognition, and bodily awareness. This process creates the possibility of naming the pain, decreasing shame, and promoting healing.  This raises the question as to whether teachers have to also be therapists.  As we learn more about the workings of the brain, we discover that there is no meaningful way to separate cognitive from emotional learning. So while teachers don’t necessarily have to also be therapists, we may have to shift our understanding of what it takes to be a successful teacher.”  (p.226)

This statement is part of what I believe we should be considering as we train and educate our teachers. Obviously, they cannot become therapists, but if the cognitive and emotional aspects of learning cannot be separated, then there needs to be an awareness and understanding of that reality as they deal with students who are having a problem with their behavior.

It could really make a huge difference in what lens the teacher would have to assess and then deal effectively with the behavior that the child is eliciting. Redefining the role of a teacher may be a key to educational reform as long as our school systems permit teachers to be involved with students with this research and core beliefs in mind.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network


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