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May 1, 2020
Vol. 77
No. 8

Reader's Guide / Shaping Minds in Challenging Times

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This issue of Educational Leadership went to press shortly after most school systems in the United States closed their buildings due to the spread of the novel coronavirus. This was an unprecedented—and unsettling—moment in education, and school leaders and teachers were quickly immersed in urgent concerns around lifting viable remote-learning systems, ensuring now-dispersed students had adequate nourishment and social supports, and attending to the health and well-being of their school communities. In the midst of this transition, there were countless examples of near-heroic work by educators.
As an organization that supports educators, ASCD has shifted gears as well. Upending workflows and publishing schedules, we have worked to develop a range of quick-turnaround resources that address the current situation and aim to meet educators where they are. Among other things, we published a special issue of the ASCD Express newsletter on "Leading Schools During the Coronavirus Crisis" (, and we have created a continually updated web page on the topic with guidance and resources for schools ( We are also developing a new series of digital professional development pathways for online training, and by the time you read this, we will have published a special online-only issue of Educational Leadership on remote learning, including related equity and social-emotional issues ( Finally, our policy team has hosted an exclusive webinar with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and put together a set of recommendations for Congress and the U.S. Department of Education to provide greater funding and flexibility to schools during this crisis (
All this is to say that ASCD aims to advocate for educators as best we can as this public health emergency unfolds and to continue to support your practice and professional learning needs even as the context of education changes. Which brings me back to the current issue of Educational Leadership. This issue on learning and the brain may not directly address the immediate instructional or structural challenges that many educators are facing at the moment, but we do think it can provide important insights to help schools continue to support student learning in holistic, developmentally appropriate ways. It may even have added relevancy in a time of uncertainty and change.
In the opening article, for example, Carol Ann Tomlinson and David A. Sousa discuss how findings from neuroscience research, especially when coupled with educational psychology, can help illuminate high-leverage instructional practices—including in the areas of student motivation, social-emotional learning, prior-knowledge access, and differentiation. "The partnership between psychology and neuroscience," they write, "gives us deeper understandings about what works in learning—and why." These understandings may be especially critical at a time when students need connection and coherence.
In another central piece, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Douglas R. Knecht write about emerging neural-network research that highlights the importance of connecting adolescents' everyday academic work to big ideas. The findings suggest that "adolescents grow the power of their brains (and selves) by thinking with and through complexity, cycling between concrete and abstract thought," and leveraging their emotions. These are complex concepts, but as the authors note, they can provide important insights into effective curriculum development and lesson planning. They require us to ask how we are helping students make meaning of their experiences and their learning—a particularly apt question today.
Throughout this issue, you will also find ideas on cultivating growth mindsets (in educators as well as students), teaching to the whole learner, understanding the role of emotions in learning, and supporting student creativity. Grounded in brain research, all of these insights are critical at a time of change and challenge. They are also transferable across learning platforms and environments.
As Tomlinson and Sousa remind us, "Teachers shape young lives and build young brains every day." That's something that hasn't changed.

Reflect & Discuss

"The Sciences of Teaching" by Carol Ann Tomlinson and David A. Sousa

➛ This article recommends explaining to students the "growth mindset" concept. Have you explained to students what a growth mindset is and talked with them about how adopting this idea might benefit them?

➛ What's one thing you could do to create a classroom culture in which "peers pull together for mutual growth and success," as Tomlinson and Sousa say is key?

➛ As an educator, do you feel hopeful about the convergence of neuroscience and education psychology? How do you think it will affect teaching in the future?

"Believing in the Brain" by Marcus Conyers and Donna Wilson

➛ What insights about the brain did this article give you? How might this impact your practice?

➛ Do you agree that students have more motivation to learn if they know that their brains can grow and change? Why or why not?

➛ How might you incorporate the idea of brain plasticity into your classroom lessons?

"Educating the Whole Learner" by Sara E. Rimm-Kaufman and Jacqueline Jodl

➛ Did any of the four key findings, from the latest research on the brain and learning, surprise you? Why or why not?

➛ As the authors emphasize, "classroom and school environments matter for brain development." How could you optimize your learning environment to better meet students' neurological needs?

"The Creative Brain" by Gayle T. Dow and Katie Kozlowski

➛ What new insights did the authors give you into the brain and creativity?

➛ How might these insights influence your teaching or your support of teachers?

➛ Does your school or district do enough to support creative learning?

"Picturing the Brain" by John Gabrieli

➛ How might findings from neuroscience inform your instructional practice?

➛ Does this article make you think differently about teaching or the future of learning?

➛ How could stronger links be created between educators and neuroscience researchers?

"Teaching to the Whole Brain" by Liesl McConchie and Eric Jensen

➛ Do you have any tricks for getting your students "brain-ready"?

➛ Can you think of any times during the day where you can give your students brief brain breaks to help cement new learning?

➛ How does emotion and empathy play a role in what students learn—or don't learn?

Anthony Rebora is the editor in chief of Educational Leadership.

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