Am doing a core dump of some ideas that have been mulling around in my brain for quite some time…ideas which I’ve discussed with my husband but have yet to set to text on a page. My writing has been provoked by Jane Brody’s Tuesday article in the Science section of the NY Times, Mental Reserves Keep Brains Agile.
Brody’s article is the second in a series of two that deals with memory. She discusses a theory called “cognitive reserve“, which “refers to the brain’s ability to develop and maintain extra neurons and connections between them via axons and dendrites.” Some of you may be familiar with the term “plasticity“, which refers to the brain’s ability to continue to learn and thus change as it builds new synapses. You can read more about this at Neuroscience for Kids. Norman Doidge, a medical doctor in psychiatry and psychology, as well as a researcher and writer, has written about neuroplasticity in his recently published book The Brain that Changes Itself.
In addition to the ideas of cognitive reserve and neuroplasticity, it has long been known that novelty plays a major role in learning. This has been documented in a wide range of books about the brain and learning. Jane Brody notes that one of the authors she covered for her article “found that novelty was crucial to providing stimulation for the aging brain. If you’re doing the same thing over and over again, without introducing new mental challenges, it won’t be beneficial. …Thus, as with muscles, it’s ‘use it or lose it.’ The brain requires continued stresses to maintain or enhance its strength.”
To be fair, Brody’s article is focused on the aging brain and how to keep it fit. However, if you are reading this then you, too, have an aging brain, for we are all aging. I do not mean that to be flip. Rather, it is am important fact to keep in mind while reading the second part of this post.
About eight years ago I concluded that the best form of professional development was one that took people out of their comfort zones and stimulated other areas of their brain. Rather than just continually become more educated within an area in which the teacher is already somewhat proficient, the best professional development would include becoming stronger in one’s field but also put them in situations where they learned to do something in a completely different realm. Examples would be focusing on the arts if you are not a teacher of the arts, focusing on learning a language if you teach phys ed, learning to (re)draw if you always work with words, learning a dance or sport if you are in a field that keeps you at a desk.
My contention is that such a professional development program would cause all sorts of new neuronal connections to be made, new synapses to be formed, and in so doing enhance the creative process by setting the stage for thinking outside of the ordinary and regular.
With articles like Brody’s, and the recent broadcast on WNET (New York’s public television station) dealing with the brain, where Norman Doidge was a guest, and with the getting out in to the public mind the concept of brain plasticity, perhaps my idea for professional development might yet happen in a full blown way.
Simply put, by stimulating teachers and enhancing creative potential, the student benefits as a result of the teacher benefitting, and the teacher has set themselves up for longer term healthy aging of their brain.
(Yes, I have specific ideas about the professional development, but that will have to be another post because this one is already a bit long! … Though I did say it was going to be a core dump ;-)