Several weeks ago, theology teacher Father Francis Hein, O.S.B., and classical languages teacher Mr. Kevin Nolan traveled to Boston, Mass. for a Learning & The Brain conference called Engaged, Empowered Minds: Using Brain Science to Educate Ethical 21st Century Citizens and Problem Solvers.
In today’s complex, 21st Century world, it is essential for students to be engaged and ethical learners, thinkers, and citizens. Mind, brain and developmental research has found that students who have a voice and choice in their learning and feel empowered are more likely to be actively engaged in school and their community, perform better academically, have more positive social-ethical behaviors, and are more likely to be active citizens. The conference aimed to help educators examine how to empower students to be engaged learners, ethical citizens and real-world problem solvers.
Father Francis said, “The age of memorization is past, because information is readily available. With our understanding of how the brain works now, we know that people are cramming for tests and examinations but within a few days, weeks, or months most of that information is gone. With a better understanding of the brain, we can discover more effective and long-lasting ways to teach.” He shared that 45% of all current college graduates are not finding gainful employment, and is already thinking about what kind of professional environment Priory’s current students will face. “We’re an increasingly global society, and we must think about what that means for our students,” he said. “Priory offers so many of the programs and experiences that teach students how to be critical thinkers, which is what’s necessary to be successful in today’s world.” He felt that the conference reinforced that Priory, unlike many schools who are forced to “teach to the test,” goes beyond basic education and helps create intelligent, inquisitive, and resourceful thinkers who can adapt to our ever-changing world.
Mr. Nolan echoed many of the same feelings about Priory’s current pedagogies. He felt that several of the sessions he attended, while valuable, also served to reinforce that as a private, Catholic school, Priory goes beyond training students to be problem-solvers or social workers. “We think of them as people,” he said. “We are way ahead of the things the speakers at the conference are proposing. Our kids are brilliant and we ask them to solve problems every day and they do it, but we don’t just stop there. We go beyond thinking of them as good citizens, we think of them as good people. We are helping them become happy, well-rounded people.”
He really enjoyed the conference, which he described as a series of TedX-style presentations that ranged from how to create good citizens to developing social leaders. “Some of these sessions challenged me to think about why we teach classes like Latin and Greek, why we place emphasis on higher mathematics when many of our students won’t need to use it later in life. It’s because we want them to achieve human excellence. We aren’t just training them to follow a certain career path or giving them only what they need to be good service workers, but ensuring they’ll be good at whatever they do. All of this must come from a good moral foundation, a good character foundation, to make ethical and moral decisions.” Mr. Nolan reflected that our Benedictine, Catholic foundation enables us to delve deeper into these philosophies, and he returned to his classroom with a new motivation to also teach his students about relevance. “When our students think that what they are learning is relevant, they care about it more. We’re teaching them how to learn, and we need to remind them that we are interested in their formation and helping them become the best people they can be.”