As a member of the editorial team, I would like to make an apology: in our zeal to share knowledge of our students’ minds and brains, we neglected to bring our readers’ attention to another critical facet of learning: their bodies. The last time we’ve seriously focused on the body was in July 2018, in our Exercise issue, and prior to that was in our back-to-back Sleep issues from January and February 2018. As 2020 has so brutally reminded us, our students’ health is intimately connected with their learning. So, in this issue, and in more to come, we are going to explore more thoroughly the ways in which the mind, brain, and body work together to facilitate learning.
It’s not as if the science wasn’t there, nor was it a failure to communicate to teachers and school boards. We know that hungry students don’t learn as well as well-fed ones. We know that diet quality matters for learning, too—junk food doesn’t power the brain nearly as well as healthy food does. We know that exercise and movement are tied to improved cognition and learning outcomes. We know that well-rested students learn better than sleep-deprived ones. We know that healthy students learn better than unhealthy ones, because their brains have all the resources they need to devote to the task of learning.
Diet, exercise, sleep. Three simple things, and yet they have such profound impacts on learning and student success (and for teachers’ success, as our health matters too)! As teachers, especially for university teachers, it is easy to forget about these three key elements of health, as we expect students to “take care of them” outside of our classrooms. The last thing many of us want is to have our students catch up on lost sleep during our lessons, or to watch them inhale their lunch ravenously while we are trying to teach. Sure, it is not too hard to incorporate a bit of movement into our lessons, but surely none of us expects that to be students’ sole exposure to exercise in a day.
Yet that does not mean we cannot advocate for student health at our institutions. Maybe that advocacy looks like expanding cafeteria menus with more healthy food options, or perhaps it can mean founding a food pantry for food insecure students to access on campus. It could also mean sponsoring a student club that centers on physical activity, like hiking or biking. And yes, we can encourage social distancing measures during times of viral outbreaks, too.
This month, we are making a much-needed re-examination of how the body influences the brain. Going forward, I hope we can revisit the mind, brain, and body connection more regularly. Our brains do not exist in isolation, high atop their ivory towers, nor do our bodies function as transportation for our talking heads. Both brain and body influence and are influenced by each other, in ways we have yet to fully understand. That means there is lots and lots and lots of material for us to dive into in future issues!
Julia Daley is a lecturer at Hiroshima Bunkyo University, where she teaches English conversation and writing. She earned her MA in TESL at Northern Arizona University and is certified to teach secondary English in Arizona. She appreciates everyone’s patience as she’s been learning how to develop a website.