Why We Are Here

Why We Are Here

By: Curtis Kelly

Assuming that, on some future date, there will still be enough people around to remember 2020, we will not have to state that it was a year of upheaval and change. And so, since we always devote our January issues to stories from subscribers, what better topic could there be than how 2020 has changed us as teachers, as humans. And that is what we offer you: thirteen stories from people all over the world about their pandemic-related growth.

We expected, and wrongly it turned out, that most of the articles would be about online classes and the wonders of video conferencing apps. After all, as we wrote in the June issue on Online Learning, “2020 will be remembered as the year when we liberated learning from the tyranny of proximity.” Maybe the sudden, widespread use of Zoom led to the biggest change for me personally. Conferences went online, and with them came the joy of speaking to people all over the world. Some of the teachers I set up online workshops with have shared their stories here.

Note: We have peppered this issue with memes borrowed ruthlessly from the Internet.

But no, that wasn’t my biggest change. There was something else bigger, deeper, more vital, that you are all a part of. Putting together the September issue on the Social Brain led me to Lieberman’s and Cozolino’s work. And here is the change. I learned from Lieberman that the social brain is our superpower, but that we have a kryptonite as well: education. Most teaching is done towards the analytical brain, the working memory network, which turns off the social brain. Study is a usually a solitary thing. Educators tend to view socializing in class as frivolous, not a part of learning, Lieberman challenges this way of thinking, saying the social brain can also play a vital role in learning. That made sense to me and, once I adopted this notion, proof started popping up everywhere: the way my learners loved breakout rooms, how keeping cameras on radically changed everyone’s experience, the power of Flipgrid, the absolute joy they radiated the first day we had face-to-face classes again, the requests I got at the end of a class where every student had 5 speaking partners to let them talk to even more. Ironically, it was being apart during the pandemic that led us to see the importance of being together, not just as a social need, but as a teaching tool as well.

"The social brain is our superpower, but that we have a kryptonite as well. "
Curtis Kelly
TT Author

And so, I changed. A year ago, I might have been hesitant about putting my students in breakout rooms, where they might just socialize in Japanese. Now, I want to encourage that very kind of socializing (with limits, of course) because that is exactly what puts students in the right brain state[1] for learning. Honor the social brain.

[1] a great term I heard from brain-based learning expert Terry Small

And isn’t that why we are here too, to share our experiences to ameliorate (or celebrate) the effects of 2020? That is what this issue is for. As the old Swedish proverb says “A shared joy is twice the joy and a shared sorrow is half the sorrow.” And maybe that is why, contrary to our expectations, only a small number of the contributions that came in were about online teaching. Most were about things like the malaise of work changes, peace from gardening, and reaching a new level of understanding. So, sit back, read slowly, and savor your connection to our little tribe.

Curtis Kelly (EdD), a professor at Kansai University, is a founder of the JALT Mind, Brain, and Education SIG and producer of the MindBrainEd Think Tanks. He has written over 30 books and given over 500 presentations. His life mission is “to relieve the suffering of the classroom.”

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