Professional Development to Learn More about the Brain

April 2020

Going back to school is a choice many teachers make, or often, going to workshops, conferences, or other ways to learn more. This issue gives special advice on how you can learn more about the brain in these ways, with stories from people who have done so.

Watch before you read...

This issue is devoted to helping teachers find classes and programs where they can learn more about the brain. We start with videos that tell us about two courses for teachers: one in Educational Neuroscience in Australia, taught by Ken Purnell, and one in the Neuroscience of Learning, taught by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa. Canvas and Zoom are the backbone of Tracey’s online course.  The video is really an explanation on how the course is set up in those, for enrolled students, but it gives a good picture of the course. For more information, see the articles on these classes in the PLUS section.

The rest of the Think Tank consists of stories from teachers about their learning experiences in education and brain sciences. The authors – Skye Playsted, Scott Bowyer & Jason Walters, Jonathan Seiden, Robert Murphy, and Tom Gorham – talk about their experiences in everything from attending workshops to seeking doctorates. The contributors have written about a wide range of difficulties and wonders these experiences can bring, but one message is consistent across all: “Don’t hesitate, sign up for something now; you won’t regret it.

Our Thoughts on Professional Development

Educators Engaged in Adult Education Curtis Kelly

I was surprised at how quickly and joyfully the people we asked to write on this topic did so. Language teaching is not really a field like computer programming or medicine that needs constant retraining, and yet a large number of us seek professional development whenever we can. We go to workshops, participate in conferences, and even disrupt our lives to go back to school. I wonder why? Is it simply a bias towards learning because we are in the learning business?

Think Tank Articles

How I Study the Brain A Team of Think Tank Advocates

Editors: We asked our authors and advocates how they learn more about the brain. You’ll be surprised at the wide range of ways they offer.

Mezirow Moments: The Value of Conferences for a Mother Returning to Study Skye Playsted

It’s not easy to change career paths, but it is something that teachers often consider after working in one field for many years. This can mean a return to study, but as Adult Education experts have noted, older learners usually face some specific barriers in returning to school that younger learners do not, and sometimes these barriers prevent them from trying. And if you are a mother, like I am, even going to a conference can be difficult. This is my story of the challenges I faced in returning to study, and of the people who helped me to overcome them.

Learning about TESOL and the Brain at the NUFS Language Workshops Scott Bowyer & Jason Walters

I’ve been attending the monthly workshops at Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (NUFS) now for about five years. Originally, I went as a way to rehearse what I was learning in my TESOL MA, but now I go just because I get so much from it that… well, why wouldn’t I?

A long and winding road Jonathan Seiden

Looking back on it, my career tells a much more cohesive story than it felt like at the time. We usually think about a career as a series of sequential decisions, each building logically and systematically towards an end goal. However, that narrative is more often created in retrospect than prospectively. My, like many, careers felt haphazard and disjointed at each step. As BRAIN SIG members will know, we are plastic individuals with gradually (and sometimes rapidly!) shifting identities, interests, desires, and goals.

How Professional Development Choices Changed my Life Forever Robert Murphy

There are clichés about how learning should never stop, but to be brutally honest, many professional development (PD) courses seem like a chore. In fact, they are often dreaded. I think I may have felt that way a long time ago, but because my feelings have changed so drastically, I have a hard time remembering the dread!

Embracing the Intellectual Discomfort of Transdisciplinarity Tom Gorham

Nearly a thousand of us were sitting under an orientation tent when the Dean of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education warned us about the imposter syndrome. It’s a surprisingly common feeling that starts to creep in when people compare themselves to their talented, successful, and hard-working peers. Like Eleanor Shellstrop in The Good Place, they get the feeling that there must’ve been some mistake and they don’t really belong here.

Think Tank Plus

Featured Course

Educational Neuroscience: Trans/Informing our practices through knowledge and use of Educational Neuroscience Ken Purnell

As educators we love new ideas on how to enhance our practices. We try the “latest and greatest” and just hope that it is not yet another fad that may fade away again. Good news: Educational neuroscience is here to stay and is solidly evidence-based in scientific research and good practice.


Featured Course

The Neuroscience of Learning A Mind, Brain, and Education Course for Educators Think Tank Staff

Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa has an online Harvard course called The Neuroscience of Learning: An Introduction to Mind, Brain, Health, and Education.

Unlike other Harvard courses in their degree programs, the course is pretty much open to anyone with a decent level of education and English proficiency, and the course can be taken for undergraduate credit, graduate credit or non-credit, with different levels of requirements for each category.

Hiro Passed! Tim Murphey

Hiro[1] was obviously not your typical student in my class of 70. I asked that all students have new partners every class to make it more exciting and so they could re-use many of their conversation strategies that they were learning in the “Ways of Learning” class. Hiro sat in the front usually and when we sang songs, he sang very loudly and vivaciously. But his ADHD profile made students avoid him at first, and I must admit, me too as a teacher.

[1] not his real name

Call for Contributions: Ideas & Articles Think Tank Staff

Become a Think Tank star! Here are some of the future issue topics we are thinking about. Would you, or anyone you know, like to write about any of these? Or is there another topic you’d like to recommend? Do you have any suggestions for lead-in, or just plain interesting, videos? How about writing a book review? Or sending us a story about your experiences? Contact us.

Like Queen?

A mini-musical parody sung to “Don’t Stop Me Now.” If you like it, try this one next.

A short video and an article on how the brain reacts to Coronavirus

PosPsy podcast by Laurie Santos

Article by Rachel Keck

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The MindBrained Think Tanks+

is produced by the Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) Mind, Brain, and Education Special Interest Group (BRAIN SIG). Kyoto, Japan. (ISSN 2434-1002)

Editorial Staff

Stephen M. Ryan                Julia Daley                   Marc Helgesen

Curtis H. Kelly                Skye Playsted        



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