As we celebrate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this week at The Gunnery and throughout the United States, I want to share with you the recently discovered audio recording of a speech King gave in 1962 to commemorate the Emancipation Proclamation. Listening to it (while reading King’s written text through this great mixed media version) is the best way you can spend thirty minutes this week-both to honor King and, perhaps more importantly, to reflect on yourself and our present moment. What King states at the beginning-“Mankind through the ages has been in a ceaseless struggle to give dignity and meaning to human life.”-is true, as he implies, yesterday, today, and tomorrow. A few important questions face us, as our speaker last night, Gary Steele suggested: what are we doing to give our lives dignity and meaning? What are we doing to contribute to dignity and meaning for others, especially those with fewer advantages than we have, and, in that, what are we doing to contribute to the common or greater good?
One of the things we commit to as boarding school teachers is constantly examining the principles and assumptions behind every aspect of what we do. The most recent evidence for that is the day we spent with Andrew Watson just before students returned from the winter break. Andrew Watson, the Director of Translate the Brain. Andrew was an English teacher and Dean of Faculty at Loomis School before committing his life to helping teachers connect discoveries in neuroscience with how teachers teach. I encourage you to explore Andrew’s website or to ask any of our faculty what they took from his sessions on working memory and attention.
Andrew’s premise is simple. As he lays it out on his website:
Students learn with their brains.
Until recently, that obvious fact didn’t help teachers with our work. After all, the brain is so impossibly complicated that neurology had little practical advice for schools.
In just the last few years, extraordinary advances in the brain sciences mean that teachers can turn to neuroscience for concrete guidance in…
- Shaping lesson plans
- Focusing classroom attention
- Designing effective homework
- Constructing meaningful assessments
- Working with individual students
- Developing students’ long-term memory
- Motivating adolescents
And, as our new Dean of Faculty, Jenn Badger, who invited Andrew to campus, said:
“I have heard our History Department chair, Bart McMann, say on numerous occasions that one of the worst things that can happen to a teacher is for that person to become complacent as an educator. When approaching professional development here at The Gunnery it’s important to always keep that philosophy in mind. I believe that we are a faculty full of great teachers, but once we stop examining what we do every day and how we do it we will quickly cease to be great. It’s this idea that centered behind the decision to bring Andrew Watson to campus on Jan. 6 to work with our faculty. His workshops on working memory and attention allowed us as educators to dig into how the brain works and how we can use this knowledge in our own classrooms to think more carefully about how learning takes place and how we as educators can help make that learning process fruitful for all of our students.”