Through a partnership with the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning and the book Neuroteach, educators are working to bolster lifelong learning techniques and incorporate mind, brain, and education science in Cannon’s classrooms.
By the time Mrs. Paula Hylton reached the second chapter of Neuroteach: Brain Science and the Future of Education, she knew the text had the power to transform her teaching.
Mrs. Hylton, Upper School Psychology Teacher, first read the book in 2021 when Mr. Nate Rogers, Assistant Head of Upper School for Academics, introduced her to the text. Written by researchers Mr. Glenn Whitman and Dr. Ian Kelleher of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, Neuroteach shares the importance of mind, brain, and education science––in other words, understanding how the brain processes, stores, and retrieves information––and using that knowledge to better teach and learn.
“They're talking specifically about psychological research, the material that I'm teaching upstairs, but centered on teaching,” said Mrs. Hylton, who teaches five sections of psychology, including AP and Honors classes.
She remembers thinking, “I need to know who these people are, and I need more of this.”
All Learners, All Levels
The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, part of St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Maryland, is dedicated to creating “a world where every teacher understands how every student’s brain learns.”
The vision is a harmonious match with Cannon’s mission to engage learners in a journey of growth. It also resonated deeply with Mr. Rogers and Upper School Department Chairs when they first read the book.
“There were lots of faculty members across divisions interested in thinking about how the best research-informed practices teach us to do better,” said Mr. Rogers, remembering their initial conversations.
Those research-informed practices include creating more opportunities for students to reflect on their learning and performance; designing frequent, formative, and low-stakes assessments of learning; integrating the performing and visual arts into lessons; and understanding the roles that sleep and stress play in a learning environment.
The practices are applicable to all learners at all levels, regardless of subject matter. Whether students are studying math or history, English or music, the creation of lessons that integrate mind, brain, and education science benefits both teachers and students.
“One of the things that's so awesome about this book is that it tells us what we can do better as educators,” said Mr. Rogers. “Then it challenges us to put that into practice.”
While Neuroteach created a buzz among Cannon faculty, Mrs. Hylton was hard at work furthering the relationship between Cannon’s community and the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning.
The Center offers a Summer Academy each year, a national gathering that provides in-depth, personalized training for teachers to further explore mind, brain, and education science alongside leading experts and fellow educators.
Mrs. Hylton knew the experience would be transformative. In spring 2022, she applied for a Kimbrough Fellowship––a faculty professional development award made possible by a generous grant from Mr. Lawrence Kimbrough––in hopes of attending the Summer Academy that July.
She and Mr. Fabio Hurtado, Head of Upper School, decided if just five teachers were interested in attending, it would be a success.
“Well, then I came back to him, and I had 15 people interested,” said Mrs. Hylton. It was clear: Cannon educators wanted to dive deeper into the intersection of cognitive science and formative teaching.
Those 15 faculty members from across divisions attended the Summer Academy under Mrs. Hylton’s Kimbrough Fellowship funding last July. In addition, Cannon became an official partner school of the Center in 2022, joining over 200 schools from 23 states and 15 countries in the partnership program.
And, Mr. Whitman, Neuroteach author and Director of the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, personally invited Mrs. Hylton and fellow Cannon teachers to visit St. Andrew’s Episcopal School and the Center in Maryland so the communities could learn from one another. They eagerly accepted.
One of the Center’s goals “is to help take the guessing out of the teaching,” said Mrs. Hylton, “to help you to have a better understanding of how to make something stick with your students.”
Inspired by lessons from Neuroteach, the Summer Academy, and meetings with the Center, she and leaders across the faculty were ready to create an environment at Cannon to help do just that.
A Team Effort
Mr. Rogers shared Upper School Department Chairs’ feedback with Mrs. Catherine Jones, Assistant Head of Middle School for Academics, and Mrs. Melissa Fox, Assistant Head of Lower School for Academics. Together, they decided Neuroteach was a book Cannon’s entire faculty should read and discuss as a community.
“In Upper School, we read a chapter of the book each month,” said Mr. Rogers. Then, with every chapter, each of the academic departments took turns leading a workshop to coincide with their chapter.
The first workshop? Dissecting sheep brains with the science department.
“They did this fabulous lesson on neurons and myelination,” remembered Mrs. Hylton, who was in the audience for the workshop. “And then they took us all upstairs, and they had the sheep brains ready to go.”
Neuroteach emphasizes the importance of teachers and students understanding the anatomy of the brain as a foundational component of mind, brain, and education science.
“It was a great introduction to the text, to actually get your hands on a brain,” Mrs. Hylton said, adding with a laugh that some faculty members sat closer to the dissection subjects than others.
Middle and Lower School educators followed suit in reading the book together.
“In Lower School, specifically, we're going to continue to use our faculty meetings as learning times,” said Mrs. Fox, who shared that Lower School leadership read the book in 2022 in preparation for all faculty to read it this summer.
Middle School teachers presented what they were learning every month as they read. Mrs. Jones called the meetings “engaging and interactive.”
“We would use the chapters as a springboard for a conversation about teaching practice,” she said.
As a result of this momentum, another 15 Cannon educators attended the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning’s Summer Academy this July. A few returning Cannon faculty members accepted leadership roles, serving as facilitators to help guide new teachers through lessons on mind, brain, and education science.
This school year, in order to practice the principles Cannon teachers learned while reading Neuroteach, all faculty members will divide into seven cohorts to continue to explore mind, brain, and education science in a collaborative, cross-divisional experience.
Through the cohorts, faculty will have the opportunity to choose which of the book’s principles are most meaningful to their class, brainstorm ideas and research with members of the Cannon faculty, and put those ideas into action to bolster learning in research-informed ways.
Mrs. Fox said the will cohorts cover a range of topics, including curriculum design, relational teaching, student wellness, assessment and feedback, and belongingness in the classroom (see page X for more on our commitment to diversity, belongingness, and engagement).
She also said that the opportunity to have “teachers teaching teachers” is like no other.
“Our teachers are the experts, so having them work together and guide one another––our students are only going to benefit.”
Cannon and the Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning have committed to their official partnership through 2024, and the lessons from Neuroteach will continue to drive transformative learning in our classrooms for years to come.
“As a teacher, you are constantly thinking and rethinking the way you teach and what works best for students,” said Mrs. Jones. Her hope is that the culture of learning from one another’s challenges and successes “becomes part of our fabric.”
As both an educator and a Cannon parent to Grace ’33 and Hope ’37, Mrs. Hylton envisions a learning environment that is dedicated to each learner’s holistic needs.
“A lot of my teaching has changed,” she said. “When I sit down with students to go over a test, we are not just talking about the content anymore. It is about the child’s [whole experience].”
This, she hopes, will create a chain reaction of learners helping learners for the long run.
“We're not complacent,” agreed Mr. Rogers. “We are very much a school––our faculty is very much a faculty––that wants to grow and improve. And one of my long-term hopes is that through Neuroteach we are both using what we read and testing what we do to make sure we're being the best educators we can be.”