An estimated 50% of Michigan children under six years old now live in low-income households, according to Columbia University’s National Center for Children in Poverty.1 The children, young adolescents, and teens filling our classrooms are frequently victims of abuse, neglect, hunger, homelessness, and unsafe environments.
These are tough times to be an educator! The statistics alone can cause despair, leading to excuses and apathy. And yet the same statistics can compel educators to seek solutions, take action, and seize the opportunity in the “worst of times” to save kids.
A colleague shared a book this week that gives genuine hope to teachers as they face the enormous challenges that students bring with them to school. In Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain, Eric Jensen and Carole Snider show educators how they can be not only game changers, but also brain changers. These two authors state, “Average teaching does not change brains — it’s just babysitting. . . . But strong, high-quality teaching changes brains every day.”2
That brains can and do change is huge. It means that IQ is not static, that heredity is not the sole determinant of how individuals turn out. It means that the frightfully horrible environments too many students are born into and go back to at three o’clock every day do not dictate their futures — good news in the midst of difficult times, indeed.
So what do strong, high-quality brain changers do every day? It isn’t new; it’s just become absolutely essential. The number one thing great teachers do is build relationships with each and every one of their students. To change brains, altering the intersection of the environment with genes is crucial, and today’s classrooms are filled with students who desperately need positive, supportive, caring relationships.
Jensen and Snider examine eight “brain pushers” with specific strategies that when used intentionally, consistently, and skillfully will be brain changers for students. Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain is a great choice for summer reading and even more powerful when shared with colleagues.
Let’s change brains this year. Our kids deserve it.
1 Low-income households are defined as less than 200% of the federal poverty level.
2 Eric Jensen and Carole Snider, Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain: Helping Underperforming Students Become Lifelong Learners, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013), 16.