A Perfect Storm
Why Identity and Emotion are Central to Motivating the Teen Brain by Emmeline Zhao
kqed.org/mindshift, December 10, 2015
Studying the brain in order to better serve students has been in vogue for years now. Schools have shifted resources to social and emotional programs as well as to professional development for teachers and staff. But questions still remain as to whether we've adequately responded to the results of these studies and changed our practice. Emmeline Zhao's recent blog piece for KQED's MindShift offers timely guidance. Relying mostly on the work of University of California Berkeley's Ronald Dahl, the piece reprises the idea of Daniel Siegel, John Dewey, and others that adolescence, far from being a tragedy of an otherwise healthy existence, is actually the "perfect storm of opportunities." Specifically, the brain is updating itself and is uniquely inclined to "learning, exploration, acquiring skills and habits, intrinsic motivations, [developing] attitudes, setting goals and [establishing] priorities." What's new in Dahl's work, and has implications for middle and high school programs, is the emphasis on what drives students during this unstable time. Dahl argues that it's a feeling of "wanting and thirst" to "display courage and be admired." These primal, "bottom-up" drives present educators with an opportunity to facilitate a "learning spurt for heartfelt goals" that will shape students (and their brains) for the rest of their lives.