School News

Maharishi Faculty and Administration Attend ISACS Education Conference

Twenty-three of Maharishi School’s faculty and administration attended the annual conference of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS) on November 6 and 7, along with 1100 other educators. School staff attended stimulating, inspiring workshops on a variety of topics, gaining learning that will be incorporated into Maharishi School classrooms and offices.

Two keynote speakers during the conference’s Thursday and Friday luncheons were Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth and Dale Dougherty.

Dr. Angela Duckworth studies “non-IQ competencies, including self-control and grit, which predict success both academically and professionally.” She is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Maharishi School technology instructor Kamesh Tata felt the self-control presentation to be “the defining session at ISACS. Self-control and grit are strong predictors of success.”

Dale Dougherty is the founder and CEO of Maker Media, Inc. His worldwide Maker Movement is a catalyst for “transforming innovation in industry, hands-on learning in education, and the personal lives of makers of all ages.” His message that everyone should be a “maker” and be able to integrate creative goals with technical skills fit right into many of the conference’s sessions, especially those on science and technology.

Science Technology Engineering Mathematics

One popular session was Enhancing STEM Courses with Engineering Design, lead by Jamie Black and Paula Butler. STEM is an acronym for Science Technology Engineering Mathematics. The session addressed “challenge-based learning,” where coursework focuses on problem and needs identification, necessary knowledge, and applying skills in a safe environment for experience. Maharishi Upper School science teacher Karim Nahabet said, “I plan to 'flip' my Chemistry class, creating teacher videos, using resources and engaging the students in more active, challenge-based learning. This will also provide the opportunity for hands-on laboratory experience for the students.”

Mindsets

Another popular session was attended by Lower School teacher Meg Vigmostad, who was “most inspired” by Robert Brooks' presentation on Mindsets, and nurturing motivation and resilience in students. “Besides the fact that it embodies Maharishi's principles of teaching, I felt that it was something I can do now to a greater degree. I think Mr. Brooks was the most entertaining presenter with a wealth of knowledge and experience.” Dr. Robert Brooks is a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and former director of the Department of Psychology at McLean Hospital.

Dr. Brooks’ ISACS session was entitled “The Power of Mindsets: Nurturing Motivation & Resilience in Students” and examined how “mindsets are assumptions that we possess about ourselves and others that guide our behavior. The mindset that educators hold about the factors that contribute to student engagement, motivation, and resilience determines their expectations, teaching practices, and relationships with students.” He offered strategies to facilitate the enrichment of engaged, motivated mindsets in all students. Rebecca Bellonci, Maharishi Preschool director, attended Dr. Brooks’ presentation, saying that one of her favorite concepts was the following: “There is no such thing as a lazy or unmotivated child! I will tell the child, ‘I know that you are trying. Your strategies aren't working, and my strategies to teach you aren't working. Let's work on some new strategies!’”

Kathy Siemsen, Lower School teacher, also appreciated the Mindsets session. One point she felt significant was that students become more resilient when they feel there is a purpose to what they are doing. Also, she felt that finding every child's “island of competence”--for that is the place from which every child draws strength--is an important necessity in the classroom. Finally, one aspect of learning is trial and error, so it’s important to help students recognize that mistakes are an expected and accepted part of learning.

Emotions, Stress, and Social Behaviors

Middle School instructors Richard Incorvia and Barbara Hays attended sessions focused on emotions and the social interactions of middle school students. Just the titles of the sessions indicate the challenges facing adolescents’ growth into adulthood, issues that middle school teachers must be skilled at facilitating: “Best Friends, Worst Enemies: Community, Friendship, Social Power and Bullying in Childhood and Adolescence”; “Microaggressions”; and “How Emotion Impacts the Brain’s Successful Learning.”

The “Best Friends, Worst Enemies” session, led by Dr. Michael G. Thompson, analyzed the tensions young people experience when growing up. For instance, students find friendship fairly easy to define, but popularity is much more confusing. Teachers were provided examples of what can be done for students when issues regarding relationships arise.

Dr. Dena Samuels defined “microagressions” as “subtle words, cues, and/or behaviors that insult, invalidate, or exclude others” which affect a person’s sense of belonging, comfort and trust, performance, self-worth, and overall health. The suggested response to microaggressions (whether directed the observer or someone else) was to assume the intent was not malicious, and to challenge the situation in a compassionate way that "gently makes the invisible visible."

Richard Incorvia enthusiastically endorsed the session “How Emotion Impacts the Brain’s Successful Learning,” presented by Dr. Judy Willis, M.D. The session looked at brain functioning for students who “act out” or who “zone out.” Memory can be adversely affected when the “fight or flight” response is activated in the classroom. Stress or fear affect student performance, and even boredom can be a stress. Providing achievable challenges with frequent feedback, personal relevance, and student “buy-in” are important.

As a Consciousness-based Education school where all students practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, one aspect of the session’s message was especially apropos. “If stress is reduced, and a person is in a relaxed and alert state, information can pass through [the ‘switching station’ part of the brain,] the amygdala, and on to the reflective ‘thinking brain’ (prefrontal cortex) for long-term memory and executive function processing. Students can build skills that allow the prefrontal cortex to override the lower brain’s reactive impulses.”

The wide range of sessions available at the ISACS workshops provided Maharishi School teachers with valuable opportunities to interact with current educational concepts and best practices applications. As Preschool teacher Rebecca Bellonci said, “I will always sign up to attend the ISACS conference. I’ve found the last two conferences I’ve attended to be extremely worthwhile.” 

Tags: best practices , ISACS

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