The Brain and Exercise

Exercise boosts brainpower and longevity.

Improvement in learning can come from three sources. The first relates to diet. The second relates to sleep. The third is exercise, the subject of this article.

The brain represents only about two percent of most people’s body weight, yet it accounts for about 20 percent of the body’s total energy usage. In addition to its reliance on energy, the brain relies on oxygen, and exercise provides the body greater access to oxygen.

When you understand the biology of exercise, your chances of influencing yourself and your students towards this direction will be enhanced.

One of the greatest predictors of successful living, working, and aging-both mentally and physically-is the absence of a sedentary life style. … >>>


The Brain, Sleep, and Learning

The brain evolved to use light and darkness wisely. Acquire information by day; process it at night.

The effects of sleep on learning and memory are impressive.

Recent discoveries show that sleep facilitates the active analysis of new memories, allows the brain to solve problems, and infer new information. The “sleeping brain” may also be selectively reinforcing the more difficult aspects of a newly learned task.

We may be able to get by on six hours sleep, but if we want to optimize learning and memory, then closer to eight hours is better. Only with more than six hours of sleep does performance improve over the 24 hours following the learning session, according to researchers Robert Stickgold of Harvard University … >>>


Practices of Superior Teachers

Here are a few tips for promoting learning.

Use procedures rather than rules.
Superior teachers use procedures and do not rely on rules. Rules are necessary in games. However, in interactions, rules result in adversarial relationships because rules require enforcement. Rules place the teacher in the position of an enforcer, a cop-rather than that of a teacher, mentor, or facilitator of learning. Enforcing rules often results in power struggles that rarely result in win-win situations or in good relationships. Instead, rules often result in reluctance, resistance, and resentment. While rules are “left-hemisphere” oriented, and they work with people who are orderly and structured, they do not work well with “right-hemisphere” dominant students act who randomly and spontaneously. Even when … >>>


Discipline Is a Liberating Word

A happy life is a disciplined life.

Most people misunderstand the term “discipline.” A university professor once told me this term is so negative that he never uses it. Instead, he uses the phrase “classroom management.” As with so many educators, the professor mistakenly used these two terms as if they were synonymous. On the contrary, classroom management is about making instruction and learning efficient. This is the teacher’s responsibility. Discipline is about behavior and is the student’s responsibility.

The key to classroom management is to teach a procedure for everything you want your students to do. A major mistake many teachers make is assuming that students know what the teacher wants-without the teacher’s first modeling, then teaching, and then … >>>


How To Be Consistant

Although consistency is important, imposing the same consequence on all students is the least fair approach.

A significant trait that teachers, students, and parents are concerned about is being consistent.

“How can I be fair, firm, and CONSISTENT?” was a question I continually asked myself-not only as a teacher, but especially as an assistant principal of supervision and control in a high school of 3,200 students. The question was also on my mind when I disciplined students as a middle school assistant principal and as an elementary school principal.

Only when I returned to the classroom after 24 years in counseling, staff development, and administration did I realize that my mindset of being consistent in dispensing punishments was unfair and … >>>


Elicit Rather Than Impose

Problems with students so often arise from imposing, rather than from eliciting.

When teachers impose “logical” and/or “natural” consequences on students, they are using their authority to impose a form of punishment. It matters not if the adult’s intention is to teach a lesson. Imposed punishments increase the likelihood that the student will feel punished by the adult. Anything that is done to another person prompts negative feelings of reluctance, resistance, resentment, and sometimes even rebellion and retaliation.

In addition, when authority is used to impose, it deprives the student of an opportunity to become more responsible.

Working with the student, rather than doing things to the student, is so much more effective. This approach avoids the problems typically associated … >>>


Immaculate Perception

There is no such thing as immaculate perception. 
What you see is what you thought before you looked.

Our beliefs and theories direct our thoughts, and these thoughts mold our perceptions. These perceptions then direct our actions.

In 1960, Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise. This book was a major influence in promoting the application of behavioral sciences in organizations.

McGregor studied various approaches to managing people, concluded that managerial approaches could be understood from the ASSUMPTIONS managers made about people. McGregor concluded that the thinking and activity of people in authority is based on two very different sets of assumptions. He referred to these assumptions as Theory X and Theory Y.

Theory X

McGregor labeled the … >>>


Visualization Promotes Discipline & Learning

Visualization activities make learning easy, fun, and engaging.

Brain compatible learning infers that learning will take place in a manner that is “natural.” Unfortunately, however, many teachers expect students to learn in an “unnatural” way.

Let me explain by asking you to visualize the last time you dreamed. Not that you remember your dream, but did you dream in letters, in words, in sentences, in paragraphs? Or did you dream in pictures? We often forget that the act of reading is a relatively recent development in human development. Until recent years, very few people read. Reading is not a “natural” brain activity as is visualization.

Then how was history passed from generation to generation? The answer is in stories–stories that … >>>


A System Is Superior to Talent

Working in Harlem under contract for three years with the New York City Board of Education taught me an invaluable lesson: Having a teaching SYSTEM is far superior to talent when a teacher faces challenging behaviors in the classroom.

The assistant superintendent and I were very impressed while observing a teacher one year. We agreed that the teacher was a “natural.” However, when I visited the teacher the following year, she told me that three boys were such challenges that she could use some assistance.

Even teachers with “natural talent” are challenged by student behaviors that teachers in former generations did not have to deal with. To retain the joy that the teaching profession offers and to reduce one’s >>>


Suggestions for Motivation

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. But we can speed up the process.

1. Create curiosity
Curiosity is perhaps the greatest of all motivators. Here is the difference between American and Japanese styles of teaching: In Japanese schools, students are immediately introduced to a problem or challenge. They grapple with it. Curiosity is naturally engendered. By contrast, in American schools the main idea(s) are presented, the solution is taught, and then students practice. Where is the curiosity engendered using this approach?

2. Teach students to ask themselves questions
Encourage students to ask themselves questions. The questioning process starts the thinking process. When students begin to ask themselves “Why?” and “How?” questions, both alertness and interest increase. There … >>>


Rules vs. Expectations

Expected behavior is more effectively achieved through the use of standards than rules.


A common practice in this country is to establish classroom rules, either by the teacher or by the teacher and students cooperatively.

Rules are necessary in games, but in relationships rules are counterproductive. Although the establishment of rules has good intentions, their implementation often produces deleterious effects. When Johns Hopkins University researchers analyzed data from more than 600 of the nation’s schools, they found six characteristics associated with discipline problems. Notice that the first three concerned rules.

  1. Rules were unclear or perceived as unfairly or inconsistently enforced.
  2. Students didn’t believe in the rules.
  3. Teachers and administrators didn’t know what the rules were or
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Reflection and Self-Evaluation

Consider: When you tell, who does the thinking? 
When you ask, who does the thinking?

Reflection is a powerful teaching and learning strategy that is too often overlooked. The key to reflection is the skill of asking self-evaluative questions. It is the most effective, yet neglected, strategy both in learning and in dealing with people. Using this skill also reinforces the other two practices of positivity and choice.


Reflection is necessary for long-term memory reinforcement. Its absence in the learning process can be likened to chewing—but not swallowing. The food is tasted, but unless it is digested, there is no nutritional value. Before elementary students leave a subject or middle and high school students leave a classroom, … >>>


Positivity, Choice, and Reflection Exercise for Students

Gratitude is not only the greatest of all the virtues but the parent of all the others. —Cicero

The following exercise combines three practices of positivity, choice, and reflection. Hal Urban has conducted the exercise for many years with amazing results. Since young people think about what they lack—more often than they think about what they have—the exercise is a wonderful way to foster gratitude and positive thinking and self-discipline.

Inform your students to conduct themselves for the next twenty-four hours without complaining.

  • Tell them not to stop the experiment even if they do complain.
    Just have them see how few complaints they can make in one day.
  • Give each student a blank card, such as 3
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The Power of Positivity

People do better when they feel better, not when they feel worse.

Positivity is a more constructive teacher than negativity. Positive messages elevate, encourage, and foster growth.


When thoughts are guided to focus on the positive and constructive, then the self is nourished and enriched. Self-worth is intangible, and much of its cause, as well as its effect, is a matter of choosing thoughts that expand and strengthen the human psyche. A monkey is smart enough to eat only the nourishing banana and throw away the bitter peel. Yet, humans often “chew on the peel” of criticism, ridicule, embarrassment, failure, or other negatives. It is important that teachers and parents help young people learn to throw away … >>>


Approaches of Outstanding Teachers

Reflection and Approaches of outstanding teachers

Reflection has a number of attributes. At the top of the list is that reflection prompts gratitude—which is the key to both happiness and goodness.

In learning, reflection reinforces what we want to remember. This is the reason that I encourage teachers to use some strategy such as “Think, Pair, Share” at the conclusion of every lesson. To use “brain terminology,” reflection makes temporary memory more permanent by strengthening
neural connections.

Kerry—a teacher in British Columbia who explores the use of internal approaches to inspire students to learn—reflected on the teachers who had taught her over the course of her own schooling.

She shared with me some attributes of her own outstanding teachers—>>>


Reflection and Learning

Reflection is a marvelous way to learn.


“I learned how to play golf yesterday.” “I learned a foreign language last year.” “I learned how to make decisions last week.” As silly as these sound, there is little difference between them and “I taught responsibility the other day.”

Playing golf, learning a foreign language, and making decisions are all skills. So is learning how to be responsible.

Teaching the four levels of social development is the foundation that allows teachers and students to speak the same language. It is also an effective approach for a school to have consistency. But the levels cannot be presented with the expectations that students will act on level D—taking the initiative … >>>



Metacognition is awareness of one’s own thinking.

Metacognition is essential for developing critical thinking skills. The objective of metacognition is to have the learner become aware of his own cognitive processes and to become involved in understanding what he is thinking as he proceeds. The student is reflecting to see whether or not what he or she is doing is working.

Reflect on whether or not you hear yourself talking to yourself while solving this problem: How much is half of two plus two?

When we hear ourselves thinking, we are metacogitating. But do not assume that every student does it. For example, a student works on and solves a problem, and the teacher says, “Tell us how you solved … >>>


Listening Lessons

How to Help Kids Learn and Comprehend

Listening is a largely untaught skill that applies to every subject in school and is of paramount importance in good relationships.

I recently spoke to 65 middle level students in a major urban area. The students were using a section of my book as a source for their conflict resolution discussions. I was there by their invitation and was treated as a celebrity. Almost all wanted my signature. Nevertheless, during my presentation, I felt it necessary to use an attention management approach five times with two variations just to bring their attention back after I made a point or told a story to emphasize a point.

The principal commented afterwards that poor listening >>>