Rockhampton-based author Judi Newman has released her third book, ‘Reshaping Your School from the Brain Up’. Picture: Allan Reinikka
Rockhampton-based author Judi Newman has released her third book, ‘Reshaping Your School from the Brain Up’. Picture: Allan Reinikka

How this former principal is helping to ‘brainwise’ schools

FORMER North Rockhampton State High School principal Judi Newman has released her latest book, Reshaping Your School from the Brain Up.

Ms Newman’s new book outlines 10 steps for educators to make their school “brainwise”.

Reshaping Your School from the Brain Up is her third book in the past two years.

Now a CQUniversity PhD candidate and neuroscience researcher, Ms Newman said helping students understand how their brains worked could transform their learning and their future.

She said she was researching how principals could influence school communities through leadership informed by neuroscience.

CQUniversity PhD candidate Judi Newman. Picture: Contributed
CQUniversity PhD candidate Judi Newman. Picture: Contributed

She hoped a neuroscientific approach could help make students and their teachers more aware of how they learned best.

“The way our brains work is just so fascinating, and we’re learning more all the time about the science of learning, how we can improve thinking and how we become learning ready,” she said.

“Once teachers hear the research, they get it and understand which high yield teaching strategies strengthen neural pathways and memory.

“So, teaching kids about growth mindsets versus fixed mindsets, and helping them identifying limiting beliefs they may have which stand in the way of their potential to achieve, is vital.”

She said the approach would mean less importance was attached to standardised tests of student aptitude and more focus on formative assessment and work at each child’s level.

“There is a difference between IQ and NAPLAN scores and a child’s ability to learn and potential to achieve,” she said.

“If students had more opportunities to build on their brains’ strengths, in a positive classroom that raise curiosity and dopamine levels, the brain is better able to learn and rewire at a neural level.”

Judi Newman has released three books in the past two years, including ‘Turbocharge Your Learning: A Neuroscience & Psychological Perspective’. Picture: Allan Reinikka
Judi Newman has released three books in the past two years, including ‘Turbocharge Your Learning: A Neuroscience & Psychological Perspective’. Picture: Allan Reinikka

Ms Newman also runs a consultancy coaching principals and other educators, and she said the challenges of 2020 for students highlighted the importance of a growth mindset in learning and leadership.

“Principals are telling me it’s been tough, but they also say one positive has been a small group of students did much better while they were learning by distance – because those students may have struggled with making friends, or are a bit shy, and the change of environment gave them a chance to blossom,” she said.

“While most kids have been really happy to get back to school and to their friends, this year is a really good chance for teachers to help students think about how they cope in the face of challenges, and how they can build their resilience through reinforcing positive brain networks.”

She said teenagers especially could benefit from understanding the changes their brain was experiencing.

“When you’re a teenager, your prefrontal cortex, or decision-making centre, is essentially closed for construction,” she said.

“Add to that the hormonal changes young people are experiencing, and the fact they’re still developing their own moral compass – teachers and parents need to know that sometimes they have to be the prefrontal cortex for them. Especially when it comes to planning and organisational skills.”

With neuroscience only emerging in the past 20 years, she said schools had yet to implement the findings in a systemic way.

“The 60 schools I am working with are implementing neuroscience as a pedagogical framework and a source of hope,” she said.

She hoped her research, working with schools across Australia, would inform new neuroleadership for the benefit of all students.

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