PITTSFIELD, Maine — What goes on inside a child’s brain became a little less mysterious Monday for SAD 53 and Maine Central Institute teachers.
While students enjoyed a sunny autumn Monday away from school, their teachers and Dr. Christopher Kaufman, lead psychologist for the Portland Public Schools, explored how communication problems among parts of the brain can manifest as anything from difficulty paying attention in the classroom to a profound learning disability.
Kaufman, who travels throughout New England to lecture on numerous topics, said understanding the nitty-gritty of brain function and development can improve a teacher’s ability to recognize the reasons behind a student’s behavior and then respond to it.
“One of my messages is that it’s important to look for executive function weaknesses,” Kaufman said during a break in the seminar. “It’s becoming a really hot topic.”
Despite how it sounds, a child’s executive function is not a demand for crust-free sandwiches or a certain stuffed animal at bedtime. It’s about how portions of the brain interact.
Those interactions change as a person’s brain develops all the way into adulthood, said Kaufman. For Samantha Hubbell, a special education teacher at Maine Central Institute who attended Monday’s training, that fact is a reason to have hope.
“It gives us hope that certain parts of the brain are being developed well into a person’s 20s and early 30s,” said Hubbell. “It gives us hope that there’s time for improvement.”
Darlene Olrickson, a math teacher at Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield, said most teachers realize there’s a correlation between brain function and a student’s learning ability, but having it reinforced with hard data and practical examples will prove valuable in the classroom.
“Knowledge is power,” said Olrickson. “If there’s one thing we teachers need to know, it’s why certain kids have difficulties.”
SAD 53 Superintendent Michael Gallagher said Kaufman was chosen for Monday’s professional development seminar because his message is of use to teachers of all grades.
“Brain development spans the spectrum of public education,” said Gallagher. “[Teachers at Monday’s seminar] may not remember all the terminology … but they have to understand how the connections work in the brain.”
Kaufman said his goal goes beyond making teachers more effective in the classroom. He hopes they pass the knowledge to students to help them understand that there are reasons for the way they act.
More information about Kaufman’s work, including executive function, is available at the Web site www.kaufmanpsychological.org. Kaufman’s first book, “Executive Function in the Classroom: Practical Strategies for Improving Performance and Enhancing Skills for All Students,” is scheduled for release by Brookes Publishing Co. in early 2010.