New View EDU Episode 47: Designing Schools for Future-Ready Minds

Available October 31, 2023

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We all want to help prepare students for the future. In an unpredictable and fast-changing world, does designing school for future-ready minds mean embracing every technological innovation and new idea that comes our way? Or are there lessons from the past that may still be relevant in a technological revolution? Shimi Kang has the neuroscientific evidence to help us decide.

Shimi KangKang returns to the New View EDU podcast to talk with host Tim Fish about her latest areas of focus, and how understanding the wisdom contained in our bodies can help us navigate technology in the classroom. To begin with, Shimi points out that while we may believe we have one brain, our neurocognitive processes occur throughout our bodies. She introduces the concept of educating for three brains: the gut, heart, and head.

Understanding the needs of each of these unique “brains” can lead to powerful changes in the way we design schools for learning and social-emotional well-being. But, Shimi says, those changes don’t necessarily have to follow the path of the latest and greatest innovations. While she encourages educators to use technology in robust and exciting ways to advance student learning, she discourages schools from allowing technology use outside of dedicated learning time. Instead, she argues, we should be returning to practices that allow us to tune into the human experience without digital enhancements. Fostering social connections face-to-face during lunch and break times, beginning classes with transitions like deep breathing, listening to music, or purposeful movement, and building in time for authentic social-emotional engagement all feed our different brains and allow for better and more focused learning.

Pointing to trends in burnout, loneliness, and perfectionism as major concerns in the lives of students, Shimi builds on the importance of nurturing gut, heart, and mind in order to turn the tide. Instead of feeding perfectionism and stress through our educational practices, she advocates for actively seeking to build connection, adaptability, and play. These traits, she argues, are the antidotes to the rise in burnout and mental health struggles among students—and, in fact, every member of our school communities.

Change, of course, isn’t easy. Shimi cites research that demonstrates only about 20% of any given community will actually be ready for change at any given time; but, she cautions, a perceived “lack of readiness” in a community doesn’t mean we should defer change. In fact, she says, those 20% are the people who need to actively pursue making change and help others move past their anxiety. Giving the example of a parent-teacher conference, she outlines useful strategies that could be employed to help move others from a place of pre-contemplation through contemplation and finally to readiness for a change to take place.

In the end, Shimi says, we’ve accidentally moved our educational practices away from our deep intuition about what students need. We’ve always known how to create space for connection, humanity, downtime, play, and experimentation, but our modern drive toward achievement culture, pressure, and perfectionism has led us off the path. To truly harness the power of innovation in our schools, we need to move backward and reintegrate neuroscience and well-being into education.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Shimi explore in this episode include:

  • As a clinician and expert in digital well-being, what are some common-sense suggestions schools can implement to maximize student and staff mental health?
  • In the onslaught of new technologies like artificial intelligence, how can schools harness neuroscience to help them design tech-healthy classrooms?
  • How can we best educate young people for “future-ready minds?”
  • What are the current trends in the mental health space that educators should be aware of? What challenges and opportunities do they present?

Episode Highlights

  • “People talk all about how do we motivate kids? Well, first of all, there's no such thing as an unmotivated kid. But if you're sleep-deprived, stressed, burnt out from over-scheduling, you're not going to be motivated. If you're disconnected on social media, or not, or hyper competitive and don't have a sense of meaningful connection, you're not going to be motivated because the biggest motivation comes from a sense of contribution and being needed.” (12:00)
  • “So a school that honors that heart brain, that works on social connection, seeing each other, looking at each other: that's why no phones in the hallways and social areas. And really building that sense of belonging and community. And then now you're in the place where you can tap into that head brain, that brain of innovation and adaptability. But that brain doesn't like that structured learning as much. It likes a balance of expectation, rules. It doesn't want chaos, but it also wants the ability to play, meaning learn from trial and error. Try new things. Be curious. Stretch that imagination.” (20:31)
  • “Neuroplasticity is a complex word, six syllables, but I believe it's the word for hope because what it means is we can always change, we can always learn, we can always grow, we can always do better. Humans are gifted with this idea, this concept of neuroplasticity, till the moment we die. And that's really important.” (33:32)
  • “Where focus goes, neurons grow. Let's say you want to change your classroom to a more future-ready classroom. …There might be resistance, you know, from kids or parents or admin. And that's normal, because if I back up a bit, the psychology of change, in any given moment, there's only about 20, 30% of people in what's called the action state of change. They are ready. The rest of the population is in pre-contemplation or contemplation. Because change, by definition, is a change. It's different!” (34:33)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

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About Our Guest

An award-winning medical doctor, researcher, and expert on the neuroscience of adaptability, leadership, and self-motivation, Shimi Kang provides practical tools for health, happiness, and achievement. With 20 years of clinical experience and extensive research, Kang’s unique approach applies contemporary concepts in neuroscience and brain health to today’s most pressing issues.

Kang is the author of The Tech Solution: Creating Healthy Habits for a Digital World, which provides neuroscience-based strategies to optimize technology’s incredible benefits while minimizing its many drawbacks. She is also the author of The Self-Motivated Kid and the critically acclaimed The Dolphin Parent: A Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy, and Self-Motivated Kids.

Kang is a practicing psychiatrist and clinical associate professor at the University of British Columbia. Her TEDx on adaptability has been viewed millions of times and her work has been featured in major media outlets around the world, including BBC World News, NPR, Al JazeeraSouth China Morning Post, and The Washington Post. Her featured blogs can be found in The Huffington PostPsychology TodayUS News & World Report, and TIME magazine.

In addition, Kang is the founder of Future-Ready Minds, co-founder of the Get Sparky digital platform, and host of the YouTube series, Mental Wealth. Kang has made promoting practical tools for mental wellness, connection, and adaptability a priority. Through these mediums, she provides social, emotional, cognitive and mental health skills for children, youths, and adults around the world.