Reader Reply

School Administrator, March 2018

Re Kevin Fitzgerald’s My View column (“Shortchanging Athletics in Our Students’ Lives,” August 2017): As a former student-athlete and coach, I know the value of interscholastic athletics. I appreciate the focus on the student as a whole when decisions are made. I can think of several students who I believe WOULD NEVER HAVE MADE IT TO GRADUATION had it not been for extracurricular activity opportunities.

I really connected with Fitzgerald’s reference of the varsity basketball team’s student manager. I have a nephew with special needs (now 38) who found a place in school by being the manager for football and basketball. It gave him THE CONFIDENCE TO GO TO A POSTSECONDARY VOCATIONAL PROGRAM and to attain a job in his community. To this day, he operates the clock at the local high school’s football games and basketball games, and he is an active member of the local volunteer fire department (qualified to drive large-capacity emergency vehicles owing to his postsecondary vocational training).

A Missing Aspect of Teen Brains' Coverage
Frances Jensen’s Q&A article (‘’The Developing Teenage Brain,’’ September 2017) highlighted many of the recent studies that have alerted educators to the profound neurological changes taking shape during the teen years. David Sousa’s article (‘’The Rewired Brain’’) emphasized the important role that new technologies are having in changing the way the teen brain functions for good or for ill, and Judy Willis’ article (‘’Connecting Brain Research with the Art of Teaching’’) provided educators with many excellent strategies for using current knowledge about teen brain functioning to craft better lesson plans. I also found the articles on brain concussions important and illuminating.

What I found missing from the issue, however, was a broader discussion of some of the current educational practices that work against what research shows that the adolescent brain needs. School leaders should be clear on what those adolescent “brain-unfriendly’’ practices are so they can adjust policies to eliminate or ameliorate their negative impact.

First among these practices are boring fact-giving lectures, which proliferate in an educational climate where standardized test results are considered the most important measure of classroom learning. Teachers who are being evaluated on the basis of their students’ test scores are especially motivated to deliver the information that will be on those tests and not necessarily to provoke curiosity, creativity or imagination.

Teacher-centered instruction of this dull kind fails to engage the dopaminergic pathways (or reward centers) and limbic system structures that are so sensitive during the teenage years. To provide real brain-based learning, educators need to be encouraged to deliver more interesting, captivating, inspiring presentations of the learning material at hand, so that the pleasure-seeking, sensation-seeking proclivities of teens are fully engaged.  These lesson plans may include the appropriate use of humor, novelty, hands-on demonstrations, drama, artistic expression or other multi-sensory, context-rich presentations that can capture the attention of technology-primed students.

Other practices that seem to be counter to the needs of the growing adolescent brain are the posting of grades and test scores (which serves to humiliate students in front of their peers), the pressures of standardized testing itself (which place greater stress on already ultra-stress-sensitive students), the locking of students into fixed college preparatory course requirements (depriving them of the opportunity to use their brain’s executive functioning to plan a course of study more in tune with their real needs), the cutting back of recess and physical education programs to allow for more academic time (which deprives students of much-needed stress reduction activities), and zero tolerance discipline policies (which deny students the opportunity to use their executive functioning to work out behavioral and social problems for themselves with school support).

Administrators need to look carefully at these and related school policies with a mind to assessing how they impact the developing adolescent brain. 

Creating Coherence
David Moyer delivered an excellent presentation on instructional rounds at Illinois’ Large Unit District Association fall conference so I was quite pleased to see his article, “Creating Coherence With Instructional Rounds,” in the December issue of your magazine.

I appreciate how he is moving the profession forward with his timely work in this area.



Letters should be addressed to: Editor, School Administrator, 1615 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail: