The Noble Role of Teachers:

Transforming Ourselves to Change the World


“Educational neuroscience promises to incorporate emerging insights from neuroscience into education. But unlike cognitive neuroscience – which aims to explain how the mind is embodied – educational neuroscience necessarily incorporates values that reflect the kind of citizen and the kind of society we aspire to create….
What are the biological foundations of authentic and deep understanding? Of an appreciation of art and beauty? Of compassion for those in need at home and around the world?.”

— Michel Ferrari (2011), What Can Neuroscience Bring to Education

The neurosciences alert educators to the critical nature of the interaction between the learner and the environment (physical and social ) and the strong nexus between cognition, affect and sociality for trajectories of learning and development. Thus, the observations of the neurosciences coalesce with the recent findings of educational psychology, namely, that interest motivation and engagement in learning are contingent upon finding a degree of emotional affinity with the subject matter being taught. Also the discovery by the neurosciences of the role of mirror neurons in learning behaviours and attitudes reinforces the critical nature of teacher modelling and monitoring.
— Neville Clement (2010)

The First Pillar of the Student Wellbeing Pedagogy: The Neuroscience Research.
In Toomey, R., Lovat, T., Clement, M., and Dally, K. (Eds.) Teacher Education and Values Pedagogy: A Student Wellbeing Approach.

The aim of this Study Session is to give an introduction to those findings from neuroscience that explain the roles played by our Mind, Brain and Relationships in determining our level of life satisfaction or wellbeing.

Teachers who develop an understanding of how these three functions (Mind, Brain, Relationships) influence each other discover that, not only do they benefit themselves, but the wellbeing, character and academic diligence of their students also increases.

Daniel Siegel, a renowned psychiatrist and leader in interpersonal neurobiology, in his 2010 book, The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration, presents a simple triad (shown below) to depict the way in which Mind, Brain and Relationships each influence the functioning of the other two. The present Study Session will explore these three aspects of the human condition in some detail, examining how we can make use of certain findings from neuroscience to enhance the noble role of the teacher.


As with all disciplines related to improving the education of our young, we must limit the scope of our forays into neuroscience to those findings of practical value to Human Values Education.

The Exercise – Step 1

Referring to pages 123 – 136 in Handbook for Teachers in Human Values Education (download here), reflect upon how the findings from neuroscience (concerning Mind, Brain and Relationships) can be utilized for enhancing the wellbeing of both teachers and students.

The Exercise – Step 2

From your readings in Step 1 above, note down a few ideas or insights that can prompt you to reflect further on the role that neuroscience can play in enhancing the noble role of the teacher, and record these notes in your Journal.

    The Exercise – Step 3

    Using the internet, make notes as you watch one or more of the following three You Tube videos in which Dr Daniel Siegel explains how neuroscience is exploring the interconnections between Mind, brain and Relationships. Type one of these into the search box:

    • Dan Siegel. Interpersonal neurobiology: Why compassion is necessary for humanity.
    • Dan Siegel. We feel, therefore we learn: The neuroscience of social emotion.
      Dan Siegel. The neurobiological basis of behaviour, the mind, the brain and human relationship.
    The Exercise – Step 4

    Referring to the notes that you have made from reading Handbook for Teachers in Human Values Education (pages 123 – 136), and from watching Dan Siegel’s presentations, and adding your own understandings and ideas, write a short essay on : How the findings from neuroscience can be of use to educators committed to values education or character education.

    The Exercise – Step 5

    Copy this essay into your Journal.

    The Exercise – Step 6

    If you feel that your essay is of a high standard, consider distributing it to teachers or submitting it to an education journal.

    “Optimal sculpting of key neural networks through healthy early relationships allows us to think well of ourselves, trust others, regulate our emotions, maintain positive expectations, and utilize our intellectual and emotional intelligence
    in moment-to-moment.”

    — Louis Cozolina (2013)
    The Social Neuroscience of Education : Optimizing Attachment and Learning in the Classroom

    The extent to which young people have developed executive functions (in the brain) has been shown to profoundly affect their outcomes in terms of education, health, income and criminal behaviours.”

    — Martin Westwell (2013)
    When the Educational Neuroscience meets the Australian Curriculum: A Strategic Approach to Teaching and Learning.