I am a junior high teacher with over 20 years of experience in the field of education. I’ve been recognized for excellence in environmental education by the Massachusetts Education Secretary and inclusive education by the Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation, excellence in teaching Social Studies by the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, and have been chosen as a Teacher of the Year finalist by both the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts and the State of Massachusetts as a whole. Having this background, I feel compelled to discuss the SMART program developed by the University of Texas at Dallas.
I’ve encountered many initiatives that claim to assist teachers in fostering student learning. Few though have impressed upon me and my students a true sense of innate growth in learning as the SMART program has done. I signed up for the program not fully committed to its value, actually somewhat skeptical of its worth, but willing to look into it for the sake of my students. Once involved in the intense training I quickly realized how useful it could be for adolescents. As I look back upon the training sessions and my evolution in supporting it I often use the phrase, “I drank the Kool-Aide!”
The teacher training was so well delivered and the content so well researched that it became clear that this program was not just a passing fad, as so many other educational initiatives have been, but an approach that when well presented in the classroom would bring about change in my students’ ability to think. I left the training sessions each day drained but excited with the potential of the program.
When I implemented the program the support offered by the BrainHealth staff was outstanding. I quickly learned that they provided every opportunity for this program to meet with success as long as their research about adolescent brain development was accurate. More than 400 students at my school were trained in the SMART program. It didn’t take us long to realize that the research was accurate as the students were catching on and looking at material with more depth and understanding than ever before. Students even commented that they never would have had the insight they had developed if they hadn’t been involved in the SMART program. I started to see that many more students started to enjoy participating in lessons and offering their ideas as they realized they actually understood the material.
The students started to implement the SMART strategies in other classes and proudly announced to me when these strategies were helpful in English, math and science classes. They were so invested and I so enamored with the program that I’ve continued to apply the strategies in my social studies lessons. As we looked at our World History text students “bounced out” the unimportant details and wrote “main concepts” for the chapters. As we reviewed the biographies found on the 2012 U.S. Presidential candidates’ web pages the students developed “smart gists” that helped the students see what the candidates valued. My expectations of my students have changed and as I support them in their search for understanding they are more often meeting those expectations. With the success we’ve found using the SMART program at my school I look forward to future support and training with the BrainHealth staff to reinforce these teaching skills in myself and my colleagues.