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Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez

Dr. Vanessa Rodriguez (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Early Childhood Health and Development within the Department of Population Health at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. A veteran public school teacher, Rodriguez conducts qualitative and mixed-methods research that amplifies educators’ perspectives using humanizing, trauma-informed, and social justice-oriented methods. Her work has been funded by the National Science Foundation, The Foundation for Child Development, the Early Childhood Research Network and the Spencer Foundation, among others. She is a sought-after speaker for international audiences and has published numerous articles in academic and practitioner venues. Her current funded projects employ critical feminist frameworks to better understand and advocate for educator mental health and wellness, particularly among Black and Latina women in early childhood education. These approaches guided two of her recent manuscripts that explore women pre-K teachers’ mental health and well-being during COVID-19 lockdown in NYC (Rodriguez et al., 2022) and their social-emotional development through the Five Awarenesses of Teaching Framework (Rodriguez et al., 2020). Other notable contributions to the field include pioneering the Self-in-relation-to-teaching interview method (Rodriguez, 2016) and writing The Teaching Brain (The New Press, 2014).


"Vanessa Rodriguez has a truly original mind. Her experience, empathy, and insight have inspired and provoked me."

- Deborah Meier, author of In Schools We Trust

The Teaching Brain

  A bold redefinition of our most basic understanding of
teaching—and learning—in classrooms and in life.

What is at work in the mind of a five-year-old explaining the game of tag to a new friend? What is going on in the head of a thirty-five-year-old parent showing a first-grader how to button a coat? And what exactly is happening in the brain of a sixty-five-year-old professor discussing statistics with a room full of graduate students?

While research about the nature and science of learning abounds, shockingly few insights into how and why humans teach have emerged—until now. Countering the dated yet widely held presumption that teaching is simply the transfer of knowledge from one person to another, The Teaching Brain weaves together scientific research and real-life examples to show that teaching is a dynamic interaction and an evolutionary cognitive skill that develops from birth to adulthood. With engaging, accessible prose, Harvard researcher Vanessa Rodriguez reveals what it actually takes to become an expert teacher.


At a time when all sides of the teaching debate tirelessly seek to define good teaching—or even how to build a better teacher--The Teaching Brain upends the misguided premises for how we measure the success of teachers. This game-changing analysis of how the mind teaches will transform common perceptions of one of the most essential human practices (and one of the most hotly debated professions), charting a path forward for teachers, parents, and anyone seeking to better understand learning—and unlocking the teaching brain in all of us.


“What a fascinating idea. The Teaching Brain touches on critical underlying issues in the current ‘reform’ debates. It would be clearer to one and all after reading this challenging and inspiring work that we need to understand the importance of what teacher-learning brings to the act of teacher-teaching.”

— Deborah Meier, author of The Power of Their Ideas and In Schools We Trust

"Rodriguez uses ample evidence from her own teaching experience to buttress her assertion that teachers must incorporate students’ innate knowledge into the classroom to be effective. She argues that a greater degree of flexibility in educational policy is required for this type of teaching. Rodriguez’s case for altering pedagogy to match the fluctuating dynamic forces in the classroom is both convincing and steeped in common sense."

Publishers Weekly


“This book comes at an important time. As the critical issue of teacher quality gains prominence, there is an unfortunate tendency toward the simple fix: just give teachers a fixed set of skills, just get rid of the lowest-performing ones. The Teaching Brain represents an important challenge to this way of thinking and ultimately provides hope that we might build a more humane and comprehensive system of teaching and schools.” 

— Jesse Solomon, Executive Director of BPE and founder of the Boston Teacher Residency


“Drawing  on  brain  science,  education  research,  and  her  own  experience, Vanessa Rodríguez  eloquently  presents  a  new,  humanizing,  and  compelling  take  on  how, why, and when teachers teach effectively. The Teaching Brain is an important book for teachers, future teachers, policy makers, and anyone who cares about children and learning.”   

— Susan Linn, Psychologist, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood,

and author of The Case for Make Believe


“The Teaching Brain is an essential contribution to understanding the interaction amongst teachers, students, the environment, and the content of learning.”

— Herbert Kohl, author of more than forty books,

including “I Won’t Learn from You”  and 36 Children

“We would never think of the bonding of a newborn with parents as a unilateral experience, yet, as so clearly illuminated in The Teaching Brain, we’ve been complacent in failing to identify the profound interactions between the teaching and the learning brains. As the authors identify the dynamic, interactive system created by both student and teacher, a gap is filled in the neuroscience and cognitive science of learning. This book provides valuable guidance on generating a synchronous flow in the classroom.”

— Judy Willis, Neurologist, Teacher,

and author of How Your Child Learns Best

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