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Teaching Brain Research

Advancing the Science of Teachers as Learners

Children in Science Class


For details on professional development, invited talks, scientific presentations and media coverage see CV.
1 / Awareness of Interaction

Rodriguez, V., & Solis, S. L. (2013). Teachers' awareness of the learner-teacher interaction: Preliminary communication of a study investigating the teaching brain. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(3), 161-169. DOI: 10.1111/mbe.12023

2 / Teaching Brain Framework

Rodriguez, V. (2013). The potential of systems thinking in teacher reform as theorized for the teaching brain framework. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(2), 77-85. DOI: 10.1111/mbe.12013

3 / Framework for Teaching & Teaching Brain

Rodriguez, V. (2013b). The human nervous system: A framework for teaching and the teaching brain. Mind, Brain, and Education, 7(1), 2-12. DOI:

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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Dr. Bryan Mascio
Founding Member

​Dr. Mascio is committed to understanding the complex, dynamic system of teaching through cognitive approaches, in order to further effective teacher education efforts. A veteran teacher in alternative school settings, he taught science and humanities, and created innovative international learning opportunities for students. As an adjunct instructor, he also spearheaded a transition program to increase access to resources and success for first-generation college students. He earned his doctorate in the Human Development and Education concentration at Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is now a professor at the University of New Hampshire. 

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Dr. Lynneth Solis
Founding Member

Formerly, Dr. Solis supported the Teaching Brain team with her knowledge of developmental cognitive research and qualitative methods to understand the complex phenomenon of teaching. She is a graduate of the Mind, Brain, and Education Ed.M and Human Development and Education doctoral program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Her research focuses on conceptual development: the cognitive processes that lead students to evermore complex conceptions of phenomena in the world. She also conducts research for the Understandings of Consequence Lab that explores how students learn and understand complex causal models in science education. 


Dr. Chen

Founding Member

Dr. Chen helped the Teaching Brain team develop novel ways to understand and analyze how the skill of teaching develops. As a Doctoral Student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, he utilized behavioral and cognitive neuro-scientific methods to explore his four-part research agenda: 1) Metaphor, Model and Mind, 2) Reading Ability and Difficulty, 3) Math Cognition, and 4) From Governing A Classroom to Parenting A Country

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Dr. Laura Edwards
Founding Member

Formerly, Laura supported the Teaching Brain team with her enthusiasm and expertise in neuroscience and neuro-imaging. Her research has focused primarily on how children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) learn, at neural and behavioral levels. Specifically, she has used fNIRS neuro-imaging techniques to measure brain activity, along with eye tracking and behavioral measures, to explore what neuro-typical and neuro-diverse children may be learning through imitation.

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Research Assistant

Shana DeVlieger (she/her) is a former public elementary school teacher. She  specializes in critical qualitative research and utilizes critical whiteness studies and developmental frameworks with the aim of promoting teacher wellbeing, equitable teaching practice, and empowering teacher-child relationships. She earned her MAT from the University of Southern California, her EdM from Harvard University, and is currently a PhD candidate at NYU Steinhardt.

Looking Back

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