Deputy Head's Blog: The Teenage Brain

Last week, we managed to avoid the worst of the heavy snow that had inconvenienced most of the UK. On Wednesday evening we held our Options evening for our Senior 3 Pupils and Parents.

Following on from the excellent Academic and Careers presentations from Mrs Lancaster and Mrs Gallagher (Morrisby Careers), I concluded with a brief overview of the Pastoral framework at Cransley School.

I referenced an element of Neurology that impacts upon the development of the teenage brain. Namely, neurones at the frontal cortex area of the brain and the limbic system. As a Pastoral practitioner, it is quite useful to have an understanding of the cause of occasional erratic and challenging behaviour from our pupils!  

I remember vividly two extremely important pieces of advice that were handed to me many years ago at the beginning of my pastoral journey:

1.     Be prepared to be let down – but don’t take it personally!

2.     There are times when, to be fair, you need to be inconsistent!

Such advice correlates with the development of the teenage brain!

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, a Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience provides an excellent editorial in the latest edition of the Chartered College of Teaching’s journal ‘Impact’ that served to expand further upon this extremely important subject.

Professor Blakemore states that Education changes the brain. Every time we learn a new fact, a new name or a new face, something in our brain will change!

In Professor Blakemore’s lab, she has undertaken a 15 year in depth study of adolescence that has resulted in the publication of her new book: ‘Inventing Ourselves’, due for release on 22nd March.  

Brain imaging studies, in which children and adolescents are scanned in MRI scanners every two years, have shown that the brain undergoes protracted and substantial change during adolescence. Behaviours such as risk taking, decision making and learning all change during adolescence.

I have often used Socrates’ description of the adolescent age group:

“The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise”! (Socrates: 469-399 BC).

Or how about this quote:

“The World is passing through troubled times.

The young people of today think of nothing but themselves.

They have no reverence for parents or old age;

They are impatient of all restraint;

They talk as if they knew everything;

And what passes for wisdom with us, is foolishness to them.

As for the girls, they are immodest and unwomanly in speech, behaviour and dress.”

(Peter the Monk, 1274).

Unfortunately for Socrates and Peter the Monk, they did not have the benefit of MRI scanners to assist with making sense of adolescent behaviour!

Professor Blakemore claims that adolescence is a formative period of life, when the brain is changing in important ways, when neural pathways are malleable, and passion and creativity run high. We should understand this period of life, nurture it – and celebrate it!

I find it remarkable that, despite the challenges that adolescence presents to our pupils, they remain capable of producing such wonderful works of art, high quality academic content, sporting prowess, musical and dramatical talents.

I do hope that you can join us for the performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream, on Friday 16th March, when such pupil talents will be showcased for all to see!