Education Canada Magazine

EdCan Network, Promising Practices

The Signal: Understanding neuroplasticity

A Slew of Signal


Neuroscience evidence now proves that our brains are malleable, constantly creating new neural pathways and disrupting others. This means, in essence, that the pathways to create the patterns that we use to make decisions, which affect our learning behaviours, can be influenced by our teaching strategies.

So what?

This signal has the potential to be a serious game changer in education. The growing understanding of the neuroplasticity of the brain will have a tremendous impact on our ability to teach students and ultimately on student learning.

In my 27 years in education, it has been my observation that previous initiatives aimed at optimizing student learning, although well intended, were rarely successful. Until recently, the neurological science to support why a learning directive should be effective has not been available. With MRI diagnostic information, we are now able to have a clearer and more accurate understanding of how we learn, both physiologically and psychologically, and neuroscience is at the forefront of this revolution.

It is critically important for educators to understand the concept and implications of neuroplasticity, and how it can influence our teaching and the learning environment we provide for our students. We, and our students, need to view our brains as a muscle – one that, when exposed to the right environment, gets stronger. A growth mindset is our belief that intelligence can be developed, and that we, as educators, need to adopt the right strategies, effort and modeling to effectively assist students to learn and adapt.

Now what?

As school leaders, we need to ask ourselves, “What would the outcome be for our students if we developed a growth mindset with our staff?”

Research indicates a number of ways to promote a growth mindset:

• Model a growth mindset via professional development opportunities.

• Create a culture where failure is viewed as a learning opportunity, and where people feel safe to challenge themselves.

• Advance the importance of self-reflection and provide consistent opportunities to do so.

• Design a feedback system that is formative and responsive for staff, in which staff are active participants.

Developing a growth mindset is a long journey that requires sustained attention and focus. The desired outcome for our students – that they become more resilient, more intelligent and more prepared for effort – is a goal worth caring about.


Participant reflections on signals of change

Participants at the 2016 EdCan Network Regional Exchanges discussed more signals of change than we could possibly cover — but we wanted to share a sense of their range and significance. We invited a number of participants to write a short piece reflecting on one of the signals they brought to the Exchange.


Discover more signals at:


We want to know what you think. Join the conversation @EdCanPub #EdCan!

Photos: Max Cooke and Yolande Nantel

First published in Education Canada, March 2018

Meet the Expert(s)


Tim Fafard

Principal, St. Gregory Catholic School

Tim Fafard is the principal of St. Gregory Catholic School in Hinton, Alta. An elementary teacher for over 27 years and a school administrator for the past 13, Tim has a passion for lifelong learning and his focus is on building best practices through a collaborative learning process with staff and students.

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