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Teaching with the Brain and Heart in Mind: Caitlin Vanderberg, MBE'21

The Intellectual Contribution Award recipient for Mind, Brain, and Education reflects on her time at HGSE and looks toward the future.
MBE cohort on Zoom

Caitlin Vanderberg: "Discussions with my colleagues over the course of this year have helped me develop more questions that I am excited to explore in the future, and I am so glad to have them all to turn to as we continue learning and exploring MBE."

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Vanderberg

The Intellectual Contribution Award recognizes 12 Ed.M. students (one from each Ed.M. program) whose dedication to scholarship enhanced HGSE’s academic community and positively affected fellow students. Yesenia Perez will be honored with the Intellectual Contribution Award for Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE) at HGSE's Virtual Commencement on May 27.

Lecturer Ola Ozernov-Palchik, faculty director of MBE, comments on Vanderberg's selection: “Caitlin embodies the translational promise of research to practice in Mind, Brain, and Education. Her sharp intellect and depth of observation have enriched our course discussions and offered a novel perspective on the particular research topics or methods being discussed. Caitlin’s classroom experience and passion for research-to-classroom translation anchored discussions of theory and methods firmly in implications for improving educational outcomes for children. Caitlin has further enriched the experience of her classmates by inviting an alumnus speaker who works at integrating findings from neuroscience and psychology into her school district. Caitlin's classmates commented on her leadership in their group projects and her ability to create an intellectually stimulating and encouraging environment that is inclusive and respectful of everyone's ideas and perspectives. I am confident that Caitlin will make an impactful contribution to the field of MBE!”

We spoke to Vanderberg about her time at HGSE, her future plans, and how the pandemic has changed the education landscape:

What does this photo mean to you?  

This group picture was taken at our last MBE Seminar. It was such a privilege to learn from and with my MBE colleagues this year; they are an incredible group of people who shared their various experiences in education, psychology, neuroscience, lab research, and more. We gathered for our seminar twice a month, and I appreciated having that space to connect with my classmates and discuss the methods used to investigate questions related to MBE. I came to the MBE program wanting to dive deeply into how people learn from many perspectives, and I am leaving this program with many answers. At the same time, discussions with my colleagues over the course of this year have helped me develop more questions that I am excited to explore in the future, and I am so glad to have them all to turn to as we continue learning and exploring MBE.

In this year of remote learning, what were some of the ways you were able to connect with your peers?

One of the silver linings of being online this year was the ability to connect closely with colleagues from across the world. I feel that it helped push me to think more globally and consider how a certain curriculum or intervention would work in contexts other than my own. Early on in the fall semester, I realized I had small pockets of time open in my schedule that would have normally been occupied by commuting and other logistical matters that do not exist in quite the same way in the online world. Therefore, I was able to tune into more lectures and events, which was incredibly enriching. In a year when spontaneous interactions with classmates were lacking, there was something so joyful about unexpectedly “running into” a friend at an online event.

Is there any professor or class that significantly shaped your experience at the Ed School?

When I think back on the most effective instructors and transformational educational experiences from my time at the Ed School, Tina Blythe and Paola Uccelli and their courses come to mind. Paola Uccelli’s course H811H (Reading to Learn: Socialization, Language, and Deep Comprehension) helped me understand that reading comprehension is an incredibly nuanced process. It is both a deeply cognitive and sociocultural phenomenon that depends on the discourses and social languages with which students are familiar. In Tina Blythe’s courses T010Q (Visible Thinking: Research and Practice) and T010R (A Pedagogy of Listening: Exploring the Reggio Emilia Approach and Other Learner-Centered Practices), we were encouraged to think about our students’ experiences and also our own experience as teachers and learners. She challenged us to think about the learning goals we have set for our students. Are they lifeworthy learning goals? Are our students learning how to ask the right questions? How can we document our learners’ thinking processes and make them visible? These are questions that I am holding onto.

"I am so grateful to have assumed the role of student this year because it enabled me to understand (and learn to prevent) some of the barriers that are present in the online learning environment. This year also helped me realize how easy it is to overlook the many processes that have become automatic for us that our learners may be engaging in for the first time; there’s beauty in stepping into a new role and being a beginner again."

What are your post-HGSE plans?

After graduation I will be working at an incredible organization called the Research Institute for Learning and Development (ResearchILD). As a SMARTS Program Associate, I will be supporting various projects and programs related to their executive function strategy curriculum, SMARTS. I will also be working one-on-one with students at ResearchILD’s sister organization, the Institute for Learning and Development (ILD). I have been interning at ResearchILD since September, so I am thrilled to continue the projects I have started this year!

What is something that you learned this year that you will take with you throughout your career in education?

I am so grateful to have assumed the role of student this year because it enabled me to understand (and learn to prevent) some of the barriers that are present in the online learning environment. This year also helped me realize how easy it is to overlook the many processes that have become automatic for us that our learners may be engaging in for the first time; there’s beauty in stepping into a new role and being a beginner again. I’ve learned to offer my future learners more time: time to process, time to think, and time to explore. I also see the importance of developing strategic, goal-directed learners who make choices about how they learn best.

How has the pandemic shifted your views of education? 

The pandemic has reframed my understanding of how closely intertwined the cognitive and affective elements of learning truly are. As has been made so clear this year, schools are places where so much more than just academic learning happens. While social-emotional learning curricula are sometimes viewed as separate from academic curricula, all types of learning happen in real time in small moments each day that shape students’ self-efficacy and self-esteem. This year I have come to understand the importance of teaching with the brain (making evidence-based pedagogical choices) and the heart (teaching with empathy) in mind.