Mirror Neurons and Education
Mission: Excellence in Education
by Pilar Olagaray
by Pilar Olagaray
The first time I heard about mirror neurons I was impressed. It’s really incredible how our brain works. And it is fascinating to discover the impact these neurons have in education.
Mirror neurons were initially discovered by Giacomo Rizzolatti in the early 1990’s at the University of Parma, Italy. He was scanning a monkey’s brain, when a person came in to the laboratory and opened a peanut and ate it. At that moment the neurons of the monkey lit up as if he was eating the peanut.
With mirror neurons we are connected to other people. When I observe your anger, your joy, your frustration, etc, those same neurons that activate in your brain will activate in mine, as if I were having the experience myself.
But, how can I use these amazing neurons for education?
Humans learn together and with each other, we learn by observing and repeating. When we watch someone do something we learn it better than if we read about the process. Watching someone playing the piano and repeating the action will help me to learn faster than if I just read how to do it. That’s why it is important to have a “demonstration corner” in each class so that students use their mirror neurons to learn.
But mirror neurons suggest not only demonstrations, they go deeper in education, they involve the emotions which are essential for learning. How many students have we heard they say they don’t like a subject because they actually don’t like their teacher? Teaching is influenced by mirror neurons.
As teachers we have to be aware that we are a role model. In every student I can see myself. If teachers are joyful and happy, the students will be the same. We have to be aware that our students’ mirror neurons are observing and reacting to every action, emotional expression and behavior. We have to realize that we definitively influence them physically and spiritually in the short and long run.
That is why we must have our students notice that we read and write, that we are curious and look for answers, that we read and share our reading and help others to get involved, that we are interested in difficult subjects and find them full of adventure, that we are courageous and strong, that we concentrate and participate, that we persevere until we reach the task done, that we cooperate with others and care for them, and so on. May we be aware or not, we always play a role model for them to follow.
Thus, it is relevant that we are constantly checking out our own attitude and Self. Our expressions, our moods, and the way we respond to our students, are very important to create a nice environment for learning. We can consciously use our gestures to show thoughts and feelings.
So next time we find out something is not working well in the classroom we can stop and have a look to our inner selves: how am I feeling, what am I letting them mirror? Furthermore, what am I mirroring and giving back? And, from there, learn how to flow joyfully in the learning process.