Wednesday, July 18, 2018

BrainSMART In Bhutan

The leaders and citizens of the country of Bhutan, located in the Himalayas, are a thoughtful and intentional people and have shown it by making happiness a priority for every citizen.

As strong advocates for well-being, we are delighted to see that educators there are using our article, “Strategies for Strengthening the Brain’s Executive Functions,” which describes how to guide students on how to further develop the awareness and directive capacities of the mind.

An apparent national interest in continuously improving student thinking, alongside a focus on happiness, should be a formula for continued success and well-being.

Below is a review of five elements of our approach described in the article in the context of how I understand Bhutan’s intentions based on reading the website links toward the end of this article.

  1. Introduce the concept of executive functions and refer to these learning tools explicitly and often. Define executive functioning, and lead discussions on how being aware of their thinking and taking control of their learning can help students achieve greater, happiness, well-being, and success in school and other aspects of their lives. A key message is that using executive functions often and effectively doesn't just happen—we all have to work toward developing these abilities. Apply metaphors of executive functioning (the brain’s conductor or air traffic controller, for example), and invite students to share examples of how they can use executive functioning in their lessons and activities outside of school. How do adults use executive functioning in order to remain in balance? How do adults use executive functioning in their jobs? How do the actions of characters in stories demonstrate executive functioning?
  2. Provide student-centered opportunities to put executive functioning to work. Include students in setting learning goals for lessons, and let them choose their own books for independent reading and subjects for classroom projects. Giving students choices enhances motivation and enjoyment by giving them a chance to think about subjects that interest them and also underscores that they are in charge of their learning.
  3. Be the "prefrontal cortex" for your class. Articulate and model effective thinking practices. For example, clearly state your intent for a learning activity and demonstrate the steps of planning, carrying out, and assessing the outcomes of the activity. Identify upfront any thorny problems and tough spots in new lesson content, and talk through possible strategies for identifying and overcoming any learning difficulties that arise. Use cues to remind students when activating their executive functions might be useful.
  4. Catch students using executive functions effectively. Congratulate students who recognize and correct mistakes to emphasize that mistakes are prime learning opportunities. Recognize not just the finished product, but also the hard work and the steps of planning and execution that students accomplished in completing a big project. Especially celebrate the successes of students who've struggled with taking charge of their learning in the past.
  5. Clearly state classroom rules that support positive, joyful, and productive learning interactions. A well-organized environment with predictable rules allows students to more easily focus on the learning tasks at hand. In 1972, several decades before the now popular field of positive psychology was conceived, under the leadership of King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the idea of creating a happy country was envisaged. Since then, the kingdom of Bhutan, aided by the support of the UN Development Program [UNDP], began to put this concept into practice and has attracted the attention of the world with its new formula to measure the progress of a community or nation.
The government of Bhutan has now created a practical Gross National Happiness [GNH] indicator that is based on the concept elaborated in the country in 1972. “The Gross National Happiness indicator is based on the premise that the calculation of ‘wealth’ should consider other aspects besides economic development: the preservation of the environment, and the quality of life of the people. The goal of a society should be the integration of material development with psychological, cultural, and spiritual aspects—all in harmony with the Earth.

The Bhutan 21 Century Teaching Blog articulates Four Pillars of GNH as follows:
  • the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development;
  • the preservation and promotion of cultural values;
  • the conservation of the natural environment; and
  • the establishment of good governance

The above information is from the Bhutan 21Century Teaching Blog site. To visit, go to the following page:

Bhutan is the only country in the world with a GNH. The process of measuring happiness began when the country opened its doors to globalization. The indicator measures the people’s quality of life and ensures that spiritual and material development occur together.

According to The One World Education Organization, Bhutan has done an amazing job of finding the balance! The country has continually been ranked as the happiest country in Asia, and the eighth happiest country in the world, according to Business Week.

In 2008, in Bhutan’s first democratic election, 28-year-old Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was elected president. He now helps Bhutan perfect the balance between maintaining cultural values and traditions while increasing their economy. This plus a focus on happiness should ensure a bright future for Bhutan.

To read more about beautiful and happy Bhutan, see the One World Education page at the following site:

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