Monday, May 18, 2015

Your Chief Executive Officer: Taking
Charge of Your Brain

by Guest Blogger Donna Wilson

In the business world, the chief executive officer is the person responsible for the highest-level decision-making made at a corporate entity. Without a leader to guide them, the people in the organization might scatter in a variety of different directions and find themselves at cross-purposes instead of working productively together toward the same goals.

In our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement By As Much as 30 Percent, we cite the work of neuropsychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Elkhonon Goldberg (2009), who applies the metaphor of a chief executive officer to the brain’s frontal lobes. For example, he notes that
The prefrontal cortex plays the central role in forming goals and objectives and then in devising plans of action required to obtain these goals. It selects the cognitive skills required to implement the plans, coordinates these skills, and applies them in correct order. (p. 23)
Another task taken on by the prefrontal cortex involves monitoring and evaluation to determine whether goals are achieved to assess what went right and wrong in the execution of plans of action, and whether the overall effort can be considered a success.

By understanding the way our brains work, teachers can assist students in becoming more effective learners and thinkers by helping them to set learning goals, develop systematic plans, put those plans into action, and, finally, evaluate how well they have accomplished their goals. In other words, the aim should be to help students take charge of their learning by harnessing the power of their brains’ executive functions.

This is the power of metacognition, or thinking about one’s thinking, with the aim of improving learning outcomes. Goldberg suggests that these brain functions are the essence of our humanness: the ability to think and, beyond that, to observe and monitor our thinking.

By guiding students in developing these connections as they mature and become increasingly more independent, teachers can help children and teenagers become self-regulated learners across academic, social, and life contexts.


Goldberg, E. (2009). The new executive brain: Frontal lobes in a complex world. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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