AEC speakers: Cultivating minds and mindful habits provides the key to success
In front of a full house in San Francisco, 2018 Annual Education Conference and Trade Show General Session keynote speakers Charles Duhigg and Ruha Benjamin spoke to the importance of innovation, creativity, and cultivating social and personal awareness as key steps for overcoming long-standing barriers to educational attainment.
“Learn to think more deeply … make more conscious, deliberate choices,” Duhigg said in his Nov. 29 talk. “Pick and choose what matters most.”

Duhigg — an award-winning journalist and author of the bestselling book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business — illustrated his point by telling the story of a Qantas Airways pilot whose passenger plane suddenly went haywire in midair.

Although the pilot’s electronic instruments ceased to function, he remained calm and recalled his training. In training, the pilot had been taught to overcome stressful situations by imagining himself in a more familiar, comfortable environment. In the cockpit, with the instruments shutting down due to malfunctions in the plane’s engine, the pilot used this technique to recall how he first learned to fly in a small plane using manual controls. The method allowed him to calmly picture himself piloting a Cessna once again, as he landed the jumbo jet safely.

“We are living in and continue to live in a world that is uncertain,” Duhigg said, applying the anecdote more broadly. “Students will not know the answers, but we can teach them habits to remain under control and prepare them to succeed.”

Ruha Benjamin, a professor of African American studies at Princeton University and widely-published expert on issues of innovation, equity, health and justice, similarly stressed the importance of developing empowered minds.

“Human beings are pattern makers,” Benjamin said in her Nov. 30 talk at the Moscone West Convention Center. “We don’t have to inherit what people have done in the past.”

As part of her remarks, Benjamin discussed a long arc of racial and institutional prejudice such as segregated, underfunded schools and discriminatory housing practices that have left some student groups perpetually behind their peers. (The latest standardized tests scores for California’s students, for example, show a stubborn achievement gap with fewer than half of African-American and Latino students tested meeting or exceeding standards in English and math.)

Despite such daunting gaps, Benjamin said there is still room for progress and opportunity for schools to use a more inclusive approach to help create lasting change.

“We need a deeper form of social literacy … it’s about thinking how we are all in this together,” Benjamin said. “So, my question is: If we can grow cardiac cells in a Petri dish, then why can’t we grow empathy for other human beings?”