From Brain Waves to Wellbeing: Minna Huotilainen’s Insights on Educator Wellness

With expertise in both neuroscience and education, Minna Huotilainen is dedicated to improving the wellbeing of educators. As the course ‘Neuroscientific Approach to Teacher and Educator Wellbeing’ draws closer, she shares more about her career and research journey.

My background is in neuroscience. I started studying the human brain already in the early 1990s, so I have actually witnessed the growing interest towards neuroscience. When I started, neuroscience was not interesting to the general public, and the results were not really applicable. Luckily, a lot has changed; we have new ways of measuring the brain and also lots of new paradigms which we use to study everyday phenomena that are also relevant for developing work life.

My passion for my field of research sparked from my interest in hearing. I thought that it is fascinating how our auditory system is capable of automatically memorizing and learning from sounds. In the work life, the auditory system is responsible for many stress reactions, for example in working environments that contain a lot of noise. The human brain is the most amazing thing to study – with all its emotions, cognitive capabilities, and social skills.

Career highlights and challenges

When I think of the highlights of my career, of course, my own PhD thesis was an important event: I studied how the newly developed whole-head MEG device is capable of recording signals from the human brain. But the PhD theses I have supervised have taken the field much further: they have shown how important it is to understand the effects of music on learning and wellbeing.

I find it really challenging but also important to work as Professor of Educational Sciences with a background in neuroscience. My task is to deliver the latest neuroscientific knowledge to educators and teacher training professionals. I also work towards developing the work life of teachers using the understanding that stems from brain research. It is really challenging, but I think that it is also very useful for the field.

“The speed of change in society is rapid, and schools are no exception. We need to find new solutions for the wellbeing of teachers and educators.”

I believe everybody must have read articles about schools – they are all over the media all the time. The pace of change in society is rapid, and schools are no exception. We need to find new solutions for the wellbeing of teachers and educators. If teachers and educators do not flourish in their work, if they cannot learn, if they cannot develop their professional skills, if they cannot make the necessary changes that their work requires, this will be reflected in the wellbeing of the whole school, starting from the smallest pupils to the adolescent and adult learners, as well as their families. Teachers and educators are facing lots of challenges in their work, and I believe that neuroscience can provide relevant solutions.

Achieving ‘well-learning’

My research is based on a vision of a well-functioning educational system. I think that neuroscience can be very helpful in achieving ‘well-learning’, the state in which learning is supported by wellbeing, and wellbeing is supported by success in learning. From research, this suggests that it requires studies that aim at making learning easier, more effective, and solving problems related to conditions that affect learning such as dyslexia or attention deficits. It also requires studies that address wellbeing at school – everybody deserves to feel supported and safe in a learning environment. Neuroscience offers valuable insights into several practical aspects like school premises, equipment, digital tools of learning, methods of teaching, organization of the school day, physical activity during learning and during breaks, eating and nutrition, daylight and lighting at school, and so on. But neuroscience is also useful for gaining a deeper understanding of emotions, attitudes, and motivations related to learning.

About the upcoming course

I am really looking forward to the course and meeting the teaching and education professionals who will participate in the course. It will be amazing to share our research on stress, learning, emotions, and the use of music as a tool for tackling both learning and stress. It will also be interesting to share experiences on this topic amongst the participants.

Course: 10th – 12th of June 2024, Scandic Park, Helsinki, Finland

More informationCourse web page | Course registration | Last registration date: 8.5.2024


Course Leader Presentation, NIVA News