Project on Innovation: Mariale Hardiman

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When Mariale Hardiman, Professor of Clinical Education and Co-Founder/Director of the School of Education’s Neuro-Education Initiative, began teaching children with disabilities in the Baltimore school system, she was struck by what seems to be an obvious fact: Teachers were given little information about how children acquire, retain, and apply knowledge. At the same time as Hardiman’s teaching experience grew, she began to study the remarkable evidence being accrued in the fields of neuroscience, cognitive science and psychology on how individuals learn. She decided then and there that the emphasis in education must include information from the learning sciences. Thus, the idea of Brain-Targeted Teaching was born.
 
Professor Hardiman came to Johns Hopkins after a thirty year career in the public school system of Baltimore, where she served in a wide capacity of roles and most notably as Principal of the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. It was here that she began to implement the innovations in teaching approaches that were new to educators and often treated with a bit of ambivalence by the education community. But slowly, year after year, her methods began to gain a foothold amongst the teachers, even those initially put off by her approaches. One particularly resistant teacher wrote a letter to Hardiman shortly after she left Roland Park, where he wrote “When you first came to this school you brought so many ideas and changes that I was wary. But now I see how much more we’ve done here than other teachers have elsewhere. I cherish every innovation you’ve brought to the school.” Throughout her tenure as Principal, Roland Park Elementary/Middle School transitioned from a school that was potentially at risk for being shut down to a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence and a model for other Baltimore schools.
 
When she joined the School of Education, her talents were noted rather quickly by the Dean at the time, who appointed her as Assistant Dean and gave her the support and freedom she needed to implement her ideas at the university level. She then met Susan Magsamen, a valued thinker and innovator in the field of informal education. Together, Hardiman and Magsamen co-founded the School of Education’s Neuro-Education Initiative, which was an ambitious effort to bridge together numerous efforts across Johns Hopkins University linking the growing understanding of the brain to education. Through the Neuro-Education Initiative, Hardiman and Magsamen launched a series of annual groundbreaking summit meetings that brought together educators, scientists and researchers from numerous disciplines. Each successive summit built upon the previous ones and became a highlight for teachers throughout the state of Maryland and laid the foundation for the Johns Hopkins University’s Science of Learning Initiative.
 
Hardiman continues to pursue her work both locally at the public school level and internationally through research, publications, lectures, symposia and workshops. She receives feedback from teachers that simply claim, “I’ll never go back to those old practices.” Although she has watched 
with amazement as her Brain-Targeted Teaching model has been implemented around the world, she sees this really as just a beginning. She envisions a time when teaching is viewed as something of a clinical science, similar to medicine—with teachers utilizing the best available scientific evidence to inform how they transform the minds of young children and students.
 
“My hope in the years to come,” Hardiman states, “Is that the field of neuro-education is seamless. That we have a new generation of neuro-educators who are deeply trained in science and yet also understand the context of schools.” This transition won’t be easy, she admits, but “a little messy”, something that she hopes won’t be a major deterrent to change. Hardiman views her role as Professor of Clinical Education at Johns Hopkins as critical to her mission of innovation in education, while also remaining mindful of her roots in the Baltimore’s public school system. “I feel really honored to be able to be here at Johns Hopkins to offer teachers knowledge that is solidly grounded in science and yet helps them to be better teachers.”