George Lucas Educational Foundation

Donna Wilson

International Speaker, Psychologist, and Author of 20 Books on Bridging Brain Science and Psychology to Educational Practice

For more than two decades, Dr. Donna Wilson has been a pioneer in bridging brain science and psychology to educational practice. She co-developed the world’s first Master of Science and Educational Specialist degrees in Brain-Based Teaching and Instructional Leadership (BrainSMART Programs), as well as the first Doctoral Minor in Brain-Based Leadership in partnership with Nova Southeastern University (NSU). Impact studies suggest that graduates effectively apply what they have learned in these programs in ways that increase student learning. Graduates from these innovative programs are supporting greater student learning in 47 U.S. states, Canada, Japan, South Korea, China, United Arab Emirates, Bermuda, Malaysia, Vietnam, Guam, France, and Germany. 

Dr. Wilson has co-authored 20 books and over 100 articles, book chapters, and blog postings. Recent book titles include Introduction to BrainSMART Teaching (Hawker-Brownlow Education, 2018), Teaching Students to Drive Their Brains (ASCD, 2016), Smarter Teacher Leadership (Teachers College Press, 2016), Positively Smarter (Wiley, 2015), Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching (Teachers College Press, 2013), and Flourishing in the First Five Years (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013). 

In 35 U.S. states and at sites around the world, Dr. Wilson has led professional development for more than 60,000 educators and has presented at conferences with the Singapore Teachers’ Union, Jamaica Teachers’ Union, The Feuerstein Institute, Jerusalem, Israel, Hawker Brownlow Education (Australia), University of Cambridge (Implementation Science Conference), Leiden University, United Arab Emirates, American Educational Research Association, International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology, American Association for Colleges of Teacher Education, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of Federal Education Program Administrators, Title I, Center on Enhancing Early Learning Outcomes, Nova Southeastern University Conference on Global Leadership, Learning, and Research, ASCD, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of Secondary School Principals, Learning Forward, and many others. 

For the past 20 years, Dr. Wilson has served as president and head of academic affairs for BrainSMART Inc. She has held the same positions for the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention (CIEP), a not-for-profit institution, for the past 10 years. Dr. Wilson serves as advisor to New York City’s Portfolio School and on the foundation of Carl Albert State College in Oklahoma. She also acts as co-chair of the Learning Environments Special Interest Group with the American Educational Research Association and has formerly been an assessor on the national Blue-Ribbon Schools of Excellence team. 

Donna Wilson’s Early Career and Pioneering Leadership
Dr. Wilson began her career as a classroom teacher in Oklahoma and realized many of her students were not benefiting from standard teaching practice. Looking for solutions, she became a school psychologist with an interest in school neuropsychology and emerging understandings in the learning sciences. Dr. Wilson conducted hundreds of diagnostic assessments and discovered that the majority of students had the potential to be achieving more academically, but had not been taught the dispositions and skills they needed to do so. She then returned to the classroom to conduct action research and teach, with a focus on taking current research from psychology and brain science to classroom practice. This pioneering work, prior to the RTI movement when school psychologists became more involved with intervention planning, represented a dramatic departure from the typical focus of school psychology on assessment. Positive response to her work on classroom interventions prompted Dr. Wilson to seek out opportunities to share the implications of research in brain science and psychology to improve teaching and support student learning with educators and with community agencies that support students. 

The positive impact of her leadership as a school psychologist resulted in Dr. Wilson’s nomination by colleagues for participation in Young Leadership Oklahoma; Norman Social Service Coordinating Council, Member for Departments of Health, Mental Health, and Education; Norman Advisory Committee on Teen Pregnancy; Norman Chamber of Commerce Young Adult Leadership; Norman Project Outreach Respite Care Program, President and Board of Directors; Oklahoma United Cerebral Palsy Board of Directors; Oklahoma House of Representatives Subcommittee on At-Risk Education; Oklahoma House of Representatives Subcommittee on Afro-American students in Oklahoma; Outstanding Young Woman in America; and Norman Professional Educators Liaison to State of Oklahoma Legislature on Policy Issues.

Prior to co-founding BrainSMART, Inc., Dr. Wilson began her career as a teacher educator in the Georgia University System. In her first year as an associate professor, she received a prestigious presidential appointment to represent the university on the Georgia University Chancellor's Committee for P16 Education and received a major BellSouth grant to create a new structure for teacher induction into the education profession. 

Dr. Wilson’s work on behalf of students put at-risk melded well with the social justice mission of Jesuit education. After receiving an appointment as Associate Professor and Faculty Chair of Education at the University of Detroit Mercy, Dr. Wilson continued her pioneering work by leading faculty to develop the first field-based Master of Science degree that had as focus the theory of mediated learning, cognition, and other works of Reuven Feuerstein. While at the university, she conducted post-doctoral study with Professor Feuerstein, founder of the prestigious Feuerstein Institute in Jerusalem. Her pioneering work in Detroit earned Dr. Wilson the Michigan Association of Mediated Learning award as outstanding mediator of Feuerstein’s work in the state during 1997. Dr. Wilson’s colleagues in Detroit nominated her to represent the university in the Leadership Detroit initiative, where she worked to generate interest in transformational education that aims to teach students how to better learn independently.

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  • Brain-Based Learning

    Positive Brains Are Smarter Brains

    Optimism and pessimism are somewhat predetermined by genetics, but we can influence positive outcomes by helping students take charge of their thoughts, feelings, and brain chemistry.
  • School Climate

    Unleashing the Power of Positivity in Your School

    Enhance your practical optimism through focusing on the upside, gratitude, small acts of kindness, emotional mindfulness, brain and body exercise, and positive surroundings.
  • Education Trends

    Transform Teaching With the Diffusion of Innovation

    You can bring innovation to your school by identifying and engaging the early adopters who share your excitement about new tools and practices.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Metacognition: The Gift That Keeps Giving

    By teaching students to "drive their own brain" through metacognition, we provide a concrete way to guide them think about how they can best learn.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Training the Brain to Listen: A Practical Strategy for Student Learning and Classroom Management

    Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers, brain-based teaching program developers and authors, explain how the brain processes auditory information and introduce the HEAR strategy as a way to help students develop their listening skills.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Strategies for Strengthening the Brain’s Executive Functions

    Introduce students to the concept of executive functions, put it to work, referring frequently to these learning tools in positive, productive classroom interactions.
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    Move Your Body, Grow Your Brain

    Incorporating exercise and movement throughout the school day makes students less fidgety and more focused on learning.
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    Strategies for Getting and Keeping the Brain’s Attention

    Holding students' attention is about activating the right neural network. Strategies include recognizing how focus feels, giving incentives, and adjusting the pace of your teaching.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Brain Movies: When Readers Can Picture It, They Understand It

    Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers, brain-based teaching program developers and authors, encourage us to boost students' reading retention by training them to visualize meaning as well as paying attention to the words themselves.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Engaging Brains: How to Enhance Learning by Teaching Kids About Neuroplasticity

    Donna Wilson and Marcus Conyers, brain-based teaching program developers and authors, share the exciting possibilities for improving student learning by teaching young people about how their brains learn.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Put Working Memory to Work in Learning

    Strengthen your students' conscious processing of information with techniques like repetition, gamification, visualization, emphasizing relevance, and peer teaching.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Cultivating Practical Optimism: A Key to Getting the Best from Your Brain

    Increase the likelihood of successful results in your students by cultivating an attitude about life that relies on taking realistic, positive action.
  • Brain-Based Learning

    Inspiring Progress Toward Learning Goals

    By teaching students to monitor their thinking during learning by setting goals, applying strategies, reflecting, and adjusting, teachers will help them improve their learning ability.