Faculty Spotlight: Renna Wolfe, Ph.D.
By marketing and communications
Upper School science educator Dr. Wolfe implements her studies of the brain into her teaching methods.
Before she considered a career in education, Renna Wolfe, Ph.D., studied neuroplasticity, the science of how the brain changes and adapts to learn new information. “I’ve always been very interested in how humans learn. That’s been the core of my deepest passions,” says Dr. Wolfe. “I’ve pursued the subject from a scientific angle, and now I pursue it as an educator.”
Dr. Wolfe teaches AP Biology at LJCDS. While a typical school year consists of classes and labs, her class was in the fortunate position of having finished covering the content required by the AP exam before the coronavirus-related school closure. So, Wolfe and her students spend their e-learning time together devoted to reviewing AP exam content. “It will position them to do really well on the exam,” she shares. “It’s been a lot of taking practice tests and solving problems online together.”
While Dr. Wolfe’s exploration of the intricacies of human learning has put her in a unique position to successfully alter her teaching methods for maximum impact during a pandemic, it is her passion for the social-emotional aspects of learning that illustrate her truly holistic approach to teaching.
For over a year, Dr. Wolfe has been dedicated to investigating the social-emotional side of learning. She’s researched the science of empathy, gratitude and compassion. “There is a host of social-emotional skills that have a huge influence on learning,” explains Dr. Wolfe. “For example, stress is a tremendous barrier to learning. Childhood used to be more sheltered from that stress. But in today’s world, kids have access to more information than ever before, and that puts an enormous amount of stress on them. That stress and anxiety manifest itself at school, and kids are sometimes more likely to open up to teachers than at home.”
Dr. Wolfe believes that schools should have more consideration for the social-emotional aspects of life and has given talks on the science of empathy, happiness and stress to LJCDS’s leadership and wellness teams. “Understanding how these social-emotional factors impact one’s ability to learn and thrive and grow is so important,” says Dr. Wolfe. “I see few things as more important than that.”
Dr. Wolfe also sees her work as an appropriate complement to the school’s core value of dignity. She’s taken the research she’s done in the fields of wellbeing, empathy and stress and tried to connect it to the dignity model. “I’ve worked hard to pull that model into the social-emotional science I’m working on,” says Dr. Wolfe. “And I am working to live up to the dignity model myself and want to be an example of how to educate people about the dignity model from a scientific perspective.”