Expert on brain development visits Minnetonka School District

Dr. Dave Walsh. (Submitted photo)
Dr. Dave Walsh. (Submitted photo)

Parents and educators in the Minnetonka School District will have an opportunity for insight on how to maximize the potential of kid’s learning.

Dr. Dave Walsh will visit the Minnetonka School District March 12 to address how behaviors and brain function relate to student success. Walsh is making his third appearance to the district through Tonka Cares, the coalition to help reduce the use of illegal substances.

Tonka Cares Director Imogen Davis says Walsh’ knowledge is something many parents would find informative.

“For many who are parents, looking back, the world has changed and the understanding of development has changed,” she said. “You can’t rely on common sense wisdom passed down, not fully at least.”

Because the discussion is comprehensive, Davis says parents with kids of all ages should be able to take something useful away.

“From Tonka Cares’ perspective, recent research tells us overall healthy development is a protective factor to help curb drug and alcohol initiation,” Davis said. “Because he speaks to such a broad audience, the topics are good for all.”

She says it’s a good idea to start thinking about all of these factors when kids are young, such as setting limits and responding in ways that are appropriate for development.

“As a district and coalition, when we work together it’s easier to do the right thing,” Davis said. “It gives the opportunity to develop common language around brain development.”

The full day of events will include meeting with parents of young kids, a panel discussion luncheon and an evening presentation to parents of kids all ages at the high school.

Because more research has come out on brain development, understanding it and applying it to today’s students is crucial for their success.

“The last 15 years or so in my career really focused on connecting the dots between new discoveries in the brain with practical applications for educators and parents,” Walsh said.

The discussion for younger kids is how to better address what’s been researched to help kids better succeed in school, he said.

“Both teaching and parenting are, of course, arts,” Walsh said. “They always have been and always will be.”

Walsh says science can help inform those arts with the latest discoveries relating to brain development. The importance of sleep, nutrition and exercise play a larger role in the success of learning than many might think.

“It’s actually during sleep the brain consolidates its learning,” Walsh said. “Adequate sleep becomes important for brain function, as do nutrition and exercise.”

Citing this generation to be the first sedentary generation since World War II, the executive functions such as paying attention, concentration and screening distractions have become more important. Also, the ability to manage emotional impulses and urges has come to the forefront in the ability to learn he says.

“Those are actually more important for student’s success in school than intelligence,” Walsh said.

Self-discipline he says is twice as strong as a predictor of school success than intelligence. As technology becomes a part of child’s life, the ability to learn in a world of distraction is something that needs to be harnessed Walsh said.

The use of technology has made obtaining information easier for kids, although it can have detrimental effects when not used properly.

“If not careful, it can create a whole generation of distracted kids,” Walsh said.

The challenges today are very different than the challenges of generations in the past. The way to figure out how to use technology and not get used by technology is a fine line.

“That’s a very delicate and important balance,” Walsh said. “There is a set of challenges for 21st century parents that parents of previous generations didn’t really have to deal with.”

Being that whatever the brain does a lot of the brain gets good at, making sure the brain is used in the right capacity is key he says.

“For many kids, what’s missing is balance, and that’s what it’s all about,” Walsh said.

For more information, visit The night presentation will also be filmed and broadcasted on the district’s website at a later date.

Contact Chris Dillmann at [email protected]