Donna Wilson

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Donna Wilson (photo by Mary Collington)

Donna Wilson, PhD, is an educational and school psychologist, teacher educator and professional developer, and author of 20 books applying mind, brain, and education science. Recent works include Positively Smarter: Science and Strategies to Increase Happiness, Achievement, and Well-Being (Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), Five Big Ideas for Effective Teaching: Connecting Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Classroom Practice (Teachers College Press, 2013), and Flourishing in the First Five Years: Connecting Implications from Mind, Brain, and Education Research to the Development of Young Children (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013). Wilson presents at educational conferences in the United States and internationally and blogs regularly on Edutopia. She is the head of academic affairs of the Center for Innovative Education and Prevention (CIEP) and BrainSMART.

Wilson completed her postdoctoral studies in structural cognitive modifiability prior to developing a graduate program putting cognitive research into practice while she served as chair of education at the University of Detroit Mercy. As a former classroom teacher, Wilson’s professional focus is on empowering educators with opportunities for learning how to align teaching practices with current research about how students learn. She was lead developer of the Master of Science and Educational Specialist degree programs with a major in Brain-Based Teaching and the doctoral minor degree in Brain-Based Leadership with the Abraham S. Fischler School of Education at Nova Southeastern University.


From the beginning of her career as an elementary school teacher and school psychologist to her current work in teacher education, Wilson has advocated for empowering educators with the knowledge and skills they need to teach children in ways that they learn best so that they might achieve more of their unique potential. Her work with tens of thousands of classroom teachers is informed by a synergy of educational, cognitive, and brain research. She is codeveloper of the BrainSMART model, which offers practical strategies designed to help students maintain a healthy and optimistic state for learning, to make lessons meaningful, to maintain students’ focus and attention on learning, to retain what they have learned, and to transfer and demonstrate their new knowledge in assessments and real-life applications.[1] She also codeveloped Thinking for Results, a process for equipping students with the cognitive tools they need to actualize their learning potential.[2]

Education and professional experience[edit]

Wilson earned her PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Oklahoma and is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). She also completed postdoctoral studies at the International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential with Reuven Feuerstein and Alex Kozulin.

As an assistant professor in the Psychology Department at Valdosta State University, Wilson began her university career as a teacher educator at the undergraduate level. She later chaired the Education Department at the University of Detroit Mercy, where she codeveloped a unique cohort and field-based master's degree for teachers with a focus on cognition and motivation in diverse classrooms. Wilson co-led two educational research projects: (1) the implementation of a brain-based teaching approach supported by a Challenge Grant from the Annenberg Foundation with Florida Atlantic University and (2) a three-year Florida Department of Education initiative on brain-based teaching, Scholarships for Teachers in Action Research (STAR). The effectiveness of the latter initiative led to the development of Master of Science and Educational Specialist degrees with a major in Brain-Based Teaching through Nova Southeastern University. Wilson considers brain-based teaching to be an approach to instruction that acknowledges that learning may change the structure and function of the brain[3] and that educational and cognitive research can be used to enhance classroom teaching practice.[4][5]

Membership in professional associations[edit]

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education; American Educational Research Association; Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development; International Association for Cognitive Education and Psychology; International Mind Brain and Education Society; International Reading Association; International Neuropsychological Society; National Association of School Psychologists; New York Academy of Sciences; Society for Social Neuroscience

Selected recent academic presentations[edit]

Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Annual Conference, Presentation "Active Teaching and Learning: An Introduction to BrainSMART," Orlando, Florida, 2015

Carl Albert State College, President's Leadership Class Presentation "Getting the Best from Your Brain," Poteau, Oklahoma, 2015

Jamaica Teachers Association Annual Conference, Presentation "Introduction to BrainSMART Teaching Methods," Montego Bay, Jamaica, 2015

Second Annual Roundtable for State Early Childhood Specialists "Excellence for Every Child: Improving the Quality of Teaching Birth Through Grade Three," Keynote Presentation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2014

ASCD Annual Conference, Paper Presentation "Flourishing in the First Five Years: Plasticity, Nutrition, and Movement," Los Angeles, California, 2014

Learning Forward Annual Conference, Presentation "Toward Joyful Implementation of Common Core State Standards" (with Diane Dahl), Dallas, Texas, 2013

International Association of Cognitive Education and Psychology, XIVth Biennial International Conference, Paper Presentation "Connecting Five Big Ideas from Cognitive, Brain, and Education Research to Teacher Education" (with Marcus Conyers), Leiden, The Netherlands, 2013

American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, "Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis," Paper Presentation "Exploring the Impact of a Graduate Degree Program Connecting the Implications of Mind, Brain, and Education Research to Teaching and Learning," San Francisco, California, 2013

Sixteenth Roundtable of the International Network on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, Paper Presentation "Improving Students' Health and Cognitive Skills: An Examination of the Impact of Education, Mind, and Brain Research on Teachers' Interactions with Parents," Vancouver, British Columbia, 2012

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Annual "Imagine the Impact: Providing a Learning Journey for All" Meeting, Paper Presentation (with Mary Buday) "Strengthening Teacher Effectiveness with Implications from Neuroeducation: A Qualitative Study of K-12 Teachers Focusing on Higher Needs Students," Chicago, Illinois, 2012

International Educational Organization, “The Brain in Education” Third Annual International Education Symposium, Invited Presentation “BrainSMART Strategies for Boosting Learning,” Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2011

National Association of Elementary School Principals Annual Convention, Invited Three-Day Workshop for Principals and Teacher Leaders, "BrainSMART Leading for Learning in Culturally Diverse Environments: Putting Cognitive Research into Practice," Minneapolis, Minnesota, 2011

Georgia Association of Gifted Educators and University of Georgia, “Drive Your Brain to Higher Achievement,” Athens, Georgia, 2006

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Annual Conference, “Increasing Student Achievement with BrainSMART Instruction,” Orlando, Florida, 2005

National Title I Annual Conference, “Drive Your Brain: Cognitive Tools for Increasing Student Achievement,” New Orleans, Louisiana, 2004

Learning and the Brain Conference, “Thinking for Results” and “Neuroscience and Early Childhood Education,” Boston, Massachusetts, 2002

Selected publications[edit]

Conyers, M. A., & Wilson, D. L. (2015). Positively smarter: Science and strategies for increasing happiness, achievement, and well-being. West Sussex, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Conyers, M. A., & Wilson, D. L. (2015, May). Smart moves: Powering up the brain with physical activity. Phi Delta Kappan, 96(8), 38-42. doi: 10.1177/0031721715583961

Wilson, D. L. (1995, Fall). Some thoughts on achieving equity in education. The Reporter, 14.

Wilson, D. L. (1996). The school psychologist as co-teacher: An example using the COGNET program as a means of teaching thinking skills. Journal of Cognitive Education, 5, 171–183.

Wilson, D. L. (1996). The school psychologist as co-teacher and staff developer: A shift in thinking. NASP Communique, 33–34.

Wilson, D. L. (2011). The importance of educational leadership and policy: In support of effective instruction. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED523494)

Wilson, D. L., & Bellanca, J. (1998). Mediated learning in and out of the classroom training manual. Arlington Heights, IL: SkyLight.

Wilson, D. L., & Church, S. (1993). Norman public schools three-year study of at-risk students. Research for Better Schools Teaching Thinking and Problem Solving, 15(1), 6–8.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. (2010). Courageous learners: Increasing student achievement in diverse learning communities (3rd ed.). Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. (2010). Wiring the brain to read: Higher-order thinking for reading. Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. C. (2011). BrainSMART 60 strategies for increasing student learning (4th ed.). Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. (2011). Thinking for results: Strategies for increasing student achievement by as much as 30 percent (4th ed.). Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. (2013). Five big ideas for effective teaching: Connecting mind, brain, and education research to classroom practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. (2013). Flourishing in the first five years: Connecting implications from mind, brain, and education research to the development of young children. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Education.

Wilson, D. L., & Conyers, M. A. (2014, October). The boss of my brain. Educational Leadership, 72(2). Retrieved from

Wilson, D. L., & Greenberg, K. (2000). The COGNET education model. In A. Costa (Ed.), Teaching for intelligence II. Arlington Heights, IL: SkyLight.

External links[edit]

BrainSMART, Inc. Donna Wilson, PhD


  1. ^ Wilson, D.L., & Conyers, M.A. (2011). BrainSMART 60 Strategies for Increasing Student Learning (4th ed.). Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.
  2. ^ Wilson, D.L., & Conyers, M.A. (2011). Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement by as Much as 30 Percent (4th ed.). Orlando, FL: BrainSMART.
  3. ^ Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., and Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  4. ^ Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (Eds). (2007). Understanding the brain: The birth of a learning science. Danvers, MA: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
  5. ^ Hardiman, M. M., & Denckla, M. B. (2010). The science of education: Informing teaching and learning through the brain sciences. In Cerebrum 2010: Emerging ideas in brain science. Washington, DC: Dana Press.