Nussbaum Discusses the Miracle of the Human Brain at AFSA Convention

Albert Einstein did not believe in God at first, but he came to believe in a higher power. The American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) convention’s first keynote speaker, Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., ABPP, studied Einstein closely and adopted as his own belief that the presence of God is what created the universe. 

“I just want to figure out how he did it,” Dr. Nussbaum said as he began his speech on the miracle of the human brain, teaching his audience how to maximize holistic education. 

Dr. Nussbaum is known for being many things—professor, scholar, speaker, expert, and the face of brain health for many companies and organizations, as he makes neuroscience tenets more accessible to the general public. He is the founder and president of Brain Health Center, Inc., which provides independent medical examinations, record reviews and case management for those with neurological and neurobehavioral disorders. 

“There is no single greater miracle on planet Earth, in this universe, or any universe, than the human brain,” Dr. Nussbaum said in his presentation. 

His belief, and what he hoped his attendees would think about, is that the human brain cannot be replaced. He asked the question, “Do you want the real thing, or something artificial?” He stressed to his audience that if artificial intelligence were to take the place of doctors or teachers, it would not be the same as the real thing. As humans, we have the ability to shape our brain, and as educators, we have the power to shape our students’ brains.

Dr. Nussbaum advised educators to do what they think is right, tune out those politicians only looking for a vote—and try to do just do what one does best, despite such sociocultural stressors as COVID-19, the politicization in the classroom, anger in our culture, television and social media hostility, and the closing of schools. 

Feelings of anxiety and depression are normal responses to the chaos of reality, he said, and it does not make those who experience these feelings in any way abnormal. When we lose control, it heightens these responses. Starting with the pandemic-related shutdowns of 2020, anxiety and depression became a national problem; he explained that this was not being talked about enough. The fault is not our own, but now that we are starting to take back control by reconnecting in person, we are beginning to heal. 

Neurologically, he also explained that students need to be with their teachers. He explained the term neuroplasticity and just how important it is, how the brain changes and adapts in response to experiences. It is no surprise that distance learning has caused children to fall behind, he said, noting that, as educators, the brains of students—now back in the classroom—lay in their hands.

“I always thought the real brain health center was in schools.” Dr. Nussbaum said. “You are shaping the human brain by what you do professionally.” 

Holistic education, which emphasizes emotional learning, is what we need to bring out in our students. By being in the classroom, learning from enthusiastic teachers, finding happiness in them and interacting with them, human connection and learning is strengthened.

With emotional intelligence as fuel, students are sure to be successful, but it does not stop in the classroom. At home, children still need the same support from their families so that their brains can develop the ability to listen, express their needs and to understand. 

“This is not fancy, high-tech stuff,” Dr. Nussbaum said. “It goes back to what Grandma taught us—we need to be with one another.” 

As far as safety in schools goes, he explained that the human brain cannot learn unless a person has a sense of security. If you are not safe, or are told that you are unsafe, your brain shifts into flight-or-fight mode and will not allow you to learn. 

Dr. Nussbaum said we need to have safety in schools, no matter what it takes, using educators as “brain health people and promoters.” He advocated for an ongoing curriculum for teachers, students and parents so they all understand how the brain works and what impacts it. 

He also called for lessons in how to feel love, to be kind and to have compassion, using the holistic approach. 

Staying active, spending time in daylight, playing music and meditating are just a few ways to reduce stress so that learning can take place. On the other hand, spending too much time using technology, eating poorly and not getting enough sleep all cause emotional stress, which affects learning. He advised teachers to not be afraid to incorporate yoga, breathing exercises or going for a walk into how they teach, because brains work best when allowed a break. As humans, we are at our peak when we engage in activities that we love. 

Dr. Nussbaum says technology and artificial intelligence are here to stay, and our brains have changed because of it. We need not be afraid of it—it is not as eminent as we think—but we need to learn how to use this in our lives in a positive way. 

To close, Dr. Nussbaum noted the importance of collecting data, which is critical in the way we learn to understand and improve. To learn more about an upcoming application that tracks health and wellness to build human performance, visit this website

Dr. Nussbaum holds certifications in clinical psychology and geropsychology and specializes in neuropsychology. He is an adjunct professor in neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and especially enjoys teaching the general public on the basics of the human brain and how to keep it healthy over the entire lifespan.