Alli Booth Helps Teachers Understand Their Students
Alli Booth spent the first three years of her career as a teacher. During that time, she became fascinated with her students neurobiological and cognitive development. As her passion for the subject grew, she decided to leave her teaching job behind and go back to school, where she could study it full time.
After earning a Masters in Mind, Brain, and Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Alli decided to put her love for the subject to good use. She founded NeuroUnderstanding, a company that offers teachers professional development and educational consulting.
Alli agreed to share more about who she is, what she does, and how she was able to turn her passion into a career.
In May of this year, you started a teacher development and educational consulting company.Can you give us a little insight into ways that you’re able to help people?
I am providing services to teachers and students, nationally and internationally. The professional development aspect of what I do includes both online modules about the developing brain, as well as in-person workshops to be held with whole faculties. On the consulting side of things, I help educators around the country develop effective and innovative curricula tailored to the subject and grade level they teach. I also help international students develop compelling college applications to US institutions.
In your experience, what are the biggest challenges facing teachers today?
This is a big question! There are a lot of challenges. One that Ill mention is the changing of expectations. Teachers, when I was in school (I graduated from high school 9 years ago), were not very communicative with parents unless there was an issue. They weren’t expected to be. They were expected to do their job in the school building, and that was pretty much it.
Today, the world is different with the expansion of mobile communication. Ten years ago, leaving an email unanswered for a couple of days was OK. Today, its not OK to leave an email unanswered for a couple of hours. Expectations of basic communication have changed, which in turn changes the expectations of teachers.
Now, administrators are asking teachers to vastly increase their communication with parents to once a week, or in some cases, once a day, with emails, newsletters, or blog posts. Though this is, in many ways, wonderful, it can be a challenge for teachers who have never had a blog before, or are unsure of what to include in newsletters. As expectations change, teachers need to be prepared for these changes, so they don’t become burdens on already extremely busy schedules.
You spent three years teaching Latin and Ancient History before you decided to change your path and go to graduate school. What lead you to that decision?
I left the classroom in order to learn more about how my students were growing and changing in order to serve them better. However, I chose not to re-enter the classroom (yet) because Id like to focus on supporting teachers, so they in turn can improve their teaching style, techniques, and the level of collegiality among their coworkers.
At Harvard, you earned a Masters in Mind, Brain, and Education. That’s a program I’m not too familiar with. Can you tell us a little bit about the program, and the types of people who might benefit from it?
Not many people are familiar with it! It is pretty obscure, but extremely fascinating.
Basically, the program brings together neuroscience and psychology research to inform education practice. It taught me exactly what I felt was lacking in my knowledge about students, and I have become all the more dedicated to education having graduated from the program.
Those who were in the program with me from 2011-2012 were a mix of K-12 teachers, yogis, enrichment educators, doctoral students from other institutions who wanted to learn more about teaching, and researchers in education, neuroscience, psychology. There were students who had just graduated from undergrad, and there were some who had been in education for decades. There was even a professor of medicine from the Harvard Medical School who was a part-time student in our program.
Your success is a great example of what can happen when someone follows their passion. What advice would you give to people who have dreamed of doing something they love, but haven’t been able to get over the risks involved?
Oh gosh. As lame as it sounds, I say, Go for it! There are risks attached to everything. The way I see it, you risk financial instability, maybe, to pursue what you love. But what do you lose if you stay in a job you don’t absolutely love, just to maintain the stability? My personal happiness is not worth risking.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is working with teachers at all levels, from elementary to collegiate, determining what practices will work best for their students and consulting them on various aspects of curriculum development.
What is a typical day at the office like for you?
I usually start my day by reading news about education, or any new studies that have come out regarding neuroscience, psychology, or cognitive development. Then I work on generating content for modules that deal with issues such as stress, sleep, engagement, ASD, etc.
After lunch, I do some research on entrepreneurship. I’m all self-taught, and know that Ive only begun to scratch the surface of the knowledge out there. Finally, I work on building relationships with various educators including current users of NeuroUnderstanding and administrators of schools that I hope to work with.
There’s always a giant to-do list, and I just try to stay focused on one thing at a time. Its easy to feel overwhelmed, but its all doable.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
Hmm, good question. Maybe, Stay positive when on social media! But to be honest, Ive always surrounded myself with supportive people, and have been lucky to have a supportive family. Its knowing that they believe in what I’m doing that helps keep me going, not any snippet of advice Ive heard here or there.
What advice would you give to college students who might like to have a career similar to yours?
Diversify your skill set! In college, academically, I was so focused on only a few things. It might have been better if I had stuck with computer science, or even taken an accounting class, or two. I guess that’s my advice, if you’re lucky enough to be a college student who knows what you want to do!
Thank you so much for your time!