The Teacher Brain: An Invaluable Asset

Teacher Brains are Exceptional!

Teacher Brains are Exceptional!

I’ve been writing lessons for a big project. At the same time, Total Learning teachers in several sites are using already-written TL lessons. The way these lessons are written honors teacher decision-making, and that no written plan can substitute for the excellence of a great teacher. The amazing teachers I know and see, possess a very unique skill set.

Part and Whole

When an exceptional teacher plans to teach a concept or skills, she operates from two points of view, exploring the content for the main idea, as well as its detailed parts. This teacher does not teach isolated facts, but delivers those facts as examples of a larger category. Categories later lead to generalizations that inform new learning.


An exceptional teacher has a metaphorical mind, and is able to imagine across modalities to find explanatory examples. No matter what the subject area, there are auditory, kinesthetic, visual and linguistic examples of a concept or skill. For example: if the teacher is teaching about erosion in science, there are environmental examples like a rock face being buffeted into sand by wind and rain. Rather than singing a song about erosion, the exceptional teacher asks, “What erodes in sound? What effect does it have?” Now she can construct an activity where students read a poem, then read it leaving out every 4th word, then every 3rd and 4th word, then every 2nd, 3rd and 4th word, then all the words. Then the teacher conducts the same inquiry for movement, visual image, and language. She now has four metaphors at her disposal to build an understanding of erosion.

A Sequence for Learning

This exceptional teacher also knows intuitively that learning occurs in a sequence from experience and exploration to labeling, then practicing until the concept is assimilated, then to imaginatively applying the new understanding to a new situation. She uses her examples as resources to build this sequence for understanding over time, engaging students in hands experiences for deep learning. She knows that this takes more time than superficial learning, and therefore avoids wasting time on unnecessary distractions in the classroom or curriculum. There’s not time for management without learning, nor for learning without classroom management – the learning environment must engender engagement and self control.

An Appetite for Complexity

Finally, this exceptional teacher knows that you can’t teach one thing at a time – you need to layer instruction so one concept is introduced as another is practiced and a third is being applied to a creative project. By weaving several threads, students are functioning at multiple levels, and each concept informs the other, leading to unexpected discoveries and connections. In this way, there is sufficient time for the curriculum to be delivered.

A Smile and Encouragement

One more thing! This teacher is usually smiling and encourages students to take risks by providing a safe environment in which to fail, and try again. Sure there are tests and ways to demonstrate mastery, but not every minute!

Sound daunting? It’s hard work! An exceptional teacher doesn’t shut this brain off – it keeps on inventing and working, solving the puzzle of how to teach children who grow into imaginative, independent, responsible and smart adults! This is a Total Learning Teacher Brain!