For Students, a Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

07/01/2013 01:15 pm ET | Updated Aug 31, 2013

Last week, I reflected on the time in my childhood when my sisters and I loved to "play" school. Over time, our love of school changed. The "like" turned into a dislike. I suggested that somehow, school shifted to an almost exclusively left-brain activity.

The left-brain is about FACTS. The right-brain is about CREATIVITY. The left-brain is calculated and definitive. The right-brain is innovative and dynamic. Certainly, both are necessary. But more and more, our world is driven by right-brain thought. Sadly, consider what's happening today in schools. With a poor economy, budget cuts are being made across the country. The first courses dropped by public schools are right brain courses: art, music and drama.

I had the privilege of meeting with the Georgia Teachers of the Year this year. After our training time, I realized one of the chief reasons these faculty members were chosen as "the best" was that they included a balance of right-brain and left-brain methods. Several of them confirmed my suspicions:

• Schools often teach and test for questions that aren't relevant.
• Schools only drill for memory rather than critical thinking.
• School departments function independently, not providing the big picture.
• Schools prepare kids in a 20th century style for a 21st century world.

Perhaps this is why George Santayana said, "A child educated only in school is an uneducated child." Those of us who teach and train students must transform how we deliver our content. Lesson plans cannot be taught the way we did in 1993. Or even 2003. Our culture has changed. Obviously, the left-brain is important, especially in certain professions. But the best leaders -- regardless of their industry -- learn to combine the strength of both the left and right brain. Consider Albert Einstein again. His livelihood was math and science. We'd all agree those are left brain industries. However, no one had a greater appreciation for imagination and creativity than Albert Einstein. These are right brain activities. Let me suggest the following...

• Teaching must not merely supply information, but inspiration for students.
• Teaching must do more than measure a kids' memory; it must motivate a kid's imagination.
• Teachers must include not just the facts of history but the feelings that history produced.
• Teaching isn't just about increasing intelligence, but increasing innovation.
• Teaching cannot be only about what to think, but how to think.

Are You Relevant?

Pause and evaluate your teaching methods. Are you primarily a left-brain or a right-brain teacher? Are you balanced in your approach? Are you preparing students in a relevant way for the real world they will enter soon? Do you look for creative ways to deliver content? Pablo Picasso said, "We are all born artists. The key is to remain one as you grow up."

I've been working to incorporate the "left brain" in my teaching for several years now. When I began creating the Habitudes curriculum in 2004, my goal was to communicate timeless principles in a relevant, right brain fashion. Habitudes are images that form leadership habits and attitudes. They teach life and leadership principles with images, questions, stories and exercises. The books are short. They do not feel like textbooks. Soon, they'll be available electronically via podcasts, video streams and PDF downloads. They allow teachers, coaches, parents, employers and youth workers to put their training on ICE:

I - Images, which lead to...
C - Conversations, which lead to...
E - Experiences.

This is how students learn. A picture is worth a thousand words. When they talk about the images, they get to "upload" their own thoughts instead of the enduring the usual "download" teaching style they often experience in school or church. Finally, the conversation leads to an experience they share together. And experience changes us. To see an example of this right brain set of books and DVDs--just go to: May your right brain find expression.

Do you observe a difference between the way you teach and the way students learn?