The Right Brain Initiative


Re-Evaluating Education: Desk Jockey in the Teaching Jungle

November 8th, 2012 by Right Brain Team

It’s easy to think of students as being creative. But what about grownups? What about educators?

At Right Brain, we provide residencies with teaching artists in every subject; but we also provide professional development that exposes the creativity in every teacher. This October, I—despite my status as hapless recent-grad office personnel—got to play along with the artists, teachers, and administrators that participated in our most recent Professional Development session.

The workshop took place at the McMenamin’s Kennedy School—an apt space in which to repurpose, as it were, a previously held teaching ideology or two. However, what happened next was hardly akin to the step-by-step restoration of an aging edifice. In Right Brain Professional Development sessions, educators pick up new teaching activities by engaging in them first hand, and this was no exception.

Over the course of the day, everyone began to re-examine their own ideas of how learning works. The group analyzed modern art, free from historical contexts, in order to explore our own interpretations on an even playing field without the confines of informational bias. We choreographed interpretive dances and tableaus narrating a reading on the Chicago fire, to emphasize the importance of retrieving evidence from a text, analyzing those findings, and presenting them creatively to demonstrate that understanding. We even exercised our drawing skills, recreating the prickly spines and rough shingles of seedpods and pine cones—without looking—and then showed these blind drawings off, to practice judgment-free evaluation. In short, we got downright creative in ways that will be hard pressed not to show up in schools all around the Portland area. This creativity wasn’t just introspective. It was, and continues to be empowering. It gives teachers the means with which to act as agents of learning in creative and expressive ways, for creative and expressive students.

In terms of re-evaluating preconceptions about education, blind drawing in particular made me reconsider what this type of learning might have meant within my own educational experience. As a right-brain type, I was always elated when drawing made its way into deskwork. The blind part, however, would have thrown me for a loop, and “judgment-free evaluation,” would have left me with a lesson that transcended the assignment: a lesson in humility, in communication, and in appreciation for the efforts of others. Future-hapless desk jockey or not, that lesson has an intrinsic value that can’t be gleaned from textbooks and quizzes.

This of course is not to say that those tools—textbooks and quizzes—aren’t worthwhile; but merely that perhaps, in some cases and for some children, the confines of left-brain approaches are a little tight. I know that taking on assignments on my own creative terms leveled the playing field between myself and my goals as a learner. Right Brain combines all of these seemingly disparate elements—hard sciences, soft skills, and textured expressions—so that every student can learn in the best way he or she knows how.

Kids are dynamic. They’re excitable and wild and full of a potential that’s wildly exciting. Right Brain Professional Development helps educators create learning environments that are every bit as exciting, as unconfined, as the students that occupy them. When teachers are engaged on a creative level, classrooms become dynamic incubators for a whole host of concepts and ideas, shaking off the static with each imaginative leap. When Right Brain takes root in a classroom, four walls become easels, textbooks become palates, numbers become notes, and quizzes become art. When Right Brain takes root in a classroom, it shows.


Dan Casto is the Communications Apprentice for The Right Brain Initiative.


Right Brain Team