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For Students, A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words

picture is worth 1,000 words

Last week, in my blog, “Left Brain Schools in a Right Brain World”, 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. They used the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words, and applied that to their teaching styles. 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 turn a corner, and 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 Habitudesä curriculum in 2004, my goal was to communicate timeless principles in a relevant, right brain fashion. Habitudesä 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?




  1. Susan Barber on July 2, 2013 at 7:17 am

    I decided to experiment with images in the classroom this past year. I introduced each unit with an image I chose which lead to conversation then experience with the content. The best part, however, was a cumulative project in which students chose their own image for each unit and had to defend their choice of their image with support from texts and analysis of texts they did in class. They loved this project and learned so much. It’s definitely time to rethink the classroom!

    • Antone on July 2, 2013 at 8:15 am

      I like your idea, Susan. I am curious, what age group was this with and what was the goal of your project? I would like to know how you implemented this in your own classroom.

      • Susan Barber on July 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm

        I teach high school but know of teachers who use images in all grades. The goal of this particular project was an assessment over literature time periods we covered throughout the semester – reviewing transcendentalism, romanticism, realism, naturalism, etc. Sometimes I give students images on an exam (over a novel, genre of lit,, really anything covered in class) and have the students tell me how this image reflects (or doesn’t) what we have covered in class. We often use images in class to introduce subjects or ideas as well. Students often create images for projects as well. The images are often paired with writing or verbal defense of ideas. I’m always amazed at how much my students can tell me about an images – often things that I have never thought of even though I’m the “expert” in the field.

        • Antone on July 2, 2013 at 4:40 pm

          Great idea – thanks for sharing!

  2. Antone on July 2, 2013 at 8:14 am

    “Are you relevant?” is a great question to ask – granted, it makes me cringe when I read it because that forces me to come to grips that some of my teaching may not be as connective as a I think.

    I believe an important element of the ICE principle is that the teacher is there helping students come to truthful conclusions. A picture by itself can evoke as many different emotions as there are students in the classroom, but the value of the teacher is that they assist the student in moving through a “correct door.” As I tell my students, I do not mind allowing them to bounce around in their thinking, but at the end of the day, I am going to help lead them to a conclusion or conclusions that best help them navigate change in their own lives. To allow students to just come to their own conclusion with no guidance can be dangerous. And I do not mean we force students to see things our way but rather provide them with that guiding compass that at least gives them tools for right thinking.

    Thanks for the reminder…I am determined to do more of this in my own classroom this year.

  3. Roger on July 2, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    After investing three days last week at the National Leadership Forum and the Habitudes certification I am more convinced than ever how important being relevant and how vital images and pictures are. Thanks Tim and Growing Leaders for bringing it all to the table with all the content, experiences, examples of images and videos, relationships, and speakers.

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For Students, A Picture Is Worth 1,000 Words