The Learning Dance: Re-framing Education for the 21st Century Part 2: Leading with our Brains!


 In his book, Creative Schools, Sir Ken Robinson talks of “changing metaphors” with which we envision education. He describes the industrial model as a metaphor for schooling that “locks American schools in a conceptual vice.” I offer an alternative metaphor for education: the dance of childhood.

Think of yourself as one who has a body, as one who moves, and as one whose brain works in harmony with your body. Move a little in your seat, stretch your arms, and think of that last wedding or quiet moment alone in which you moved just for the joy of it. If you can locate this dance/body/mind presence, ask yourself: “How would I educate children if I stayed linked to this experience?”

Judith Jamison, dancer/choreographer and former artistic director of the Alvin Ailey company noted: “You see a lot of people in this world roaming around scared to death to show who they really are.” Expressing ourselves as we really are is one of the fundamental requirements for a successful life and it is upon that sentiment, with reverence, that we as educators should enter the classroom.

If we enter the door to the classroom with our bodies intact, and recognition of how our brains and bodies work as an integrated system instead of isolating cognitive achievement, we lead our students into an inviting and invigorating experience of learning. Ericka Christakis, in her book The Importance of Being Little, points out that educators often do the most menial things with children such as drill in phonics “because we know how to teach phonics so well.”

We have gotten as far as we can with archaic instructional methods. We now need to lean in to the body of recent research on the brain. What do we know now that will bring our learners into the 21st century and beyond?

Current brain research reveals that learners need trust, joy, and excitement to do their best.

Social interactions, especially with the teacher as a trusted guide, increase learning. Louis Cozolino, in his book, The Social Neuroscience of Education, describes the brain as a primarily “social organ.” Cozolino explains that the brain develops 75% of its potential through human interaction. Humans are social beings, and when creating a warm and caring community structure, teachers unleash the potential of each child, according to Cozolino and current research about the brain. The brain cannot function at its maximum capacity when children are deprived of opportunities to be social, to create conflicts, and to learn how to restore collaboration. And children cannot develop these skills from behind a desk.

The dancers in my world have been powerful mentors for me as a teacher.  I believe that embracing the perspective and structure of the discipline of dance will lead us to recapture elements like trust, joy, and excitement as we reinvent education.  We enter our classrooms as creative guides, inviting children to engage with their beings in the most exciting of all pursuits:  learning.  Children need to be in the care of adults who acknowledge their gifts in order to move confidently into the world of adulthood; and we need their gifts if they are to solve the problems their futures hold. The iconic modern dancer, Martha Graham, advised:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, …that is translated through you into action,  … because there is only one of you in all of time, …if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”

Yes, Martha, and our children require schools that will maintain this life force, help them translate it into action, and move our world forward.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s