Exploring the Components of Brain-Compatible Classrooms

Conference News Online – 2013

By Adam Drummond

Attendees of David Sousa’s session, “The Basics of Creating Brain-Compatible Classrooms” learned the importance of a certain four-letter word.

(No, not that kind of four-letter word.)

It’s TALK. Turns out, Sousa revealed, too much teacher-talk and not enough student-talk is one way classrooms can be not brain-compatible.

Sousa, author of over a dozen books on brain science and education, shared tips on how to use talking in a way that’s more brain-friendly for students. He also explored other tactics in his two-hour workshop, including basic brain functions (or SET), “feet and seat,” and humor.


Teachers work way too hard today, Sousa said. Nearly 80 percent of high school classroom time is spent with a teacher talking. Elementary classrooms are a tad better, with 50 percent of classroom time devoted to teacher talk. Yet, research tells us that students who process information, collaborate, and talk through problems are more likely to move information from short-term to long-term memory. Additionally, talk helps us focus.

Administrators can help curve this percentage by modeling less talk time during staff meetings.


Your brain has three main areas:

  • the survival region, or your brain stem;
  • the “emotional detector,” or limbic area; and
  • the thinking executive function system, or frontal lobe.

Remember these three basic functions as survival, emotions, and thinking, or SET.

Here’s the kicker, though: the limbic system matures, on average, between ages 10 and 12, but the thinking region (the frontal lobe) is not fully mature until the age 22 to 24.

Keep this in mind when working with students, and do yourself a favor: Never ask a student, “Why did you do that?” after they make a poor choice. More than likely, they don’t know.

Feet and Seat

After sitting for 20 minutes, according to conference keynote speaker Freeman Hrabowski, we lose focus. Sousa told us why. The blood from our body has pooled to our feet and our seat.

Blood needs to circulate to keep the brain engaged. Have students stand, walk, move, or do something. This simple break can refocus students for the next task. Do this for yourself, too! If you are at your office desk for over twenty minutes, your mind is not at your sharpest.


Laughing releases hormones called endorphins, which are good. Cortisol, another hormone, is released when stress enters the body. Chemically speaking, your body thrives much better on endorphins. So, simply put: create opportunities for laughter, fun, and enjoyment.

Here’s a bonus: our brains love novelty. So, dress up as a character, and you will have both—novelty and laughter.

In closing, Sousa provided educators with an easy to implement framework for brain-compatible classrooms. The ideas above—using movement, humor, and the right kind of talking—are simple, easy ways to create classrooms that allow collaboration, fun, and understanding in learning about the brain.

Education is the only profession that has the ability to change humans every day. We transform the brain and alter its thinking and emotions through our interactions and plans that we provide our students. Each day is a new day to make a difference. Be the change.

Oh, two more things Sousa taught attendees: Humans cannot effectively multitask. And research has yet to show that technology has changed attention spans of our students—believe it or not, it’s true!

Adam Drummond is principal of Lincoln Elementary School in Huntington, Indiana.

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