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Balancing the art and science of education

3 min read


As we continue to fight to keep the arts in education, it is time to realize that the real fight is keeping the art in education. When I first started teaching many years ago, teaching was primarily seen as an art — an innate ability to use creative skill and imagination to communicate and build relationships that facilitate learning. The curriculum guide was a small gray book covering all subjects. Now, teaching is seen primarily as a science. Attention is paid to specific teaching techniques, core curriculum, testing and narrowly-focused results. Data is collected, analyzed and used more for accountability than to personalize student programs.

We need to create a balance of art and science as we nurture the students in our care. Granted, research over the past few decades has provided us with evidence of how the brain functions, how students learn in different ways and that they have multiple intelligences. This valuable information has only found its way into the education debate in limited instances. The focus has been more on defining what students need to know, how they should be taught and measuring results. This is much easier and more scientific than using brain functioning, learning styles and multiple intelligences to empower teachers to personalize education and create safe and caring learning environments.

The science of teaching helps us to understand concepts such as that the brain remembers information when it is relevant and evokes an emotional response, that we have a basic human need for safety and that living in poverty has a definite impact on a child’s ability to maximize his potential. Science creates the structure underlying the art of teaching.

It takes artists to see the big picture, think creatively and critically, and begin to shape the future of education. Artists celebrate human individuality. The art of teaching requires that we:

  1. Apply what science teaches us in a holistic way.
  2. Know our students as individuals.
  3. Empower students to be the best they can be.
  4. Understand that students must first feel safe and secure if they are to take the risks necessary for them to become the person they want to be.
  5. Focus on creating positive, supportive school cultures.
  6. Engage students in their learning at the deepest level possible by creating an emotional response.
  7. Ensure that curriculum is personalized and meaningful.
  8. Focus on building connections and relationships.
  9. See the big picture by dealing with the whole child.
  10. Seek the complexities and depth in the big picture.

Although this blog post may evoke a response of: “Yeah, but we’re accountable for raising test scores through processes and programs that come from above…,” I hope you will let your inner artist shine through and see what you need to do as a teacher and as a leader. It is only when we find the balance between the art and science of education that we will begin to make a real difference in the lives of our students.

Carol Hunter is an award-winning, retired elementary-school principal and author of “Real Leadership Real Change”. She is president of Impact Leadership, a consulting company focused on bringing real change to public education. Learn more at