The "Aha" Series: Donna's Both Sides of the Brain Story

Every teacher has a favorite “this is why I teach” story.

Starting today, and running every Monday through the rest of the school year, we’ll share Inly faculty stories that illustrate those moments of joyful discovery when an idea clicks for a student, the mental light bulb switches on, and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.


These stories almost always involve a student who had been struggling with a concept or trying to make sense of a lesson, or a student who was suddenly able to apply a concept or make a connection. The breakthrough happened, and that “aha” expression ignited the student’s face.

These “aha” moments aren’t necessarily momentous to anyone but the student. However, they are the experiences, large and small, that make students fall in love with learning so they’ll want to do it for the rest of their lives. They are also the moments that sustain and inspire teachers to come to school every day seeking the “hook” for each child that will, as Maria Montessori said, “so touch his imagination as to enthuse him to his innermost core.”

Over the course of the next few months, we’ll share a story from every teacher at Inly. [The stories first ran in Rhythm & News, Inly’s weekly newsletter.] Helping us kick off the “aha” series this week is Donna Milani Luther, Inly Head of School.

Donna’s Both Sides of the Brain Story

I think for me this moment is a moment I’ve seen over and over again in all my years of working with kids in theater. It’s that moment when all the pieces finally come together in the end, and it’s a very powerful thing.

I’ve watched the students as they go through the fog and storm of rehearsals, when nothing feels right, and they’re wondering if it’s all going to work. They ask themselves, Did I hit the right note? Am I standing in the right place? Where do I put the microphone? Then they gradually build up confidence, as they become better and better prepared. Through teamwork they learn to trust each other, trust the director, and they learn to trust themselves. Finally there comes the point when all of the underpinnings, all the weeks of preparation come together, and now they say, I know where my microphone is, I know where to stand, I know the songs, I know my lines.

In learning this is referred to as layering on of information. Some of it is logical and sequential: learning notes, choreography, memorizing lines; and some of it is abstract: “How do I pretend to be this other person?” or “How can I do all of this at once?” It takes both sides of the brain, and when both sides come together, it clicks.

I saw this in the kids in Oliver, just as I’ve seen it in all the student plays we’ve done here at Inly over the years. People often say it comes together in the end because of the audience, but I don’t believe that. It happens before the curtain opens when they say to themselves, “I can do this!”…and then again after it closes when they say, “Hey, I did that!”

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on February 13, 2009.]

Leave a Reply