The Teaching Brain

An Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education

A bold redefinition of our most basic understanding of teaching—and learning—in classrooms and in life

“What a fascinating idea . . . [a] challenging and inspiring work.”
—Deborah Meier

Almost since the first school bell rang, experts and everyday people alike have grappled with what teaching is all about. An adult at the front of the room imparting knowledge to rows of children lives on as the persistent stock image of a classroom, and opinions about what teachers should do and how they should do it are endless. Yet few have dared to question the very foundation upon which our most basic notions of teaching are built. Now Vanessa Rodriguez, a former classroom teacher herself, challenges widely accepted theories of teaching and offers a unique idea based on a simple yet empowering truth: we are all teachers.

In The Teaching Brain, Rodriguez and co-author Michelle Fitzpatrick draw on the science of human development to redefine teaching as an evolutionary cognitive skill that develops in all people over time. On a journey through the inherently interactive nature of teaching, the book marshals a wealth of research and experience to construct an entirely innovative framework for thinking about, talking about, and supporting this essential social endeavor. Familiar classroom examples are punctuated by rarely discerned glimpses into teaching. Bored and cooped up, Thomas, age seven, teaches his four-year-old brother how to play Mouse Trap; Eva’s father, during a typical before-school routine, must teach her to button a coat because she’s only ever snapped one; and Claire, a veteran classroom teacher, skillfully turns a student’s witty remark into an engaging way for her students to choose summer reads: speed-dating their books.

Resisting the shortsighted trend of offering one-size-fits-all and quick-fix solutions—and combating the persistent tendency to draw sweeping conclusions from only observing teaching in action—Rodriguez and Fitzpatrick detail five distinct areas of awareness that must be carefully developed to become an expert teacher and provide a survey specifically designed to appraise your own teaching brain. The first attempt to fully map the mind of a teacher, The Teaching Brain delves into the developmental stages of teaching and unearths why, at a time when attacks on teachers are epidemic, professional teachers are so crucial and so valuable.

In an original work at the intersection of education, neuroscience, and everyday experience, the insight in these pages breaks new ground with a game-changing analysis that transforms common notions of teaching, illuminates the role and ability of teachers, and delivers new tools for making sense of the onerous reform battles engulfing educators, schools, and communities today. Filled with fresh inspiration for all who are working toward truly meaningful educational reform, The Teaching Brain is a novel book for parents, teachers, and anyone desiring a better understanding of how the mind works—one that challenges assumptions, uncovers the mystery of teaching, and unlocks the teaching brain in all of us.


The Teaching Brain is a significant contribution to understanding the interaction among teachers, students, the environment, and the content of learning.”
—Herbert Kohl, author of more than forty books, including “I Won’t Learn from You” and 36 Children
“A thoughtful analysis of current educational paradigms. . . . Rodriguez’s case for altering pedagogy to match the fluctuating dynamic forces in the classroom is both convincing and steeped in common sense.”
Publishers Weekly
“Drawing on brain science, education research, and her own experience, Vanessa Rodriguez eloquently presents a new, humanizing, and compelling take on how, why, and when teachers teach effectively. The Teaching Brain is an important book for teachers, future teachers, policy makers, and anyone who cares about children and learning.”
—Susan Linn, psychologist, director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and author of The Case for Make Believe
“We would never think of the bonding of a newborn with parents as a unilateral experience, yet, as so clearly illuminated in The Teaching Brain, we’ve been complacent in failing to identify the profound interactions between the teaching and the learning brains. As the authors identify the dynamic, interactive system created by both student and teacher, a gap is filled in the neuroscience and cognitive science of learning. This book provides valuable guidance on generating a synchronous flow in the classroom.”
—Judy Willis, neurologist, teacher, and author of How Your Child Learns Best
“This book comes at an important time. As the critical issue of teacher quality gains prominence, there is an unfortunate tendency toward the simple fix: just give teachers a fixed set of skills, just get rid of the lowest-performing ones. The Teaching Brain represents an important challenge to this way of thinking and ultimately provides hope that we might build a more humane and comprehensive system of teaching and schools.”
—Jesse Solomon, executive director of BPE and founder of the Boston Teacher Residency

News and Reviews

Latino USA

Vanessa Rodriguez discusses Latino students in the classroom on Latino USA.


Truthdig reviews The Teaching Brain, "A work that every teacher in American can benefit from reading.”

Publishers Weekly

The Teaching Brain is reviewed in Publishers Weekly

Goodreads Reviews