Unlocking The Power of Herrmann’s Whole Brain® Thinking in School Teaching and Learning

by | Apr 15, 2024

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In the ever-evolving landscape of education, teachers and students face diverse challenges. Around the world, employers and, sometimes, colleagues in tertiary education bemoan the lack of skills students bring with them from the school system, such as problem-solving, collaboration, communication skills in the classroom, and other ‘soft’ skills (which I think, are harder than ‘hard’ skills!).

Yet, teachers pour out their hearts and minds to help their learners progress, using the teaching skills their studies and experience have given them. I would estimate 99.5% of teachers are driven to deliver the best education for their learners. From adapting to new technologies to fostering creativity and critical thinking, educators strive to create an engaging and effective student-centred learning environment that prioritises communication and student learning goals. 

Is there a way to bridge their great work with the expectations of employees, universities, and the learners themselves? Enter the Herrmann Whole Brain® Thinking methodology—a powerful framework that can revolutionise teaching and learning. 

I am an experienced teacher and school principal and a Certified Practitioner of the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument® (HBDI®). I also have the unique perspective of being a corporate CEO before education. Hence, my perspective may be broader than most regarding how education leads to personal and professional success, but it also gives objectivity in addressing missing pieces.

This blog post explores why and how the Whole Brain® Thinking methodology should be implemented and embraced in schools.

What is Whole Brain® Thinking?

If you are reading this blog, you probably know about Whole Brain® Thinking, but to reiterate, at its core, Whole Brain® Thinking recognises that each of us possesses unique cognitive preferences. These preferences shape how we process information, solve problems, approach others, and communicate. 

Developed by Ned Herrmann, this methodology divides thinking into four quadrants, each representing distinct modes of thought:

The Four Quadrants of the HBDI®

  • Analytical (A Quadrant): Logical, data-driven, and detail-oriented thinking.
  • Structured (B Quadrant): Organised and focused on implementation.
  • Relational (C Quadrant): Intuitive, empathetic, and people-oriented thinking.
  • Innovative (D Quadrant): Creative, holistic, and future-focused thinking.
The Whole Brain Thinking Framework

People have different mixes of these preferences, often without understanding how this affects their view of the world, how they communicate, how they work with people with other preferences, and, most importantly to this discussion, how they learn or teach. It is worth noting that people can stretch the quadrant(s) they least prefer and change their approach, usually through awareness through the HBDI diagnostic and coaching.  

What is the preference code for HBDI?

The HBDI uses a four-letter preference code (ABCD) to represent your thinking style across the four quadrants. Each letter corresponds to a specific preference level indicated by a percentage range:

  • 1 (Strong Preference – Above 66%): This indicates a dominant thinking style in that quadrant.
  • 2 (General Preference – 33% to 66%): Shows a moderate preference for the quadrant’s thinking style.
  • 3 (Negative Preference – 0 to 33%): Represents a thinking style you tend to avoid.

This code helps you understand how you naturally approach problems, process information, and make decisions.

Personally, before becoming HBDI Certified, my profile was 1131 (1 being a strong preference and the sequence number corresponding to the A to D quadrants above, so my ‘3’ or lesser preference was in the relational or Quadrant 3). Still, I learned to stretch to 1111 to the advantage of my leadership and personal life.

Unleash Whole Brain learning in your classroom, explore our resources and strategies

Why should schools embrace Whole Brain® Thinking?

1. Enhanced Learning Experience

Whole Brain® Thinking acknowledges that students learn differently. By understanding their thinking preferences, teachers can tailor instruction to meet individual needs and include aspects of each quadrant when teaching whole classes. 

Imagine a maths lesson that integrates visual aids (D Quadrant) for creative learners, logical problem-solving (A Quadrant) for analytical minds, and group discussions (C Quadrant) for social learners. In addition, it teaches the detailed steps (B Quadrant) enshrined by traditional teaching. This holistic approach ensures a richer student learning experience.

2. Improved Problem-Solving Skills

Problems rarely fit neatly into a single thinking category in the real world. Whole Brain® Thinking equips students with a versatile toolkit. They learn to switch between quadrants, adapting their approach based on the context and the people they communicate with. Whether it’s a science experiment, a history debate, or a collaborative project, students become adept problem solvers. Just like muscle strengthens with regular exercise, mental agility and agile thinking can be developed through consistent training.

3. Effective Communication

Communication lies at the heart of education. Whole Brain® Thinking fosters a common language for discussing cognitive diversity and approaches. Students learn to appreciate different perspectives, reducing misunderstandings (and possibly the experiences of learners who “don’t get it”). Teachers can guide students on how to present ideas logically (A Quadrant), in detail (B Quadrant), empathetically (C Quadrant), or creatively (D Quadrant).

As an aside to learner experiences, I have solved several instances of teacher-to-teacher conflict using Whole Brain® Thinking and the HBDI, recognising that the conflict was caused by a lack of understanding and appreciation of each other’s thinking preferences. This is a prime example of how recognising these cognitive differences can improve communication styles in the classroom.

4. Boosting Creativity and Innovation

The Innovative (D Quadrant) thinkers are the dreamers, the visionaries. Schools often focus on analytical skills, but creativity is equally vital. There are many stories of top mathematicians and physicists who created theories outside of calculating formulae. The mathematician Richard Feynman is reputed to have watched a flying plate thrown by someone in the cafeteria at Cornell University and come up with a formula that won him the Nobel Prize! New ideas come from creativity

By nurturing all quadrants, educators can encourage innovative thinking. Imagine students collaborating on a sustainable design project, combining structured-driven solutions (B Quadrant) with imaginative flair (D Quadrant). This fosters a student-centred learning environment that encourages students to take ownership of their learning and push the boundaries of their thinking.

5. Improved Learning Outcomes

Whole Brain® Thinking does not discard the traditional analytical and structured thinking preferences. It adds another dimension that equips learners to think more deeply and broadly. If you are a teacher, think in terms of the SOLO taxonomy, for example, where the highest stage of outcome is where the student extends knowledge into a more abstract area (extended abstract) to demonstrate deeper knowledge by transferring it to a different context. 

New Zealand’s NCEA school qualifications are structured to determine this ability for excellence levels. This requires the innovative D quadrant to be utilised, but students are not explicitly taught how to access this quadrant; it is seen as a good sign of academic maturity when demonstrated, but it can also be taught as a norm using Whole Brain® Thinking. Higher results follow, and a ‘Return on Investment’ for Whole Brain® Thinking is evident.

Whole Brain® Thinking in action: Cornerstone School

A compelling example comes from Cornerstone School, a Christian school in Birmingham, Alabama. Facing challenges due to staff mismatches and pressure to excel, they implemented the HBDI® assessment to understand their staff’s thinking preferences. This led to a significant improvement in self-awareness, better role alignment among staff, and ultimately increased morale and productivity. The impact, however, extended beyond staff. Teachers learned to identify student thinking preferences, allowing them to connect better, respond effectively to behaviours, and design more inclusive curricula catering to the various classroom communication styles.

How Can Schools Implement Whole Brain® Thinking?

Whole Brain® Thinking is simple without being simplistic, research-based, valid, and proven. It is also non-judgmental and does not challenge teachers’ identities as professionals. These points make Whole Brain® Thinking highly actionable and can be quickly implemented. It can also be applied across all subjects and faculties with a positive, personal impact and nurtures your people and culture.

Teacher Development and Student Learning 

Teaching methods rarely seem to align with what we know about learning. I believe that both teaching and learning would benefit if teachers and leaders were fully aware of the concept of Whole Brain® Thinking. This would mean they could recognise thinking preferences, adapt teaching strategies, and create inclusive classrooms. Teachers should then teach the Whole Brain® Thinking methodology to the students as a theory of knowledge course around the Year 7 mark, leading to inclusivity and a common language of understanding thinking styles. This would significantly improve the importance of communication in the classroom and foster a more collaborative learning environment.

Curriculum Design 

Integrate Whole Brain® Thinking into lesson planning. Balance analytical tasks (A Quadrant) with hands-on activities (B Quadrant), discussions (C Quadrant), and creative projects (D Quadrant). This ensures a well-rounded curriculum that caters to all student learning styles.

Teacher and Student Development

While the HBDI® assessment is a valuable tool for individuals 16 years and above, it offers powerful insights for educators in non-school settings.

Use the HBDI Assessment to understand the thinking profiles of your learners. This will inform student-centred learning paths and help you gain a deep understanding of how your students or trainees learn best.

Collaborative Learning 

Encourage students to work in diverse teams, initially based on their strongest thinking preferences, but move them to preferences they need to stretch as they progress. They’ll appreciate different strengths and viewpoints, enhancing collaboration and communication skills in the classroom. This fosters a student-centred learning environment where students have agency, learn from each other, and develop a strong foundation for success in the workforce, where skilled workers are required to be adaptable and well-rounded communicators.


Herrmann’s Whole Brain® Thinking isn’t just a theory; it’s a practical tool for transforming education. By embracing cognitive diversity, schools empower students to thrive in a complex world. We can equip them with the communication skills and problem-solving abilities they need to succeed, not just in academia but also in their future careers. Let’s unlock their potential, one quadrant at a time!

Want to learn more about how Whole Brain® Thinking can benefit your school or university? Learn more on our website or contact us today!

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About Dr Stephen Kendall-Jones (PhD)

Dr Stephen Kendall-Jones (PhD) has led schools with 500-1300 students in New Zealand and overseas, from Pre-Kindergarten to pre-university, and over three different credentialing systems (NCEA, IB, and Cambridge).  He was also a Visible Learning consultant for a time, delivering Prof. John Hattie’s Visible Learning workshops around New Zealand and Australia. 

Corporate positions at the executive level support Stephen’s career in education. His lifetime of work experience ranged from being an officer in the RAF, leading and managing several retail corporations in Europe and the South Pacific region, to being a school leader. He recently formed the Epitome Education consultancy for organisational leaders, specialising in Whole Brain® Thinking and Executive Coaching as a fully qualified and practising Herrmann Certified Practitioner and Intelligent Leadership Executive Coach.

Stephen shares his passions through keynotes, workshops, and coaching services to help build a successful organisational infrastructure. 

Stephen is married to Tracy, and they have four children and numerous animals.

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