Interview with a Depth & Complexity Expert – Daniel Brillhart

It is no secret that the J Taylor Education and The Center for Depth and Complexity community is home to many practitioner experts. Join us in this monthly blog series to learn more about how educational professionals use the framework to leverage creative, critical thinking both in and out of the classroom. 
Headshot - Daniel Brillhart


I am a third generation teacher, and am currently in my 33rd year of teaching. I have taught a wide range of subjects and grades, from kindergarten math to high school government. I received my Bachelor of Science in Education from the University of Texas at Austin, and my Masters of Science in Instructional Technology and Cognitive Systems from the University of North Texas. I have spent all of my life living in Texas, primarily in the Central Texas region. Currently, I am one of the TAG (Talented and Gifted) teachers at my school, focusing on 4th and 5th grade students in an accelerated math program while also providing some language arts support. I was named TAGT Teacher of the Gifted in 2016, which was quite and honor. I have been using Depth and Complexity with my students for over ten years, and appreciate how much it helps simplify planning while really pushing the way my students think.

Big Idea

I have received training in a multitude of educational focuses and methods. The best are those which present tools to use with all of my students, be it English Language Learner strategies or ways to work with special populations. However, of all these trainings, the one that has made the biggest impact on my teaching, my own personal thinking, and the results seen in the products produced by my students, Depth and Complexity is THE winner by far. I cannot imagine teaching without it.

Over Time

When I compare what I do with the Depth and Complexity Framework at this point in my career and when I first started, I am amazed at the difference. I have seen myself go from one icon at a time, to embedding the thinking skills the icons represent in planning, instruction, and evaluation. I am not sure I can actually separate Depth and Complexity from my pedagogy at this point. I know that as I continue my journey with Depth and Complexity, my understanding will continue to change, expand, and re-evaluate, and in five years I will look back at today and think – Wow! what a change!

Unanswered Questions

The biggest paradox I see in education is the need for students, teachers, and administrators to think creatively and more openly while at the same time seeing a narrowing of instructional practices to a routine that is not deviated from at all. The desire for a “script” for leading a lesson is becoming more and more prevalent, when what needs to be taught is an openness of attitude, perspective, and analysis that leads to a much deeper understanding and questioning of subject matter. I am not sure of an answer to this – other than to continue to advocate for the wonderfulness of the Depth and Complexity Framework and the deep thinking and thought processes that it embodies.

Multiple Perspectives

By far, my favorite part of the Depth and Complexity Framework is when students take it, make it their own, and teach me a new way of looking and thinking about a subject matter. For example, when I introduced area, volume, and perimeter with the idea of Pattern thinking, and a student argued back (successfully) that it was really Rules thinking because of the relationships between the three concepts – Wow!

When my students take ownership and realize the value of the thinking skills in the entire framework, I feel successful as a teacher.

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