The Heart of Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century

The heart knows today what the head will understand tomorrow.

– James Stephens (Irish poet, 1882-1950)

At first glance, you would not think that there would need to be a “case” made in defense of an approach to teaching that embraces pedagogies rooted in compassion. After all, what argument could be made against caring for our students?

  • What Teacher doesn’t want to be thought as a caring and compassionate?
  • What Parent doesn’t want to have a compassionate teacher for their child?
  • Who doesn’t want their child’s Principal to be well-versed in the latest research on impacts to learning for children who experience trauma, neglect, or poverty?

and perhaps most importantly –

  • What Child wants to experience an education system that exists in the 21st Century but neglects the benefits from research and methods that would support the diverse learning population of today?

But, as the opening quote by the Irish poet James Stephens suggests, at any time before today a defense of “compassionate schooling” (or any variation of this approach) would have relied heavily on conventional wisdom and “reasons of the heart” for support. In fact, it had to.

It had to because the information that existed was not accessible to those in service provider roles.

It had to because the research-based conclusions of how children learn best were not nearly as extensive or richly informed by science, medicine, and data-informed conclusions about the nature of teaching and learning. Nowhere is this more evident than for children who have experienced the negative impacts of trauma, neglect, and poverty.

It had to because professional development opportunities available to educators that would have made a difference simply did not exist until the 21st Century.

The heart “knew” what research, science, legislation and professional practice would subsequently recognize…….

  • Learning is done by the learner – and everyone is a learner!
  • One size does not fit all
  • Stressed brains don’t learn as much as stressed brains
  • Toxic stress is harmful both now and well into the future – especially when undetected
  • Learning conditions always matter and cannot be “blamed” on learners
  • Growth is not inevitable but is the result of children being supported with conditions conducive to learning even when they experience adversity
  • Resilience trumps even the most unimaginable adversity

Children learn and literally grow at the molecular level (ie, in their physical brain and body) when learning conditions are maximized to nurture their nature.

At this time, all educators should be aware that there is mounting cross-disciplinary support for compassionate schooling practices. Practical strategies from principles of trauma-informed care span findings in science, medicine, education, social services, and government. In fact, there is so much information in support of the development of compassionate schools that space simply will not allow for all of it to be covered by any one individual in any one setting.

Complicating matters for busy educators is the fact that so much of the information now available is rarely synthesized into practical strategies accessible to teachers who are expected to provide high levels of care yet may have been “trained to teach” in a time when quality information was inaccessible, or simply didn’t exist. Telling teachers to “care more” will not suffice – any more than telling a student to “learn more” will not suffice without changing their learning conditions.

What educators need are 21st Century learning conditions that meet their own needs as they work to meet the needs of a diverse learning population-

  • timely and asynchronous
  • continuous access to quality information for application in each context (e.g., the school, classroom, or individual student level).
  • interactive at the time of learning and continuing on into the classroom, with colleagues, and with students.
  • modeled practice
  • ample opportunities for personal reflection
  • evidence that their teaching practice has been both informed (strengthened) and transformed (changed for the better)
  • tools for gathering evidence of impact In recognition of this need, CE Credits Online ( ), has developed a number of courses to support educators who in a number of ways may be playing “catchup” as they work to understand better what they already believed in their heart was true about the nature of teaching and learning.

One course in particular, Creating Compassionate Schools, was to summarize many of the findings from various disciplines and how these support the creation of compassionate schools to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse learning population. The course is not designed as a “final word” on a topic, but rather as an invitation for professionals from a multitude of educational roles to engage in the conversation about how to create a culture of care. It is not about working harder or adding one more thing to do for a teacher’s already full plate – but is about working smarter and more strategically to understand the complexity some students experience both in and outside of “the schoolhouse.” It is through a lens of compassion that educators can learn to best meet the true needs of each learning which in turn support academic, social, and emotional growth over time.

To ignore the information, research and legislation in support of such learning is to function in many ways in a 20th Century model of education. This brief post is offered as a way to help ignite the conversation you might be having with colleagues, with parents, with administrators – and to reframe the dialogue in your school community so that “the head understands tomorrow what the heart already understands today.

Please consider this as your personal invitation to join the compassionate schooling conversation!

(NOTE: this is the video link in CCS course, course intro video where I ask, “What comes to mind when you hear the word “compassion”?

I think it would be great if we could add this video link from YouTube to this blog post)

What comes to mind when you hear the word, “Compassion?”

Hopefully, what comes to mind are the informed and transformed practices of professionals who themselves are accessing 21st century learning tools and methods to serve the social, emotional and academic needs of the 21st century learners in their care.

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