By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.


Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

TEACHING WITH HEART

Recently a colleague shared a thoughtful blog about inquiry-based teaching/learning by psychologist and educator Thom Markham.  He asks readers if we have the personality traits that help teachers effectively coach students to build their own educational understandings.   Citing scientific studies of teaching-and-learning relationships, he reports, “If an inquiry-based system is to succeed, we’ll need human beings in the classroom who know their field, but who also radiate the kind of positive, non-judgmental love that helps students open their minds and hearts.” 

Markham asks if we have these qualities:

1.    Are you optimistic?
2.    Are you open?
3.    Are you appreciative?
4.    Are you flexible?
5.    Are you purposeful?


No surprise that I love this article.  It expresses succinctly many experiences in teaching/learning that I conveyed in my book, Think, Care, Act: Teaching for a Peaceful Future (2011).  I describe heart-felt student debates of whether we should be reading Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry in sixth grade.  (Yes, resoundingly, they say, but with reservations about language and violence).  I recount discussions of small groups of students as they design utopian communities of the future, answering my prodding questions with thoughtful replies.  (“No, we won’t have money.  It just makes people jealous and creates inequality.”) 

I well remember the experiences in my own childhood in which I created my own understandings with the coaching and appreciation of compassionate adults.  In my school career, unfortunately, I recall having these experiences in only a handful of my classes. 

Perhaps that is why I try to create such experiences of heart-felt learning for my own students daily.

Parker Palmer agrees with this approach, writing in The Courage to Teach (2007): "The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts—meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self."  

Nel Noddings articulates the idea of knowing our students deeply, and (with apologies to my math-teaching friends) she expresses the pressing questions in contrast with our perceived “need” to push the curriculum forward at all costs:

"For adolescents these are among the most pressing questions: Who am I?  What kind of person will I be?  Who will love me?  How do others see me?  Yet schools spend more time on the quadratic formula than on any of these existential questions" (The Challenge to Care in Schools, 2005).

Paulo Freire, Tom Lickona, and Bill Damon write about this interactive, character-building, and purpose-filled teaching/learning compellingly.  They and I don't see curriculum, love, and purpose as exclusive of each other.  As we explore challenging understandings together—not with banking education formats but with Freirean-style student/teacher collaborative formats as discussed in Markham’s article—we build deep relationships with our students of all ages—and those relationships make for better learning. 
 
I am reminded of an interaction with sixth graders participating in a group research project in my history class.  Students were engaged in long-term research of a country in the Americas.  After weeks of research, we history teachers “hired” the student research groups as tourism companies charged with designing five-day tours to explore the geography, history, and cultures of the particular countries they were researching. 


Together we explored these enduring understandings:

  •         The diverse cultures of the Americas (North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean) are the result of the interactions among Native American, European, and African cultures that began in the 1400s and continue today.
  •      Research requires cooperation, determination, and creativity and is even more meaningful when student researchers have a real-world task and present their work to an audience. 
  •         Travel helps us learn about cultures’ similarities and differences…. experientially!


In our individual classes, we teachers offered mini-lessons on reading reputable sources, note-taking, and citations, while students constructed the bulk of the knowledge in cooperative groups.  As the teacher-coach, I circulated, encouraged, asked “why” questions, and prodded researchers to dig deeper to understand the cultural interactions that formed and continue to form their country’s unique culture.  “How can you help tourists to your country gain a deep, rather than a superficial, understanding of your country?”

Towards the end of the weeks-long project, some diligent students were stuck.  “We can’t decide on the cost of lunch for one day of our tour.  We’ve been looking for twenty minutes.”  We history teachers had partnered with the math teachers who had assigned student “tour guides” the task of figuring out the costs of their itineraries. 

“Listen,” I replied.  “You’ve been working hard.  I’ve seen you search your websites.  You’ve got your airfare, bus costs, and hotel fees.  You’re almost good to go.  Lunch will be pricey if it’s a hotel buffet instead of a restaurant in one of the neighborhoods.  Choose the one that will be best for teaching visitors about your country.  Remember, you’ve done lots of heavy lifting on this project.  Tourists will learn about Native American, African, and European contributions to your country’s culture.  Now move on and have some fun with it.” 

Simple words.  But their look of relief was palpable.  They saw themselves as diligent workers who could also give themselves permission to be efficient and have fun with their learning!  Further, they knew that I appreciated them as students and as people with valuable time constraints.  They had other tasks to do and they would not “get in trouble” if they didn’t sweat the small stuff.  But my coaching had also reminded them of the purpose of their “tours.”  Returning to the Lonely Planet website, they chose a neighborhood cafe serving the typical lunch of their country.  Tourists would get off the beaten path and appreciate local cuisine rather than hotel fare.

I want to travel with these student tour guides.  Their tours are thoroughly researched, fun, and exemplary of student cooperation on a meaningful project.  The cultural tourism project will be memorable to them, because the students constructed their knowledge themselves—with me (and my fellow teachers) as loving coaches.

When we teach with heart, students learn the most—about the curriculum, themselves, their teachers, and their shared purpose.

--Susan Gelber Cannon


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