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“Students learn from people they love!”

“Students learn from people they love.” The title of the article in The New York Times (1/17/2019) struck me in many ways. First, with great interest. Yes! I’ve believed this for years. Then, as I read, I felt assurance that the article by David Brooks was based on his personal experience as well as scientific research. I recalled voices of other educators who have written about this. Then I heard the cynical voice of teachers who have told me that this is a dangerous way to be with students. Finally, I felt renewed in my belief that we must teach in this way, as students learn from those they love, and who love them.

Following the work of people like bell hooks and Arthur Zajonc I have promoted love as the pathway to good teaching. hooks called teaching “an act of love,” that promotes the spiritual and psychological growth student and teacher. Zajonc reminded us in his "epistemology of love" that the true heart of education is in the human relations, and also in loving what we study, as we come to know best that which we love the most. He is a physicist and shows us how this is as true for kindergarteners as for Nobel Prize winning scientists.

My personal experience as a teacher working with the full range of humans, from infants to seniors, also tells me that this is so. The key to good teaching is to bring yourself as a human being into the classroom. This simple act can create beginner’s mind, opening the door to vulnerability and authenticity, leading to the creation of a safe space for discovery.

But this is just what many teachers fear and resist. “Leave yourself at the door,” some warn. For them, this is the way to be a teacher who is objective, focused on reason, without emotion, only teaching skills and information. They tell me they make it safe for themselves and their students by keeping it intellectual, cognitive, rational, analytical, critical. Their dreary vision of teaching as “dispassionately downloading knowledge into students’ brains” is disheartening. As the NYT article suggests, I believe that we need to put relationship quality at the center of education.

Neuroscience research reminds us that emotions can inform reason rather than overwhelm it. Good teaching opens the hearts and minds of students, giving them new things to love — ideas, insights, discoveries, and also people, their classmates and their teachers. Like parents, teachers really teach when they present themselves as imperfect and compassionate human beings, who love our subjects, as well as our students. Scientific evidence reminds us of the truth that many teachers have witnessed over and over again -- children learn from people they love, and who love them as a whole person.

The approach I call Heartfulness includes mindfulness, compassion, and responsibility. More and more educators are teaching in ways that help students to come alive, focus and calm themselves, cultivate greater emotional, social, and ecological intelligence, and develop their creativity. Teaching from the heart reaches the hearts of students, enabling introspection into meaning, ethics, purpose, and values, encouraging students’ reflections on their internal experience as well as their connectedness with others. In this humble way, we build healing communities one person at a time.

A more complete treatment of the subject is in From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: Transforming Self and Society with Compassion.

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