Opinion: Teaching with heart

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The following was submitted by Jim Simmons of Shreveport, LA.

Educational goals have long espoused physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual aspects of human development. In recent decades, however, the dominant use of standardized tests has become the central factor in the public school experience.

Objective results alone ignore, or minimize, other qualities of personal growth and maturity. Public school has gone bonkers with numbers and accountability that’s data-driven. Why do we seek reassurance in ‘data-sets’, rather than the judgment of teachers and educators? Many (and I am included) are now urging broader balance of all aspects of learning and achievement, and advocate more attention to the value of interpersonal ethics. One aspect of this has been termed “getting more to the heart of teaching and learning.”

The internal atmosphere and attitude of leaders, teachers, managers, etc. is an essential factor no matter the topic. Each teacher “teaches who they are” — personal character, belief, compassion and interpersonal communication, along with competence and passion for the subject at hand. They use unconventional methods blending the experiential with reflective learning, the factual with cognitive, and honor individual learning styles that accommodate differences and interests. Teachers with enthusiasm and passion always seem to make learning exciting and easier, and that fits with what grandmother always said — “enthusiasm is catching.”

Years of experiences in both public and private sector teaching, and in outdoor adventure activities outdoor confirms that teaching with heart generates creative interplay, cooperation and camaraderie student to student and student with teacher. It creates a mutually supportive setting that establishes a safety net, allowing students or participants to be at ease and ready to get to work on new challenges. I’m certain each of us can recall an inspiring teacher or leader who always brought a bag full of enthusiasm and interpersonal that made our eyes twinkle and the motivation level surge. It was clear this leader knew — “to take care of yourself, use your head; to take care of others, use your heart!”

Shouldn’t this holistic way be more prominent in the school experience of our young, rather than giving the ‘soul’ of public education to the control of data-sets? Let’s remember we’re teaching people, not just a subject. Fifty to sixty years ago, professor Art Coombs often challenged his professional ‘teachers-in-training’ with a timeless corollary — “the way we ‘live’ with our students is more important than ‘what’ we teach, because the way we live with our students is what we teach.” I don’t imagine there is any standardized test that can measure that!