A heartful approach emphasizes the importance of connecting to your heart and letting it guide you to live a balanced and peaceful life. Using this approach in the classroom naturally creates a high-quality relationship between the student and teacher. It enhances students’ academic achievement, emotional intelligence, behavior, and motivation. The global pandemic has affected us not only physically but also socially and emotionally. I have been an educator for over a decade and currently teach Math virtually to high school students. In my classroom, I have noticed how this global pandemic has affected my students socially and emotionally. I believe that my students’ cognitive and academic performance is dependent upon the social-emotional support they receive in the classroom. I have found that the following foundational ideas help me build supportive, compassionate, and positive relationships with my students. I call them the ABCs of a Heartful Classroom.

Aspire to inspire hearts

When I was a student-teacher in my first classroom, my mentor taught me that the mediocre teacher tells, the good ones explain, the superior ones demonstrate, and the great ones inspire. My students have always inspired me to be an authentic role model who is not afraid of making mistakes, a mindset that has allowed me to grow and become a better educator. In turn, I aim to inspire my students by creating a circle of trust within the classroom, an open environment where students feel safe exploring, taking risks, and learning from their mistakes. Students want to be encouraged, challenged and most of all inspired. Problem-solving and creativity skills can develop when the inspiration to learn comes as a genuine inner drive within a student. That is to say when it comes from their heart. The more inspiration and encouragement an educator can provide, the more likely it is that their students will not only be able to face demanding challenges but overcome and rise above them. The goal is to spark each student with the drive and motivation to explore and help them forge a connection between their hearts and minds to shine their brightest. Students are more responsible, motivated, and receptive to learning when they are fully engaged in the classroom. Connecting with the heart through self-awareness and relaxation exercises helps me feel balanced and helps my students uncover their brilliant selves.

Build communities with joy and happiness

In a classroom, students do well when they can get along with and relate to others. Studies show that when we provide joyful learning environments and experiences for our students, we can improve engagement, motivation, and learning outcomes. Learning is more likely to happen in an environment where a student can experience joy and happiness. Happiness comes from making the learning fun, valuable, engaging, and relevant. I constantly engage with my students and talk to them about math as well as general situations in their lives outside of school. Caring about our students as well-rounded individuals looking through their interests, hobbies, and passions outside of school is key to figuring out what makes them smile! Encouraging my students to participate in classroom discussion has been especially difficult during the pandemic, where most things are virtual. As an online educator, I create platforms for my students to have spontaneous open conversations, often using Padlet to create a joyful space where students share photos of their work, pets, and more. Caring about student interests and connecting them to learning opportunities is crucial for strengthening the classroom community. 

“When will I ever need this?” is a question I’ve heard too often in a Math classroom. I’ve found that when I connect simple concepts such as integer operations to real-life situations, such as money transactions, students always show greater interest in the lesson. Showing them that a subject is used every day by “real” people gives it new importance and relevance to their lives. I also use opportunities such as learning about sequences by looking at the Fibonacci sequence in nature to have my students explore a concept and go deeper. 

Lastly, appreciating even the most minor of wins and sharing positive moments cultivates joy and happiness in my students and classroom. Students respond to the personal touch that educators can show by recognizing progress, adding a star to their projects, or sharing a smile and a kind word.

Connect with Compassion

Students tap into a sense of belonging and connectedness when they feel safe and accepted for who they are. Communication, both verbal and non-verbal, is essential to making connections within the classroom. Students feel more connected to an educator that cares and is excited to teach. The warmth in your voice tone and facial expression during your time together, even during virtual sessions, help your students see you as approachable and open. Making meaningful connections rooted in compassion with students bolsters their development and growth in a holistic and heartful way. 

Compassion is about being sensitive to the suffering of others and yourself. By showing care and respect for my students, my classroom focuses on compassion rather than consequences. Compassion is education’s water; it not only can help quench the thirst for social-emotional learning, but it can cut through the rigidity of standardized-test-based education to foster holistic learning. Compassion-focused classrooms build their strength by creating a balance between academic, emotional, and social learning environments that promote mental well-being and academic success. I show compassion to my students by asking them questions about their day, sharing some highlights from my life, and genuinely praising them for tasks they have accomplished. Compassion also builds confidence and motivates you to work harder, and I make a point always to encourage my students to aspire to great things and that they can achieve them.

As an educator, I always feel that pausing and centering myself by focusing on my breath helps me respond rather than react in a challenging situation. Self-care is a crucial foundation to community care. Practicing meditation tools has helped me build self-compassion and help my students develop compassion for each other. A heartful classroom promotes collaboration between students and creates their belief in their abilities to face any challenges. 

As you consider your journey, reflect on the ABCs of a heartful classroom and encourage students to aspire for the greatest, to be inspired by the success of others, and cultivate compassion to strengthen our connections to others. I would like to end this article with a quote by Mr. Fred Rogers saying, “There are three ways to ultimate success. The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”