How many of us see potential in our kids that they don’t see? 

We can see their lives stretching out in front of them. They don’t see it. How do we wake kids up to who they are and what their lives could become? 

It isn’t a mystery. There are ways to build a sense of connection, relationship, compassion, forgiveness, and understanding in a classroom. It can’t be done entirely with curriculum or subject matter content. It’s also in the environment, the culture, and the community that surrounds our kids. It is in the people. 

Students need to have their minds ready to learn. However, to become active learners, a lot of our kids need more than that. They don’t just need a new mindset; they need a new heartset. When the heart is set in a good place, the mind is open and receptive. When heart is troubled, the mind is cluttered. So heart and mind have to go hand in hand. 

I am suggesting a new way to look at education that I call Heartset® Education. Most people are familiar with the idea of a good mindset, a frame of mind that is positive and admiring. Heartset is a frame of heart. It is the power of unconditional love, where love is the foundation for education. 

Heartset Education lays the nurturing soil from which the seeds of vibrant teaching, parenting, and learning sprout. Kindness of heart establishes an energy of self-awareness, non-judgment (acceptance), peace, caring, positivity, giving, forgiveness, and compassion. Heartset creates an empathetic environment in which our young people—and the rest of us—can nourish in spite of the uncertainties and challenges we all face. 

Somehow, I intuitively knew this concept when I was just starting out as a young teacher. Working at an underserved middle school in Los Angeles in 1978, I could see that what was being attempted in public education was missing the mark for our kids. So many young people seemed to be lost, awkwardly trying to maneuver through the troubles and traumas of their lives. 

I wondered: What if we could teach them greater self-awareness, as well as coping, social, and practical life skills? We could make their lives easier and their futures brighter. We could help them treat themselves and each other with greater kindness and understanding. 

I asked my middle school principal if I could start teaching a class in self-awareness, social skills, and character development. I didn’t have a good name for it at the time. His reply was a clear no followed by, “You need to get those test scores up.” 

Not taking no for an answer, I found a way to discreetly work around the issue. I started teaching elements of these essential life skills to the students in my classes. !e class atmosphere soon came alive. Smiles, laughter, and friendships sparked, enriched by deep and honest discussion. As this learning environment of kindness, empathy, and caring was built, test scores significantly rose. Soon after, when the principal heard word of the results, it became an established elective class. 

This became the impetus for me to extend the curriculum even further. In 1990, with my wife and fellow teacher, Candace, I launched EduCare. Our heartfelt intention for EduCare was to touch the lives of more students by establishing love as a foundation in their education. As a non-profit organization, our mission became to inspire and empower young people to become responsible citizens and compassionate leaders and to live their dreams. 

EduCare Foundation now supports over 30,000 students annually across more than 100 elementary, middle, and high schools in Southern California with social-emotional learning (SEL) programs, afterschool programs, and case management. Since 1990, over 300,000 students have benefitted from EduCare’s direct student services. Over 45,000 teachers and parents across more than 500 schools have participated in EduCare professional development programs and parent workshops throughout the United States and abroad. 

Bringing love front and center in education in ways that are understandable, practical, and evaluated has been at the core of Heartset Education. Education is moving away from gauging success primarily by test scores. We are moving toward an understanding of the need for whole-child education that is heart-centered and includes social-emotional learning. We must educate the intellect, the heart, and the character of our young people with a clear focus on equity and inclusion. 

More and more educational leaders are understanding the truth in this saying (author unknown, but commonly attributed to Aristotle): Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all. 

This ideal is captured in a statement from a high school principal after his students and teachers participated in EduCare’s ACE (Achievement and Commitment to Excellence) Student Success Program: “EduCare, you are teaching from the inside out. You’ve opened my students’ hearts, and now we can capture their minds.” He recognized that when the heart is set in a healthy and compassionate place, the mind is more open, available, and prepared to learn. 

With this book, I invite you into Heartset Education: A Way of Living and Learning, a program based on the eight Heartset skills. It is an opportunity for you to look deeply at yourself and at our young people today. Look into their dreams and, with hope in your heart, see what could lie ahead. !e book highlights stories of my students, colleagues, friends, and family members who inspired and advanced the growth of Heartset. Each chapter also includes a few engaging Heartset activities for teachers, parents, and students, many of them from Making the Best of Me: a Handbook for Student Excellence and Self-Esteem. My sincere wish is that reading Heartset Education inspires you to love yourself more deeply. Together, we can learn to strengthen our human connection so that we create families, schools, and communities of greater understanding, empathy, and compassion for our young people.

Excerpted from Heartset® Education: A Way of Living and Learning, by Stu Semigran. November 15, 2022.