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OUR APPROACH: Heart Centered Learning®

Considering Social Emotional Learning

Heart Centered Learning® is the Center for Educational Improvement’s (CEI) signature approach to social emotional learning and mindfulness. It focuses on five Cs—compassion, courage, confidence, consciousness (awareness), and community—to equip students with the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, feel and show empathy for others, resolve conflicts nonviolently, think creatively, and overcome obstacles to succeed in the classroom and in life.

By heart centered, we also mean education that is not overly dependent upon a focus on rigid academic scheduling or expectations for academic growth—instead taking a holistic approach. We intentionally coined Heart Centered Education® as a new terminology to avoid any biases, previous allegiance, or misconceptions that might be attached to the term social emotional learning and other older labels, such as character education and mindfulness.


With the advent of No Child Left Behind, many schools cut arts and even recess and physical education to push more, rapid learning. The lack of “space” for teachable moments and the loss of connection with one’s cultural life can remove the heart from education. As CEI’s neuroscience research area explores—and projects show-cased at Edutopia and myriad of other web sites show—schools are much better off not choosing between Heart Centered Learning™ and rigid academic scheduling.


CEI’s Heart Centered Learning® research targets the five Cs of our signature approach to social emotional learning:

  • Consciousness (Mindfulness)

  • Compassion

  • Confidence

  • Courage

  • Community

We envision that as consciousness expands,  compassion will become greater. However, to fuel action, compassion must be supported by increased confidence and courage. This all happens within the context of community. So as the school community becomes more conscious and exhibits more compassion it becomes more effective in influencing the world beyond its borders. Individual students, meanwhile, become more confident and better equipped to manage their emotions, communicate, think creatively, resolve conflicts nonviolently, and overcome obstacles to succeed in the classroom and in life. As schools and individuals become more compassionate, and practice compassionate actions, their consciousness also continues to expand, and school communities become better able to support the needs of students and prepare students to become mindful and caring adults. Thus a cycle of consciousness and compassion continues to evolve.

Heart Centered Learning® is also based on our philosophy that the individual needs to be self-determined and that self-determination comes with time to reflect and pursue topics of interest. Increasing self-determination means inserting ‘space’ needs into curriculum maps and academic calendars. During these ‘spaces’ between instruction, students are given opportunities to review their own portfolios, reflect on their work, and make decisions to ‘redo, revise, go into greater depth, learn more, or move-on.’ The greatest geniuses had time to reflect, and often their discoveries were the Eurekas. The greatest discoveries did not come from being bound to a rigid schedule. During the ‘space’ that is built into the curriculum, students are given opportunities to dialogue, dream, celebrate, explore, and consider alternative universes’…to ask the what if questions, to grow in their understanding and compassion for selves and others, and to become more effective team members and better prepared for their lives after school.


See also CEI’s Heart Beaming Certification®


Heart Centered Publications: To learn more about Heart Centered Learning, explore CEI's books: 


Why compassionate, mindfulness practices are needed in schools. Join co-authors of Mindfulness Practices Dr. Christine Mason and Dr. Michele Rivers Murphy for a special book study session highlighting mindful practices, classroom instruction, and the work of the Childhood-Trauma Learning Collaborative.

Pause and Center

Incorporate "Pause and Center" moments into your daily routines for a calmer, happier, and more connected family or school.

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