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Many Decisions: Building a Future with Our Hearts in Mind

Updated: May 26, 2021

By Christine Mason, PhD, CEI Executive Director

Our HeartMind e-News connects the relationship of heart centered learning and mindfulness to current research and circumstances. Our goal is to provide our readers with concrete opportunities to further implementation of heart centered practices in their schools and districts. These opportunities will include suggestions for reflection, journaling, dialoguing, and compassionate classroom activities. We begin by examining the relationship of CEI’s 5Cs to “learned hopefulness and the science of learning and development. We will share a few key ideas from activists and educational leaders—considering wisdom from Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, and Linda Darling-Hammond.

Hopefulness Versus Helplessness In a recent seminar, Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves (2020) described a phenomenon they term, “learned hopefulness,” or the ability to focus on hope. They recommend that educators turn towards hope, teach hope, and not only help people cope, but help them have hope. Learn more and make plans to join the next, “What’s Ahead in U.S. Education” panel discussion on January 11, where Peter DeWitt, author, blogger, and host of the EdWeek Show, A Seat at the Table, will facilitate the discussion with international and U.S. policy experts, Drs. Michael Fullan, Andrew Hargreaves, Pedro Noguera, and Patricia Gandara. Over the years, “learned helplessness” (Seligman & Maier, 1967) has been used to describe conditions that often restrict our problem solving, sometimes to the point where we believe we cannot control our life or life circumstances. Psychologists have reported that with training and practice, individuals can become more resilient, and have a greater sense of self-compassion and self-worth. “Learned hopefulness” provides another frame for understanding actions we might take to further our circumstances and overcome anxiety or a sense of complacency or apathy regarding our lives.

Relationship of 5Cs to Hope

When we consider what this past year has been for many around the world—an unprecedented time of stress and trauma—we find a strong desire and need to leave this behind. This has been a year where so many have been conflicted, as schools have opened, closed, and reopened multiple times in attempts to both be there for children and to be safe. Certainly, hope is needed. As portrayed in our diagram above, a foundation of consciousness (or mindfulness), is key to building a more compassionate community and a more compassionate world. From consciousness comes a new ability to see our needs and the needs of others more clearly—a prerequisite for greater compassion. As we practice consciousness and compassion, we gain confidence in our understanding and our interpretation of life, circumstances, and needs. With increased confidence, we are better prepared to have courage and to act with courage. All of this learning occurs within a community, as a caring, compassionate community is being fostered.

“Learned hopefulness” can be taught and strengthened with CEI’s 5 Cs (consciousness, compassion, confidence, courage, and community). When educators understand neurobiology and neuroplasticity, including the priority of building executive functions that are foundational to academic success, they are more likely to teach with positivity, heart, and hope in mind. (Mason, Rivers Murphy, & Jackson, 2019, 2020).

Exercise #1: To begin to understand how the 5Cs impact a sense of hopefulness, turn to “Consciousness”

When we are more conscious of our attitudes, we are better able to make decisions that will enhance our sense of connectedness, well-being, and hopefulness.

The Learned Hopefulness Scoreboard

  1. Set up a scoreboard with two columns: (+) and (-). During the next few weeks, make a record of the “what” that informs either your sense of optimism (+) or pessimism (-). This might include such things as “the rate of COVID increased” or “my children are enjoying time with their families.”

  2. Try to connect each of your statements to one of the 5 Cs. While you may not be able to match up everything, review the matches you have and consider how building competence related to one or more of CEI’s 5Cs may build your sense of hopefulness.

For School Leaders: Suggest that your staff participate in the Learned Hopefulness Scoreboard.


Conscious Awareness of Self and Others & Compassion: The Science of Learning and Development

Renowned educator Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues (2020) articulate an emerging consensus about the science of learning and development, including four key principles of practice:

  1. building supportive environments,

  2. using productive instructional strategies,

  3. promoting social and emotional development, and

  4. relying on a system of supports to help address individual student needs and learning barriers.

Each of these principles will build support for our most vulnerable students. Such support is also essential as it fosters compassion and compassionate actions.


Exercise #2: How are you strengthening supports in your schools and communities? How are you strengthening supports in your schools and communities?

  1. Identify at least 3-5 students who you believe are the most vulnerable. Next to their names, put a brief statement of their vulnerability. For example, Jennifer. An only child, whose parents work long hours. Jennifer is quiet, she rarely participates in online discussions.

  2. Examine Darling-Hammond’s four key principles. Consider your schools and your communities. Where are your strengths? Where do you have the greatest need for growth?

  3. Return again to the 3-5 most vulnerable students. Which of the four principles could be applied to ease their burden and give them greater access to learning?

Recognizing the adverse impact of trauma, Darling-Hammond and colleagues also examine how children learn, and identify ways to accelerate productive learning.

They report that the science of learning indicates: humans learn more effectively when they are not anxious, fearful, or distracted by pressing concerns; when the learning is connected to their prior knowledge and experience; when they are actively engaged; and when they have a reason to care about the content they are learning and can use it to deepen their understanding and to solve real questions or problems (p. 109-110).

Consciousness, Compassion, and Confidence. Removing fear and anxiety prime the brain to be ready to tune in and learn. When we are consciously aware of the sometimes subtle, sometimes not-so-subtle, signs of a child’s distress, there are steps we can take (CEI’s 5Cs) to motivate and inspire learning. When we help students connect the dots of learning, relating current instruction to students’ knowledge and skills, it is easier for them to follow along and we contribute to their sense of confidence and success. When teachers are consciously attuned to the interests and preferences of children and youth, and connect current instruction to these interests and preferences, students have additional reasons to focus and learn.


Review and Reflect Activity

How can you use Darling-Hammond’s understanding of how children learn to further learning for your students?


References Darling-Hammond, L., Flook, L., Cook-Harvey, C., Barron, B., & Osher, D. (2020). Implications for educational practice of the science of learning and development. Applied Developmental Science, 24(2), 97-140.

Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (2020, November). What’s ahead in U.S. Education. Corwin author discussion.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M., & Jackson, Y. (2019). Mindfulness practices: Cultivating heart centered communities where students thrive and flourish. Solution Tree Press.

Mason, C., Rivers Murphy, M. M., & Jackson, Y. (2020b). Mindful school com­munities: The five Cs of nurturing heart centered learning. Solution Tree Press.

Seligman, M. E., & Maier, S. F. (1967). Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of experimental psychology, 74(1), 1.

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