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Heart and mind in education

Classes have started in many private schools and the public schools will open soon.

After more than a year of remote learning, what have we learned and how can we apply these lessons as we open another school year?

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I am a teacher myself — a newbie, as I just started teaching in 2019. It was an exciting time to learn with my students as we huddled weekly in one airconditioned room for three hours. I welcomed going back to UP, which nurtured me for many years as a student and as a research staff. How I loved the old acacia trees, the sound of the carillon, the smell of fish balls, and the sight of students freely walking around in the sprawling campus.

Then in 2020, all that fun experience was gone—snatched by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Still, I continued teaching. Suddenly, we were thrust into a new era of learning. Words such as “synchronous” and “asynchronous” were introduced to my vocabulary, pertaining to the way we now held classes. I thought it would be easy to convert my lesson plans to remote learning mode. But as I started organizing my materials for online teaching, I began to entertain doubts if I was doing the right thing. I almost gave up as the technical challenges were just too much for me. But then I felt that if I gave up, that would not be setting a good example to my students who might be facing more serious challenges.

I recently completed a three-week training conducted by UP Diliman’s Office for the Advancement of Teaching. It was a comprehensive training that taught incoming teachers and new teachers like me the fundamentals of university teaching in a remote learning context. I learned some new teaching and online engagement techniques, how to assess students and develop a course syllabus and modules, and so many other lessons that I wished other teachers could also learn. But my takeaway was the constant reminder that learning is not only about the mind but also about the heart.

“Utak at Puso” (Mind and Heart) should prevail if we are to thrive in this challenging environment. COVID-19 not only threatens to destroy our physical bodies. It also attacks our minds and our hearts. As educators, we need to acknowledge that we also have a mental health pandemic.

The first lesson then is to recognize that learning is not all about teaching. How does this translate to the virtual classroom? This means allocating time to engage with the students—to know them, to understand how they are coping with the pandemic and with online learning amid their intermittent access to the internet. This might be a challenge if the teacher has many students and they have a tight time frame.

Second, create a positive learning environment. This cannot be done if teachers dish out assignment after assignment without coordinating with co-teachers who are doing the same. Compassion and kindness must be extended to students who experience disruptions due to weak internet connections, health reasons, or other unforeseen circumstances. In the same way, we need to treat teachers with the same compassion, with the same mind-and-heart approach. They need not only technical training and financial assistance in acquiring laptops or tablets, but, more importantly, also encouragement and moral support.

Third, design the lessons according to desired learning outcomes. The focus is no longer on teaching but on what students are expected to do at the end of the school year. If we think of learning outcomes, we think beyond what we should teach. We think of what the students are expected to achieve and how this will be measured or demonstrated.

All three lessons call for a check-up of the hearts of our educators—not just the teachers but everyone else involved in learning. Whether remote or face to face, a new mindset about learning is in order, a new perspective that every educator should embrace.

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A learning philosophy that combines mind and heart implies many reforms. This requires a long and tedious process. To achieve this, a supportive governance structure insulated from partisan politics is much needed.

“Learning is not a spectator sport.

Students do not learn much just by sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.”

“Seven Principles for Good Practices in Undergraduate Education” by Chickering and Gamson, 1987.

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Leonora Aquino-Gonzales teaches at the College of Mass Communication, University of the Philippines. She used to work at the World Bank as a communication specialist.

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TAGS: Commentary, education, Leonora Aquino-Gonzales, online classes, teaching
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