The Heart of the Matter

I’ve not been on twitter much this week, and when I have, it’s led to mild irritation. Returning from a wonderful few days working with middle school children in Istanbul, I tapped back into twitter to find the same strident voices peddling the same certainties and instead of wondering whether I should respond, as I usually do, I simply switched off. For a couple of days, at least. And while I switched off, I read Ian Gilbert’s book  ‘Independent Thinking’. Instead of irritation, I laughed, and shed a little tear and hummed and ahhhed and smiled and popped post-it notes on pages. Ian’s book doesn’t tell you how to teach. It doesn’t tell at all. It wonders and it is full of wonder. And so, I’m looking at my work with renewed eyes. Istanbul eyes and Gilbert eyes. And what I see is joy, love and hope. Not mastery, purpose and practice.

This post will be attacked as opinion. It is, simply opinion, although I would point to the extensive longitudinal study from Harvard, conducted over 75 years which summarises simply that ‘Happiness is Love’. I could also point to the work of Seligman and Layard and point to the importance of relationships, wisdom and goodness in living a successful life. But instead, I’m going to point to people I know.

Two tricky boys with no mothers, who have worked hard for me ever since I started behaving like a mother towards them. An angry girl who responds and quietens if I speak to her anger with gentleness. A whole class of chitty chatters who can be quietened with the stare and calmed with a smile. The boy who told me quite simply, more than ten years after he left school that what he remembered most about our lessons was that I loved them. And I did.

We can argue endlessly about pedagogy. We can, if we want to, spend hours bitterly arguing about whether knowledge or skills are most important (when they are utterly inter-dependent). We can form tribes, dig trenches, fire shots across the educational wasteland. But when you read the heart breaking accounts of @betsysalt or @chocotzar’ struggles with the terrible lives of the children in their care; when a child tells you he understands how Joey in War Horse feels in Chapter One, because he too lost his mother when he was little; when a head-teacher tells you that a child doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in an attempt to communicate his pain, you have to stop and ask, what are we here for?

We’re here to teach, yes. But we’re here to love. And if we can’t offer love, we will never be the teacher they deserve. That’s all.



18 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter

  1. A wonderful post. You know it, I know it and most teachers know it.

    Having said that, I believe Hattie only rated love at 0.37 and below 0.4 it dosn’t count.

  2. Thank you – I often feel like I am doing something wrong because I love and care for my students when we’re not meant to, at least not at my school. I’m thrilled when they learn, make progress or achieve a target grade but I’m happier when they turn other – more personal – types of corner. Lovely post. TRhank you

  3. You decry certainty – quite rightly, I think – yet you seem very certain that “mastery, purpose and practice” and “joy, love and hope” are exclusive. Sorry, but I don’t buy it. We need both. If the former is not part of your active practice (and professional reflection) then the latter is empty. For teachers, seeking mastery, defining academic purpose and ensuring practice is how we show love and give hope.

    1. Spot on. We need both. And even if Debra did not mean to set these two things up as antithetical, many teachers do, either ignoring or actively decrying practice, progression and the targetting of objectives. These are things which ought to lie at the heart of their professional practice. You may be interested in my post, “Why teachers don’t know best” at

      1. They are important. But the heart lies at the heart of learning. Unless we attend to the emotional states of the children we teach, no amount of effort will make them learn.

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