How Principles of Love Transformed My Classroom

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Teacher Burnout


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What does it mean to practice a pedagogy of love?

I love teaching, but partway through my third year in the classroom I was heading towards burnout. I didn’t know it at the time but a chance encounter with Gert Biesta saved me. A practice of love can transform our classrooms and school communities and lead to happier teachers and students…

A chance encounter …

My journey began in Biesta’s graduate course where he asked each of us to adopt a key concept – such as creativity or democracy – and think about it in relation to education. I chose love and began by reading everything I could find on the topic.

How do we define love in the educational context?

bell hooks describes ‘love’ as a mixture of “care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication”, an exercise in community living, a choice and a responsibility to nurture another’s growth. Erich Fromm writes about love as a ‘creative activity’, to be honed the way artists apprentice themselves to the work on the way to mastery, demanding of its practitioner both knowledge and effort. I carried these ideas and others back to my school community, where they positively affected my relationships with both students and colleagues.

Who has time for this?

The first step in a practice of love is to take care of ourselves. I know this is no easy task (who has time for this), but I tried it and somehow my workload stopped feeling so oppressive. For me, self-care means mindfulness practices, learning it’s okay to make mistakes, and making time for myself on weekends, for a walk in the woods, a good book, or time with friends and family. Next, to love, I had to be present. This may seem obvious, but as a teacher, I was always multitasking from the moment I woke up to the moment I crashed on the sofa in the evening. Being present means giving our time, really listening to others and pausing to connect with them in meaningful ways. In other words, not multitasking.

Becoming curious …

I began by spending more time sitting down next to my students as they worked on assignments and projects, asking questions and finding out what they were curious about. I made more room in my lessons for sharing stories and having a genuine dialogue. Love means trusting our students (not micro-managing them) and affirming their individuality. Love also means modelling ethical and responsible ways of being in the world – this will be different for each of us, and students should know that there isn’t one right way of being – but for me, it means caring for the environment and each other. I asked myself if my day to day actions in the classroom were aligned with my values.

If love can transform a classroom, what could it mean for school structures?

Resolving conflict!

To begin with, prioritising a safe, positive classroom and school environment is key. One way of doing this is the implementation of mindfulness programs. By addressing the stress in our students’ lives and giving them tools to cope with their stress is to teach with love. We might also consider other ways to strengthen community, such as smaller schools, teachers working with groups of students for up to 3 years, more dialogue with the wider community, the inclusion of role models, and service-learning activities. Schools might deal with conflict by adopting a restorative justice approach, which emphasises social interconnectivity in resolving conflict.

A holistic curriculum?

Furthermore, the curriculum might be reorganised around issues at the core of human existence, including discussion of moral dilemmas and take an interdisciplinary approach. The curriculum could also be more flexible and holistic, with the time given to respond to events occurring in the school or locality, and the emotional, academic and moral care of children less fragmented and better integrated. And of course, support for teachers would be paramount.

Time and resources might be allocated for co-teaching and collaboration, for mastery of content, and for reflection.

A pedagogy of love transformed my teaching practice. I learned to slow down, take better care of myself, and give more importance to listening and dialogue. This, in turn, has led to stronger relationships and more student engagement. A pedagogy of love helped me. Could it help you too?

This post was written by Grania McCall, a teacher for 10 years who has worked in schools in Vancouver and Los Angeles. She has a masters in education in curriculum and pedagogy from the University of British Columbia and currently resides in London, England.

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