Teaching and Learning with Love


It's not a word we hear often (or at all) in the discourse on education reform. But since reform is what so many of us aim to do to education, I posit that love is an essential path to our desired destination. Because, if change is what we want, we must recognize that love, above all else, changes things.

And since learning is by definition a process of change, I believe there can be no learning without love. The most effective teachers practice a pedagogy of love. They love themselves, they love their students, they love their content, and they love the community in which they practice their craft.

Now, let me be clear - I'm not talking about just any kind of love. As Martin Luther King Jr said, "love without power is sentimental and anemic". Our children and our systems of education don't need more weak sentimentalism. Students on the short end of the learning gap don't need anyone feeling sorry for them. They need the adults in their districts and school buildings to love them with a powerful love. A love that changes things.

So what can educators do to bring love to places of learning?

First, in the words of the great Mary J. Blige, you gotta love yourself. When I mentored TFA teachers in the Bronx this was alway lesson numero uno. If the teacher or leader cannot practice self love, then the teacher or leader will be unable to endure the intellectual and emotional labor that teaching and learning requires. 

Second, educators must expect excellence from both the teacher and the learner. Every teacher should expect excellent practice from themselves, their colleagues, and their leadership. Every leader should expect excellent practice from their teachers and supervisors. Love doesn't talk about what teachers and learners can't do. Love asks what it takes to help every teacher and learner rise to the same standard of excellence. And then love makes it happen.

Love does not believe the sensationalist headlines that suggest that all teachers are ineffective, public schools are a wash, poor kids can't learn and black boys need to be suspended more than other children. Love believes and acts upon the belief that with the right support every learner and teacher can thrive.  Love knows that productive struggle is a gift that every learner should experience time and time again.

Finally, we must create a nurture communities of learning. While learning is possible, it is difficult and complex. The same is true about teaching. And complexity theory is clear on the need to focus on relationships in tricky and seemingly intractable situations. 

Every school district, school building, and classroom must become places where the relationships are strong enough to support collaborative inquiry and collective efficacy instead of the current trends of isolation, competition, and arbitrary accountability. School performance scores and classroom grades should not be wielded as tools of punishment, but rather shared as substance for real conversations about what comes next on the path to excellence.

How can educators practice self love? How can we expect and support effective teaching and learning behaviors for ourselves, our colleagues, and our students? How can we create learning communities for the adults and children in our systems of education?

These questions and suggestions are not new, but they do bear repeating and reflection through the lens of love. Currently, we have an education reform movement that is all power and no love. Again, Martin Luther King Jr.'s words advise us. “Power without love is reckless and abusive... Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice."

Meesha Brown