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A rule-of-three: Head, Heart and Hands

Recently International Baccalaureate (IB) director general Olli-Pekka Heinonen was interviewed by international education magazine Tes in an article titled The man helping the IB find its voice. In his interview he outlined his ‘mantra’ for a contemporary IB program. “Education must move beyond traditional cognitive teaching – which he terms ‘the head’ – to include more around both the practical – ‘the hand’ – and the profound – ‘the heart’ ” (Heinonen, 2022).

Head, heart and hands. A rule-of-three vision.

These three words have long been a part of our Jesuit beliefs. More recently, it has been crystalised within our Learning and Teaching Framework as seen in the visual representation of the framework below.

It’s interesting that a leading global education organisation such as the IB is applying an educational belief that we have held dear as a College for a long period of time. It is therefore affirming that what we espouse is seen as desirable within other organisational settings. In developing the head, heart and hands, we develop cognitive and human competencies that enable our students to thrive in the world. Of particular importance here is the shift in educational narrative from ‘learning’ and ‘intelligence’ being a purely ‘cognitive’ process, to instead being a more intricate engagement of the whole being. Thus, the development of the hands and the heart are equally as important as the development of the head. One does not supersede the others.

Research supports this shift in narrative. A recent academic article by Heydenberk and Heydenberk (2022) titled The hard truth about soft skills, reinforces the connection between cognitive and human (social and emotional) competencies.

When students’ social and emotional intelligence is nurtured in the school environment, student performance is enhanced, and students use their skills to create and nurture relationships beyond the school community (Heydenberk & Heydenberk, 2015; Heydenberk & Heydenberk, 2017). Rather than considering metacognitive mindfulness and social-emotional learning as time that detracts from academic goals, it is clear that these skills make academic success possible (Heydenberk & Heydenberk, 2006; Tyng et al, 2017). Students can not engage the perceptive processes of attention, learning, memory processing, and problem solving if they are not in a calm, positive emotional state. In fact, emotion has a particularly strong influence on attention as well as motivating action and behaviour. This attentional and executive control [metacognition] is intimately linked to learning process.

A societal challenge we face is to have people better appreciate the importance of the heart and the hands when the skills, attitudes and behaviours that represent these two elements aren’t always as easy to measure or quantify compared to the head (cognition). A test or exam doesn’t necessarily allow us to measure how an ethical heart can influence our decision making. Similarly, a test or exam doesn’t enable a student to demonstrate how they act in a situation which requires empathy and good communication. However, just because an element of personal growth and learning can’t be measured easily, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be deeply valued and explicitly taught.

If we are to authentically integrate the head, heart and hands we must continue to look to do just that; integrate. Our curriculum must continue to be designed with this in mind rather than taking an often-misunderstood binary position where ‘curriculum’ deals with the head whilst ‘pastoral’ deals with the heart and hands. It is this integrated ‘rule-of-three’ approach that shapes our teaching and learning and makes us the envy of other educational organisations.

In developing the head, heart and hands, we build human excellence in all of our students. This is the ‘formation’ we strive for. If there is anything our challenged world needs right now, it is just that.

Mr Kain Noack
Head of Studies and Innovation

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