What is ‘Education of the Heart’?

With my hand on my heart I can say that my introduction to the Cabrinian expression ‘Education of the Heart’ had a profound impact on me in my role as an educator and my life as a Christian.  When I chose the parable of ‘The Lost Sheep’ to read at my first staff meeting and my first assembly, little did I know, that it would be the most relevant of the Gospels for the role I had embarked upon at St. Francesca Cabrini School in London.

‘Education of the Heart’ encapsulates what I understand to be the essence of outstanding teaching and learning.  It represents for me an education of the whole child which concentrates not only on academic achievement but also on developing the child’s social, spiritual and moral character all within a setting which is built fundamentally on strong core values of Love and Respect.

When I met with new parents to introduce them to our school in London, I explained that our commitment to the ‘Education of the Heart’ of each child was in fact a commitment to look right in to the core of each individual child in order to get to know each child’s strengths, needs and character.  In so doing we made a commitment to provide the most appropriate education to ensure that each child would reach their full potential academically and more importantly, alongside that, also a commitment to ensure each child grows into a responsible Christian with an understanding of their responsibility for their neighbour, their community and the world.

‘Education of the Heart’ of each child begins with the ‘Education of the Heart’ of all members of the school community and all involved in the education process.  It is therefore vital that leaders and staff come together regularly to review and evaluate the mission of the school and see the important part they play.  Without a shared vision and a commitment to clearly identified core values, ‘Education of the Heart’ cannot become a reality.

‘Education of the Heart’ in Action

  • High-Quality Teaching

Education of the Heart’ is not easy.  It requires high-quality teaching provided by teachers who plan rigorously for differing abilities within the class, ensuring work is differentiated according to ability which enables all pupils to excel and achieve their best.  Rigorous reviews and assessment by teachers inform planning so that children move forward at a pace but are supported when a need is identified.  Teachers need to really ‘know’ their pupils and see them as individuals in order to achieve this.

  • Tailored for Specific Needs

The successful integration of children with specific needs was and continues to be an area of strength in St. Francesca Cabrini School in London.  Children with specific needs are provided with a curriculum, resources and support tailored to their particular needs.  Since this is the essence of the meaning of ‘Education of the Heart’ – getting to know and understand what each child needs to succeed – such children are integrated and achieve well in the school.  A significant number of these children have communication difficulties and so great efforts were, and continue to be, made to strengthen resourcing for this group.  Examples of this include:

  • The decision to fund increased Speech and Language professional support.
  • Before school begins daily provision of ‘The Sensory Circuit’ which provides a calming experience for these children and gives them a positive start to the day.
  • Sessions on the Climbing Wall (a result of fundraising initiatives organised by the Inclusion Manager) which develops problem solving skills and increases confidence and self-esteem.
  • School-funded training for a support staff member to become an Emotional Literacy Support Assistant (ELSA) to better understand and support those children with emotional needs. This has provided a whole-school resource for use as and when required by pupils who were struggling emotionally for all manner of reasons such as family break-up, bereavement or ongoing behavioural needs as a result of stress or anxiety.
  • School funding of a part-time Sports Coach and other sports initiatives which all played, and continue to play, an important part in building children’s confidence as well as supporting their health and wellbeing. Despite financial pressures St. Francesca Cabrini School saw the benefits and has continued to fund this important resource.

These initiatives give some insight into the importance the school places on developing children’s confidence and self-esteem.  We have found these measures help pupils overcome barriers to their learning whist letting them know there is always someone who will help them deal with their difficulties.

  • Support to Adult Members of the School Community to Fulfil the Mission

The Annual Mission Development Day for all adult members of the school community, including Sisters, is a key day in the school calendar and indicates the importance placed on ensuring all teachers and staff review and examine the important part each play in the ‘Education of the Heart’.  All adult members of the school community come together to reaffirm their commitment to a shared vision.

  • Children Inspired in their Personal Role in Reaching Others

The annual Pupils’ Mission Day gives children the opportunity to reflect on the life of St Francesca Cabrini and her work which is continued by The Missionary Sisters today as well as understand the role they have in supporting those who are less fortunate and in need.  This reminds children of their place in the world and their responsibility and role as ‘little missionaries’.

  • Valuing our Leaders

The role of the Leaders, of course, is important in any institution.  The style of leadership in a ‘Cabrinian’ institution is quite special and the key to this is to lead by example.  All relationships with parents, all staff, as well as children must be based on Love and Respect.  Whilst expectations must be high, all members of the community must feel loved and respected.  How else can we expect children to ‘learn’ or feel loved and respected?  It is difficult to quantify what this actually means in reality, but you know it and you feel it when it is there.  So many staff have come to the school and immediately have felt a distinctive ‘charism’ and been surprised that there is such unity in the staff.  Many have described their experiences in other schools as confrontational or toxic and some have experienced bullying and prejudice.  At the school in London all staff are valued, and more importantly they feel valued, and as a result are committed and hardworking.

How Does ‘Education of the Heart’ Make a Difference in Raising and Shaping a Child for Today’s World?

‘Education of the Heart’ is the difference between a mediocre education and an outstanding one.

A child who benefits from high-quality teaching founded on a child-centred approach provided in an atmosphere of Love and Respect, will be a child who grows up to be a hardworking, respectful individual and one who recognises and celebrates the differences in others, yet remains confident and secure in their own identity.  This child will grow with a desire to make the most of their own life, recognising a responsibility and a desire to support and show compassion to others.

It is of the utmost importance that educators work to develop the whole child to take their place in an everchanging world, which will present them with many challenges.  We must educate our children to believe that they can solve problems peacefully and can overcome barriers.  Children must be empowered to believe that they can make a difference.

How Can Schools Strengthen Their ‘Education of the Heart’ Approach?

The key is firstly to ensure all teachers and staff understand ‘Education of the Heart’ and share a commitment to it.  Practically this means:

  • Going the extra mile by placing the child at the centre of education efforts.
  • Sharing an understanding of how best children learn.
  • School leaders understanding how to get the best out of all staff.

Identified core values are an important foundation but they cannot just be words in a Mission Statement.  Love and Respect must be ‘living’ and be embedded and permeate all aspects of the life of the school.  Anything less must be challenged.  This requires dedication from all leaders and staff.  Efforts to improve academic results and climb up the league tables must not detract from the important role we as educators have to ‘Educate the Heart’ of the child.  That is not to say that these things are not important, of course they are, but not at the expense of love and respect.  Indeed, if we show Love and Respect to each child, we will be driven by a desire to ensure each individual child will achieve their very best in all areas.

‘Education of the Heart’ is the greatest challenge of all in education and whilst this is being discussed in the context of a ’Cabrinian’ school, it is an excellent model for all schools.

Jacintha Martin

Jacintha Martin has been teaching since 1976 and spent the majority of years teaching in inner city London schools.  She was appointed  as Head of St Francesca Cabrini Primary School in London in 1992 and this was her second headship . During her time as Head at Cabrini she was inspired and then became driven by the Charism of Cabrini. Although retired now from her Headteacher role she considers herself  still as an active member of the Cabrinian family. 


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    Kerry Conlon on April 12, 2023

    I remember miss Martin when I went to the school . I’m now 39 , it was such an amazing school and experience. I’m still friends with people from school and I remember being a dinner monitor there . Miss Martin was such a amazing teacher and will always remember her miss this school so much x

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