The Center for Educational Improvement

Head Centered and Heart Centered Education

In This Issue
The Trust Molecule
Cell Phones for Learning

The Center for Educational Improvement is pleased

to announce!


Two-Hour Sessions  


Heart   Centered   Education  


Trainings by

Suzan Mullane, M.S. Ed.  


Jacqueline Hayden, M.Ed.  



Sessions in Washington, DC, and Anchorage, Alaska. Other places by special request.


20% of the proceeds donated to "Save the Children"


    The Heart Centered approach is based on our philosophy that the individual needs to be self-determined and that self-determination comes from having time to reflect and pursue topics of interest. "Space" needs to be inserted into curriculum maps and calendars to give students opportunities to review and to reflect on their work, and to make decisions to "redo, revise, go into greater depth, learn more, or move-on." Students need time to talk, dream, celebrate, explore, and consider "what if" questions. This reflection will help them grow in their understanding and compassion, and become more effective team members and better prepared for their lives after school.


     The Heart Centered Education approach is a perfect fit with the very best of the Common Core Curriculum. Learning to compare and contrast could be a Heart Centered Exercise. In practical terms, CEI is ready to help teachers understand the implications for spacing instruction, deep discussion, effective questioning and prompting, visioning futures, and the role of reteaching.


            ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

Metacognitive Skills  

for Teachers


     Professional devel-opment and continuous learning requires that teachers recognize what is working well, what they need to change, and how to improve. Enhance your metacognitive skills in reflection, planning, positive self-talk, and self-regulation to strengthen your teaching practices and classroom interactions.


We are offering five workshops:

  • Brain-Based Instruction
  • Adding Compassion, Courage, Conscientiousness, and Confidence to the Curriculum  -- a cross-curricular workshop
  • How Heart Centered Education supports the Common Core
  • Self Determination and Self-Initiated Instruction
  • Metacognitive Instruction
For additional information or to arrange a session call 571-213-3192 or email:




We hope you are enjoying our New!  Website 


View our blog, and see bios for our team, feeds from relevant sites, announcements of upcoming events, and descriptions of our services. Thanks to for their design & support and to Monica Jerbi, our Webmaster.



 CEI remains committed to providing high-quality research based services, to questioning current strategies, and contemplating the future of education, nationally and globally.




The CEI is continuing
 to Partner with Pensarus, Inc. and others.

For more information on our services and modules or for a FREE 2 HOUR Consultation contact Dr. Mason at


To help us meet your needs, please send an email with answers to the following questions:

1. Primary concern or need:

2. Proposed dates of service:

3. # of teachers:____

4. What you expect from CEI:

We will respond within 24-36 hours.

Thank you!


Editor: Carolyn Lieberg, M.A.


Contact Information
Contact our Executive Director, Dr. Christine Mason.


(571) 213-3192

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Dear Educator,


During the No Child Left Behind era, classroom time spent testing increased exponentially, leaving less time to teach. This led to changes that shifted the balance between academic / intellectual pursuits and other cultural and health/physical curricular components. Some schools reduced or eliminated recesses or Physical Education, art and music, and extracurricular options or electives. Some afterschool clubs were replaced with tutoring and  activities in reading or math.


The increased academic emphasis has put additional pressure especially on children who excel at sports, art, or music, but who struggle academically. These pressurized classrooms allow little time for students and teachers to watch flowers grow, engage in extended conversations, or take advantage of naturally occurring instructional detours afforded by teachable moments. The loss of  teachable moments can mean a loss of connection with one's cultural life. In essence, some of the heart has been removed from education. 


While this trend back to academics has meant that schools have become very head-centered, we see a rise in information about  learning and the brain. Neural imaging shows that emotional conditions impact the efficiency of learning. With emotional pressure or anxiety, the limbic system, which regulates emotions, may produce adrenaline, raising the heart-rate and blood pressure, and overriding higher level cortical functions such as abstract reasoning (Vail, 1990; Blakemore & Frith, 2005). In comparison, it has been demonstrated that monks and others who have spent long hours in meditation actually have stronger neural pathways (Davidson & Lutz, 2008).


We support the Common Core Standards and the move to increased rigor. However, this need not be at the expense of  the arts, physical education, or student self-determination and choice. Balance is essential and as recent research on arts integration is indicating, not only for peeking student interest and giving due respect to these curriculum areas, but also for better learning.



Blakemore S.-J. . & Frith, U. (2005) The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education. Wiley-Blackwell    

Lutz A, Brefczynski-Lewis J, Johnstone T, Davidson RJ (2008) Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897  

Vail, P.L. (1990 February) Obstacles to thinking. Learning. v. 18 n6    p48-50 Feb  

An Approach to Heart Centered Education 

By Dr. Christine Mason

Andrew Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley (2008) describe an alternative for the 21st Century. They envision the U.S. providing global leadership with its model:


Most of all, we need a vision of education as a public good that shapes the future of all of us. . . In the Fourth Way, there will still be standards, including public, human, and ethical create the schools that will undergird and catalyze our best values to regenerate and improve society. (p.61)


Their suggestion goes beyond the standards that are being recommended with the Common Core, and their recommendations are incorporated in what the Center for Educational Improvement is terming "Heart Centered Education." By that we mean education that is not overly dependent upon a focus on academic achievement or expectations for academic growth--instead an education that considers a holistic approach that will build character.



To implement Heart Centered Education, we are recommending a simple strategy that will develop humanitarian leadership and foster a positive sense of self, independence and lifelong learning. We have selected four C's that are missing from the agenda proposed by national leaders today:  

      ~ compassion  

      ~ courage   

      ~ confidence 

      ~ consciousness.  

We recommend adding these elements to lessons. However, we strongly believe that to be successful with these four values, they have to be woven into instruction on a systematic basis so that they become a part of the fabric of the individual. So a typical character education curriculum with a few lessons on each of these would be too little for the pervasive change we envision.


Adding compassion, courage, confidence, and consciousness to lessons requires that students self-assess how they incorporate these values in their own lives and how they demonstrate these traits in their daily interactions. It also requires that educators shift the focus, as students study history, literature, and science, to understand how leaders throughout history employed these traits; how these values are a part of the lives of scientists, artists, and writers; how these values are a part of the lives of citizens of different nations; and how global progress could be measured according to these metrics. It requires that teachers help to build these traits by fostering courage, helping to build student confidence and success, modeling and reinforcing compassionate responses in classroom interactions.  


Moreover, in classrooms, teachers would help increase student consciousness or awareness by building their observation skills and their understanding of themselves and others. These recommendations for Heart Centered Education build on knowledge of brain-based instruction, student interests, engagement, and adding Wow! into the lessons so that students are drawn into learning.  


Hargreaves, A.  & Shirley, D. (2008). Expecting excellence: The fourth way of change. Educational Leadership, 66, 2, 56-61. 


The Trust Molecule -- Using it in the Classroom  

by Carolyn Lieberg


While educators study new and creative ways to make use of technology in the classroom, they will also want to keep an eye on the latest research in biological sciences. Researchers continue to break new ground in understanding the science of the mind. A new book by Paul J. Zak reveals promising research about what the author calls the "trust molecule."


 The chemical has been known for decades; it is oxytocin, the female hormone that controls uterine contractions during labor. Zak has found that not only is oxytocin abundant when mothers breastfeed and bond with infants, but the levels of the molecule rise during sex. They even become more prevalent when people hug.


Zak's experiments showed that when oxytocin levels rise, people behave more generously or in a more caring fashion toward one another. A mere signal of trust, such as telling people you are going to give them a hug later, results in an increase in the hormone. Zak's research showed that singing, dancing, praying and other group activities resulted in a release of oxytocin and promoted a sense of connection and caring. Even tweeting or other uses of social media produce an increase in oxytocin and a concomitant sense of well-being and connectedness.


How might educators make use of this information?  

  Could it be that students are often more engaged in group versus individual activities, at least in part due to the release of oxytocin? Could it be that when students are working in their "zones" of interest, where they care more deeply about learning, that more oxytocin is produced? Could it be that conditions established in the classroom that foster trust are successful at least in part due to the biochemical changes that occur for individual students? How might teachers use this research information to enhance learning?


A previous issue of WOW!Ed described the positive effects of granting high school students more control in managing their learning. Perhaps the mere gift of responsibility made the students feel trusted. Other factors that might lead to a greater sense of trust and well-being might be:

  • Encouraging and providing for group projects 
  • Giving students more options to evaluate their own learning needs and the responsibility to select or design their own learning activities

 What about the role of music?

   A recent British study may be connected to the same biochemistry, though its goal was to see how music-making-- weekly, hour-long sessions for a year with 8-11 year olds-- affected empathy. Results were dramatic. One control group did nothing special, and the second control group played games designed to increase empathy. But those engaged in musical games, collaborative composition, and playing together in coordinating rhythms scored higher in responses both to statements about empathic situations as well as in identifying photographs of human expression.

                    misc notes 

Authentic engagement, granting responsibility, or encouraging collaboration seem to be common starting points. Many decisions need to be made to create the atmosphere and modify curriculum materials to suit these changes; however,small steps can be done spontaneously. Exercising the shift of responsibility, like physical exercising, probably needs small repetitions at the start. Effects will not be instant. But the long-term results for the classroom could be an evolving sense of an improved attitude.


When people behave on the basis of trust, according to Zak, they are not behaving on the basis of wariness. The shift in tone from one angle to another is the difference between a positive atmosphere and one that breeds reluctance, antagonism, or negativism. Students come from complicated homes and carry a multitude of expectations into the classroom.


Oxytocin is not a Pollyanna panacea. In fact, a range of factors appear to influence the impact of releasing oxytocin, and the amount of oxytocin released in the same circumstances varies with individuals. However, just as our knowledge of neuroscience has impacted instructional design, this recent information on the biochemical reactions might lead to greater instructional efficiency and serve as one more tool for teachers to consider in designing their instructional plans.


Zak, P.J. (2012, May) The Moral Molecule  Dutton Publishing, a member of Penguin Group (USA).  


The music study research team was led by Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, University of Cambridge, Centre for Music and Science. The group studied 52 girls and boys.


Mobile Devices in the Classroom to Aid Learning 

  The increased use of smartphones, iPods, MP3players, iPads, and  tablets has been followed by a growth in the desire by both students and parents to increase the use of the technology for learning. Cell phones connected to the Internet and now digital tablets are the latest means for facilitating both collaboration and access to resources.


                               Proj Tomorrow

Project Tomorrow, in its annual Speak Up Survey, found that students are using these tools to personalize their learning in the same way adults do. According to their report, "Students are turning to online classes to study topics that pique their intellectual curiosity," and they are using message threads and discussion boards "to explore new ideas about their world ... [and using] online collaboration tools to share their expertise with other students they don't even know."


 According  to  results from the 2011 research:

  • One in 10 high school students has tweeted about an academic topic that interested them.
  • About 46 % of high school students have used Facebook as a collaborative learning tool.
  • One in four students has used online videos to help with homework questions.
  • Nearly 70% of high schoolers reported using technology to create presentations.

In a related study, the Scranton Smartphone Survey** investigated student use of smartphones in terms of school work. Researchers recommend that literacy information teachers provide more guidance in transferring the skills students use on laptops to their phones. Students tend not to consult as many sources and may not look as carefully as they should at reliability markers for the source. Teachers should become familiar with the new search methods on the phones, too.


How can schools make the best use of these tools?

   Discovering the most effective ways to employ the tools will be an evolving process, and the available software and levels of experience of students and teachers will be the major factors that affect the growth. A briefing in Washington, DC, this month will provide ideas and information about how to improve learning opportunities with the devices. The discussion will also explore some of the barriers that educators face as they integrate technology into the classroom.

   The Speak Up 2011 National Findings will be presented by Julie Evans, CEO, and a panel of educators on Wed, May 23, 12-1:30 at the Hart Senate Office Building, Room 902. RSVP at


Project Tomorrow (2012) Mapping a personalized learning journey--K-12 students and parents connect the dots with digital learning. 2012 Congressional Briefing--Release of Speak Up 2011 National Data for Students and Parents, April 2012  


**For more details, Kristen Yarmey "Student information literacy in the mobile environment"
Educause Quarterly
Vol 34, No. 1, 2011 




Inspiration from Mobile Learning in the Developing World

By Monica Jerbi

News stories appear with more and more frequency describing the ways technology aids student learning in the developing world. The fact that more people have mobile phones (79%) than have electricity illustrates the eagerness for connections, and those connections can lead to very positive outcomes. For instance, students who live in book-poor areas are reading novels on their phones, and students in Ghana, who received Kindles pre-loaded with local folk tales and sports news, showed marked improvement in their English test scores.


This child in Kenya is a recipient of a pre-loaded reading device from World Reader, a nonprofit organization.  


   Introducing technology into an area with few resources must be done with care. The Brookings Institute developed a list of seven principles for educators to use when making these decisions, but educators everywhere may find the list provocative.

  1. Start with an educational problem that needs to be addressed. Will technology help?
  2. What value can be added by using technology, such as improved access or communication?
  3. Can the technology be sustained over time, including repairs and updating?
  4. If possible, can the technology serve multiple purposes?
  5. Other things being equal, choose the least expensive.
  6. Will the technology be reliable?
  7. Despite the attraction of some complicated devices, choose those that will grant ease of use.

   Making thoughtful decisions about which technology to use and how precisely to implement that use helps keep the learning goals clear, which is beneficial regardless of level of development.


Winthrop, R. and Smith, M.S. (2012, January) Bringing technology into the classroom in the developing world. Brooke Shearer Working Paper Series: A New Face of Education. Brookings Institute, Working Paper 1, January 2012



Update on Yoga   


Yoga for Autism Spectrum Disorder


Spectrum Yoga Therapy is a protocol to use with people who have autism, and Scott Anderson, the program's developer, would like to get the word out far and wide. Anderson now works with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at the Waisman Center in Madison, Wisconsin, but he developed the therapy in 2008, based on years of teaching yoga and studying the field.

   His five-point protocol involves: foot massage, psoas wakeup, supine twist, shoulder rest, and facilitated exhale. He holds classes in a cavernous room in Madison, where people with autism would tend to be distressed by the noise level, the close quarters, and the volunteers touching them. Instead, there is quiet for five or even ten minutes at a time. One parent described her 19-year-old son, after some months of classes, applying the breathing techniques to himself when a panic attack was coming on. The young man took the necessary steps to calm down, which was, in his mother's words, "a very, very big deal."   

   Anderson - Yoga Spectrum Therapy 


A study in Madison seeks volunteers

   In partnership with Anderson's organization, CIHM will conduct a pilot study examining the effects of yoga and breathing for individuals on the autism spectrum. This therapy program will focus on helping students to be calm and capable of participating and then bring them through a series of movements that fully engage the diaphragm and optimize healthy breathing.


Ginsberg-Schutz, M. (2011, August). Scott Anderson's Spectrum Yoga Therapy is a miracle for those diagnosed with autism. Madison Magazine


 Closing Thoughts--


What is your school/district policy regarding digital devices in the classroom? Rather than banning them, we suggest that you consider working with your students to come up with rules for safe, courteous use.


What about Heart Centered Learning?  Are you incorporating compassion, courage, confidence, and consciousness into your lessons and your interactions with students?  Do you find opportunities to model. demonstrate, and reinforce these values? 


And in regard to inclusion of students with autism and other disabilities, have you found ways to heighten their learning and engagement in the curriculum?


Where do you stand, where are you headed with these and other 21st Century considerations?


As you wind down this academic year, please consider how you can enhance the school experience to go beyond mere responding to academic tasks that have been laid out by others-- consider how you can involve students so that they are turned on, ready to learn, and diving deep into the curriculum.


Christine Mason, Ph.D.

 Director, Center for Educational Improvement
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