Positive pedagogy: learning from the heart

How can we learn with the heart?

After ” learning with the head “, this article is the 2nd part of the 3 dedicated to the “head-heart-body approach” of positive pedagogy.

Brain sciences or neurosciences began in the 1970s with cognitive sciences to understand how our brain sets up the intellectual mechanisms of attention, thought, memorization and language to assimilate new notions.

It was only recently at the end of the last century that affective and social neuroscience (NAS) emerged. Their role is to identify, explore and understand the optimal relationship and emotional state for learning.

A real discovery for teaching educators and learning more serenely for students.

Learning from the heart: Emotions and their role in learning

What is an emotion?

A definition from the Larousse dictionary:“Transient affective reaction of fairly high intensity, usually provoked by stimulation from the environment. »

A second definition:“Under the Ancien Régime, popular revolt, unorganized and generally short-lived. »

Indeed, for a very long time, emotions had a negative connotation, in the realm of irrationality and the uncontrollable , opposing the highly valued allied intellect of learning, reason and the development of person.

But recently in modern history, feelings and emotions are now considered an essential factor in brain development, personal development and optimum and long-term learning.

The different emotions

According to the American psychologist Paul Ekman, there are 6 basic emotions and 30 secondary positive emotions which are combinations of the basic emotions. They are categorized as follows: positivenegative and toxic emotions.

From her many observations and studies, pediatrician and education expert Dr. Catherine Gueguen encourages us not to demonize negative emotions in favor of positive emotions. Indeed, there are no bad or good emotions . They are all necessary to live.

If you come across a lion, your fear emotion can save your life by instinctively forcing you to run at full speed. Therefore, it is necessary to know how to control toxic and negative emotions although they are part of our life. And that’s all the art and the help of educators (parents, teachers).

Emotions and learning

Positive emotions such as confidence, pride or passion will act as a real “booster” for learning.

The pioneer of affective and social neuroscience Carl Rogers had the intuition. A leader in humanistic psychology, he understood that an educator attentive to the emotions of the learner creates an empathetic relationship essential for the optimal development of the learner, but also his well-being, his identity and his confidence.

Later, in 2013, neuroscience proved him right: studies by pedagogy expert Elena Commodari showed that the empathy of the educator (parents or teachers) contributes to improving not only socialization but also cognitive skills. and linguistics. In other words, benevolence or an attentive look at a student’s emotions has a very positive impact not only on their extra-personal intelligence (interacting with others) but also on their learning – in particular their attention and concentration skills. and memorization.

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How does it work in the brain?

When the adult is empathetic and warm , a virtuous circle occurs, a trigger chain of very important molecules is set in motion.

4 molecules in the brain are involved: dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.

  • Dopamine the molecule that stimulates motivation, pleasure in life and creativity.
  • Serotonin helps stabilize mood.
  • Endorphins provide a feeling of well-being.
  • Oxytocin is called the “ empathy molecule  ”. It provides well-being, reduces anxiety and stress.

Thus, under the effect of an empathic relationship or an empathic gaze from the educator, the child will secrete the oxytocin molecule which triggers a cascade of successive production of: dopamine (Motivation), endorphins (well- be), and serotonin (good mood).

Thus, it is a happier, less stressed, calmer and more motivated child who will be more able and happier to assimilate, memorize and restore new information, ie to learn .

What happens if he is overwhelmed by negative or toxic emotions?

The major negative emotions of learning

From their many consultations, the authors Audrey Akoun and Isabelle Pailleau have identified the 2 main negative emotions that hinder learning: fear and anger.

There are 6 forms of fear for the student:

  • the unknown,
  • Be mistaken,
  • Disappoint mom and dad,
  • Being scolded,
  • be ridiculous, and
  • Succeed.

types of anger :

  • See that others are doing better than us,
  • Do not succeed immediately,
  • Being stressed by the duration and length of homework.

These emotions cause a series of molecular activities in the brain that block learning, stress.

The stress

Stress is defined by psychologists as “a reaction of the body when it is confronted with a stressori.e. danger, pain, negative emotions, annoyance and many other physical or psychological torments. . »

To understand what happens in the brain under stress, let’s focus on these three organs:

  • The orbitofrontal cortex (the center of reasoning and logic)
  • The cerebral amygdala (the emotional management center)
  • The hippocampus (the heart of all learning)

When a child is overly stressed, the hippocampus (learning) and amygdala (emotions) are disrupted. It is also the amygdala that makes us react to a feeling and that allows the triggering of the secretion of stress hormones.

Thus, under the effect of fear or anger, the child’s brain is short-circuited and the orbitofrontal cortex (reason, logic) will therefore not be able to accept and reason this emotion. This will be directly processed by the amygdala (emotion). This is why for a period of time, it will be impossible to reflect and take a step back.

Moreover, according to recent discoveries in neuroscience, the maturity of the human brain does not end until around 25 years old and below 5 years old the orbitofrontal cortex is immature while the amygdala is already there, in full growth since the birth.

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Therefore, a young child is dominated by emotions. Under these conditions, what tools or strategies can he use to reduce his negative emotions?

We offer 2 tools:

  • bubble of calm
  • refocusing _
bubble of calm

Under stress, breathing is accelerated and irregular. The adult stands there, calm, serene. Reassuring by his presence, he puts his hands on the child’s shoulders or holds his hands or arms in order to bring him to accept his emotions and calm down on his own.

Thus the child learns that all emotions, and negative ones in particular, are only temporary.


Now calmer, the child will be encouraged by the parent to become aware of his breathing: We inhale through the nose, we feel the air going through the bronchi and inflate the belly like a balloon. And we exhale by deflating the balloon. This little yoga breathing exercise allows you to find a slower and more regular breathing.

Feeling so peaceful, the young student can now, under the benevolent gaze of educators, develop two fundamental positive emotions for a full and happy life: self- confidence and motivation .

Learning from the heart: gaining self-confidence and motivation

What is self-confidence?

The Larousse definition:“Sentiment, awareness that one has of one’s own value and from which one draws a certain assurance. »

You remember the joy, excitement and emotion of your child’s first steps. He might fall down and get up again, and repeat the same pattern over and over again, and you kept applauding and cheering him on.

A few years later, at school, under the pressure of the established norms of society, you begin to doubt him: “it’s true that at his age, he doesn’t yet know how to read well  “, ”  it’s it’s true that he sometimes has trouble expressing himself “, ”  it’s true that he still rides a 3-wheeled bike  “.

Your (legitimate) concern for your child’s future has taken over this pride, this enthusiasm that you transmitted to him when he was much younger.

How to improve self-confidence

The role of parents

Dear parents, it is up to you to restore your confidence to him: help him build his self-confidence.

Your confidence is your empathy, your ability to be kind, to encourage and reassure him. Thus, you will help him identify his own resources to learn best.

Self-confidence is not innate. We are all born naked, scared and ignorant. It is the experiences of life that allow us to develop self-confidence.

Because trust is not innate, it is built, it is earned .

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The 3 Steps to build self-confidence

  1. Act: very often, negative emotions, such as fear of failing or fear of the length of homework, lead him to procrastinate. It’s always the first step that costs. As we saw in our article on procrastination ( click here to the article ), you should not wait to be ready to act. Encourage him to start right now.
  2. Be indulgent with yourself: when you learn a new concept, the first steps are always imperfect. Errors are completely normal. They are the sweat of success. So dear parents, relax. Dear children, do your best.
  3. Use the method of small steps: what will restore his confidence is the taste of success. Prepare with him a plan with several small steps to solve his math problem or learn his lesson. Each small successful step will bring him the proof that he is progressing, and will motivate him to continue. Because nothing makes us more confident than knowing that we are progressing, that we are getting better.

virtuous circle! We act, we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we move forward step by step and we gain confidence.

What is motivation?

The Larousse definition:

“Reasons, interests, elements which push someone in his action; made for someone to be motivated to act.

Large category of internal determinants of behaviors, psychological activities, and subjective states”.

How to improve your motivation

Motivation does not come from the sky, in fact it comes from confidence. The more the child has self-confidence, the more he will be motivated. Here is the virtuous circle  :

  • Act: go! we move! we just take a small step
  • Succeed (positive results): Wow great, we succeeded!
  • Confidence: this small success is proof that we can do it
  • Motivation: Shall we continue? Of course! it’s so rewarding

Learning from the heart: to recap

To learn with the heart is to learn to:

  • Recognize your emotions – to better support your child
  • Accept them – there are no right or wrong emotions
  • Control them – when they get too much
  • Make them allies in your learning to:
    1. Gain self-confidence
    2. Maintain motivation

In our next article, we will close the chapter on the head, heart and body approach to positive pedagogy with “learning with the body”.

Thus, we will set off to (re)discover our body and its incredible resources.

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