Big Hearts, Big Minds

Our theme for the NCHC 2020 conference in Dallas Texas is “Big Hearts, Big Minds.”

Because compassion and empathy are necessary qualities if we are to enact inclusivity and equity in schools and institutions, in workplaces, and in societies, how do we develop our hearts along with our minds in the academy? What practices can we intentionally follow to make the expansion of our hearts as important as the growth of our minds? Can we teach, or learn, compassion? If we attend to emotional intelligence, empathy, and understanding, do we undermine “rigor”? How do emotional skills fit into an academic curriculum? Can honors be a catalyst within institutions to encourage the thoughtful development of emotional skills as an enduring, habitual way of life?

How we have accomplished, attempted or plan to achieve these goals in our programs, classrooms, curricula and pedagogy will be a focus for this conference in presentations, panels and roundtables. Coming together in Texas in November 2020, just two days after very likely a contentious election, we must ponder and plan how we will open and develop our hearts through listening to other experiences, explore our own vulnerabilities, act with empathy, compassion, kindness and caring, and develop activities and events leading to self-examination.

Parker Palmer, in his book The Courage to Teach, declares, “We teach who we are.” He asks: “Should educational institutions be expected to support a teacher’s inner life, and how can they do it?” According to Palmer, what we teach, how we teach, and why we teach, are indeed important questions. But the most important question of all is, “Who is the self that teaches?”

The interplay of cognitive and affective processes in learning, decision-making, creativity, and productivity is well documented. Still, academia has traditionally privileged cognition almost to the exclusion of other considerations. Is it time for this paradigm to shift?

And therefore, perhaps an equally important question is, “Who is the self that learns?” As students, how do we cultivate the qualities of compassion and empathy that lead to inclusion and wholehearted acceptance of our peers? How do we grapple with dissent? How can we be kind in a competitive environment? How do we sustain the subjective “I” in an academic environment that praises and encourages so-called objectivity? Or…should we? “Big Hearts, Big Minds” will offer ideas and tools for us to decide for ourselves.

To connect the theme of “Big Hearts, Big Minds” to the themes of NCHC 2018 and 2019, nothing could be more disruptive or transgressive to our business as usual in the academy than deliberately, consciously, carefully, smartly, and habitually cultivating our hearts with intent, purpose, and humility.

Join us in the journey.