Teaching to the Heart, Teaching to the Mind: Two Educators Talk About Poetry, Emotions, and the Brain

Friends and Education

Thursday, January 25, public school educators Sydney Coffin and Chris Bond spoke to a group of 22 Friends about the very meaningful ways they have worked to make knowledge available to a wide range of students. Excerpts from the Friends in Fellowship talk are below, with the full audio recording to follow.

About the Lecture

Poetry is a moment to express without being judged, a point in time to vent without other pens pricking at your paper, preparing you to present your passion in the way you want it to be performed…” From the poem, Poetry Is, by Patience Carter

Sydney explained that when he teaches kids in a North Philadelphia school known for its violence, “I think all the time about my students finding their ‘beat’, whether it’s as a poet or a dancer, a basketball player, mathematician, or a nurse…” He told the story of his poetry club student, Patience Carter, who “was in Orlando, in that club, the night of the shooting, and after getting shot in the leg, (she) spent an hour and a half in the bathroom with the shooter, and survived. When she came out of it, she said ‘I felt like the best way to deal with this was with a poem’ and she read that poem on national TV as a spokesperson for all victims.” Sydney believes “kids need people…(and) poetry and art and music; those things that build our spirits…(they) are essential. I think that when I walk away from school every day, I’m exhausted, but I’m invigorated (and I hope I’ve given) … something, every day, that makes them want to come back.”

Chris Bond agreed; he said that the mind is made so that anyone can learn, and by interweaving information and spacing out chunks of learning, a teacher can work with the way brains amass knowledge, making it easier to retain what is taught. He cited the work of Carol Dweck, Paul Tough, How Children Succeed, and Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio We Feel, Therefore We Learn(.pdf). In the end, Chris said, he tries to get his high achieving students to refocus on taking risks and developing social connections that support learning. He concluded, “learning is social: we are social beings, we are not rational machines …. When we are at our highest potential we are immersed in social connections, and that’s how students learn.”

About Sydney Hunt Coffin

Sydney Hunt Coffin is a member of Germantown Monthly Meeting and teaches at the Edison-Fareira High School in North Philadelphia. He is a Yale National Initiative Fellow and serves on Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Teacher Advisory Council. Last summer, Sydney’s work was featured on WHYY Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane.

About Chris Bond

Chris Bond is an attender at Crosswicks Meeting and a High School social studies teacher at West Windsor – Plainsboro High School North. You can follow him on Twitter @chrisbond68.


Listen to the Lecture