BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 03 Aug '18

David Geffen believes schools that teach love could see better academic results and pupil behaviour

This article first appeared in our summer ’18 issue of MyGreenPod Magazine, The Natural Revolution, distributed with the Guardian on 03 Aug 2018. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Disruptive behaviour can devour valuable teaching time and cause distress for pupils and teachers alike. ‘Teachers cannot teach and pupils cannot learn in an environment where there is disruption and violence’, teachers’ union NASUWT states.

While every school should have its own behaviour policy, some teachers have said a ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to discipline amounts to child abuse and is feeding a mental health crisis among pupils.

Understanding pain

‘If people are misbehaving, it’s because they are in pain’, says David Geffen, founder of Loving Classroom. ‘It’s my belief that instead of adding to that pain, schools should take time to understand where it is coming from.’

It sounds great on paper, but with increased workloads and an unrelenting stream of targets to hit, is it realistic for teachers to take time out to teach love? From David’s experience as a mediator it’s not just desirable, it’s necessary.

Loving Classroom is an international schools programme for over-11s (with a junior version launching in September). It helps students cultivate ‘a lifetime of good relationships’ – with friends, family, peers and future colleagues. The bonds extend out to local communities, cultures and entire nations.

The programme draws on a wealth of diverse sources – from Dale Carnegie and Mahatma Gandhi to the Talmud and the US Army leadership programme. It started off as a series of workshops designed to heal the divisions in Israeli society following the assassination of Prime Minister, Yitzchak Rabin in 1995.

Through Loving Classroom, teachers are trained to facilitate and develop eight lessons in their classroom: Respect, Compassion, Listening, Kindness, Gratitude, Love, Friendship and Care. ‘By accentuating the positive there’s a natural reduction in the negative’, David says, ‘such as bullying, anger, disruption, selfishness and apathy.’

Is love boring?

The team, which includes David and his wife Naomi plus Lilach Verman in the Middle East, Thulani Makhoba and Kyle Young in South Africa and Gemma Perkins in the UK, visits schools to help them to implement Loving Classroom and evaluate the programme’s impact.

While visiting a school in Manchester, David asked a class of 14-year-olds whether learning about love is ‘too gooey and boring’. A girl at the back spoke up. ‘I’d like to answer. Please understand, many of us here are growing up in unhappy homes, and this is the first time I’ve experienced what it’s like being in a loving group. This is more than a class. It’s life! It’s what it’s all about.’

David also asked the headteacher of a London private school whether he thought the programme was relevant. ‘We need loving classrooms’, the headteacher said. ‘We don’t want our students going out to the world selfish, caring only for their own needs and desires. ‘Rather, we want them genuinely to care for both themselves and the rest of society.’

Leaders of the future

Mahatma Gandhi was a pioneer of nonviolent communication and peaceful protest, yet he wasn’t able to stop the bloodshed during India’s struggle for independence. Charles Andrews, Gandhi’s friend and colleague, explained, ‘We did not produce enough leaders for the vast area of our struggle. This lack of leadership, more than anything else, led to the final outbreak of violence.’

For David, the same applies to schools: we need to produce enough teachers to educate the masses in the ways of caring dialogue, so that we can flourish and work things out together peacefully.

‘It’s my firm belief that ‘loving people’ is a skill that can be learned, like a sport, profession, driving or wine-tasting’, he says. ‘When people care for one another, they’ll want to – and find a way to – overcome any conflict. A flourishing 21st century can be built on ‘Loving People’, inspired by relationship education in schools worldwide.’