Bob Garmston explains why emotions are an inseparable part of learning

Dennis Sparks

In my previous post I discussed the two primary “lessons” I had drawn from Bob Garmston’s memoir, I Don’t Do That Anymore: A Memoir of Awakening and Resilience.

For this post I asked Bob to comment on or extend those lessons. Here is his response:

I asked my wife what other lessons might be embedded in my story. “I don’t know. It’s your life,” she smiled. Then, with a mischievous glance she said, “Maybe it’s all about family. What is important is to love and be loved. ” She smiled when she said that because we both know I knew nothing about family as a child and through Sue’s efforts I have been privileged to learn about it, experience it, value and yearn for it.

Lesson #3: Emotions are an inseparable part of learning. 

In my first year of teaching I made home visits to each of the 42 5th grade children in my charge. Knowing nothing of time management those early visits lasted 3 to 4 hours each. In later years I learned to visit effectively within the space of about an hour. Each individual child came alive for me in ways not possible without the visits, and each student knew that he or she was special and important to me.

From  a nearby teacher I adopted the practice of learning journals, a composition book in which children would write about what they learned that day. I would dutifully collect these, read and respond.  Often their learnings were about social interactions with others, friendships, hurts, accomplishments.

I was not to know the pedagogical importance of these teaching practices till much later when others brought the ideas of emotional intelligence to our consciousness. Daniel Goleman described this as being aware of our feelings and handling disruptive emotions well, empathizing with how others feel, and being skillful in handling our relationships. These are crucial abilities for effective living.

In my own naïve and exploratory way I was helping students understand, express, and deal with their feelings. Today’s teachers know far more about learning, teaching, emotional climates and supportive environments that I ever dreamed in 1959. They are also more stressed, have more external demands, and compared with my era, have more constraints and limitations on teaching choices. The students, too, live in a different world then when I entered teaching.

My plea to teachers and administrators is to teach as if emotions and learning are inextricably mixed – for they are.  When we allow time for the expression of student’s inner lives we help create safe learning environments where students can take risks, develop confidence, and grow emotionally and academically.

By the way –Lemons to Lemonade: Resolving Problems in Meetings, Workshops and PLCs is my latest – it just came out this June before Dennis drafted this piece.

— Bob  Garmston

1 Response to “Bob Garmston explains why emotions are an inseparable part of learning”


  1. 1 Karen Anderson, Professional Certified Coach (PCC) September 18, 2013 at 10:36 am

    Amen! may be the best way to assert my support of this undeniable connection between thinking and emotions. However, this quote from Kegan & Lahey’s Immunity to Change says it more eloquently . . . “A deep and abiding recognition that people bring their humanity to work with them every single day; that the absolute division between the work realm and the personal realm is naive and unhelpful; and that twenty-first century leaders must find a more effective way to engage the emotional lives of their organizations and their leadership teams”.


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