Heart Centered 21st Century Learning

What if schools were havens for healing and prek-12 grade classes were intentionally designed to promote student voice, thriving, & success?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

In a focus group, principal leaders described how most social emotional learning programs were implemented inconsistently, how even the best ones were often discarded after a few years, and how the mandate for academic achievement had created barriers and an imbalance. These principals helped design an approach that infused compassion, consciousness, courage and confidence while building intentional supportive communities, along with a rubric for visioning, planning, & monitoring progress. As we considered how to grow this project, we realized that we could not put an end to cultures of violence through half-hearted attempts, but rather intensive efforts were needed over many years. We envision schools where communities work to expand children's wellbeing, resilience, problem-solving skills, and sense of safety and security. The CEO, Dr. Mason, also relied on her knowledge of yoga and mindfulness to consider how to rebuild education to take advantage of 21st Century knowledge and tools, including neuroscience, within the context of school community. Our inspiration comes from our collective knowledge and consciousness and from principals who are at the cutting edge, at the fore-front of adapting practices to ensure the wellbeing of every child in their school community. We were also inspired by our many collaborators who have opened doors for us -- individuals such as Dr. John Tenny at ClassGather who helped to develop the interactive version of our 21st Century Tool.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)

If you chose to self-identify your race, ethnicity, or origin, please share here: (the answer will not be public)

CEI associates and interns represent a wealth of diversity and cultural and ethnic heritages.


www.edimprovement.org see also www.classgather.com

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Virginia

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • District of Columbia

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Washington, DC; and with principals and principal affiliate organizations in MA, VA, MI, and PA.

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

John Hattie (2012) indicates that teachers need to be “directive, influential, caring, and actively and passionately engaged in the process of teaching and learning.” (p. 19). A significant number of children in America live in a culture of violence, bullying and trauma. By age four, over one-quarter of America’s children have experienced significant trauma. In school, students experience further trauma through bullying and academic failure. Our knowledge of neuroscience supports efforts such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and student voice and engagement in helping children through this trauma and helping to build resiliency. If principals and teachers were better informed and had tools to help guide them, then schools might provide an ideal setting for bringing about significant change.

Teachers and principals can be at the heart of the solution, serving as the catalyst of protection and as healing agents for those children affected by trauma, violence and crisis. We see teachers and principals as agents of mediation. For some students, an agent of mediation is someone listening to their fears and concerns; for others it is someone helping them problem solve or learn new ways to handle situations and conflicts. Teachers and principals also establish cultures of healing.

Educators will only optimize the learning success of children when we shift from a focus on academics and learning in academic environments to a more balanced understanding of the children in our classrooms. The children we are teaching will only thrive and flourish when we meet children where they are; when we teach with a full realization of how to mindfully instruct in a way that pulls each child into the excitement of learning, and when we build neural pathways that help children overcome trauma and expand their confidence and self-esteem.

During Phase I of the Heart Centered approach, CEI, in conjunction with Thrivist and ClassGather, created over 70 web-based tools to further 21st Century Heart Centered Education. The tools provide a resource for teacher professional learning communities and teams to engage in visioning, planning, and monitoring to meet the unique needs and strengths of teachers, classrooms, students, and schools. With these tools and our technical assistance, we help teachers, principals, and educational leaders with the conscious application of neuroscience, opening doors to justice, equity, and student voice, and a paradigm shift to create havens of healing and success.  We envision more webinars, eConferences, and mini-Certification. Working with dedicated educators like Dr. Michele Rivers Murphy, Suzan Mullane, Paul Liabenow, and Mark Weiss; neuroscientists such as Dr. Bruce Wexler; engineering educators such as Liz Parry; astronomers such as Kevin Manning; an amazing board and team; and a host of CEI supporters, we are striving to help schools excel, to help educators become more mindful, and to help children thrive.

At schools implementing parts of the CEI vision -- schools that are focused on kindness and compassion, for example, principals report that there is increased consideration and kindness, more cooperation, and more student resiliency. At schools that have implemented the recommended neuroscience components, students are demonstrating improvements in focus, memory, and achievement in reading and math. We believe we are only now beginning to see the potential impact of the heart centered approach.

As we enter Phase II of Heart Centered implementation, we have set goals for increased use of the program, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels, and we have targeted specific states as the most likely places for concentrated efforts. During Phase II, we intend to not only gain a better understanding of our suggested cycle of visioning, planning, implementation, and refinement, but also to collect data on the impact of our program in schools. While we have schools lined up as demonstration sites, we are seeking funds to implement demonstration projects and envision that those demonstration projects will give us further insights into the next steps. 

Note: In developing our approach we relied on current research on student learning, overcoming trauma, and implementing change. We also networked with a group of principal leaders who continue to serve as an informal advisory council to the project. With even nominal funds we might expand our resources to advise schools, to provide the technical assistance needed for them to lead teachers through a cycle of visioning, planning,  implementation, and refinement. 
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Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals
  • Religious minorities (non-Christian)
  • Low-income communities
  • Other

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

If you chose "other," please share the sector you work within here:

Vulnerable children experiencing trauma and academic failure.

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Idea (poised to launch)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

CEI is collaborating with Thrivist and ClassGather to encourage schools and districts to use our program. We conduct webinars, and CEI offers training and technical assistance at conferences such as the Annual Conference of the National Association of Elementary School Principals. We are collaborating with a network of 20 school principal leaders who are implementing components of our program and helping us gear up for pilot projects using the CEI Tools and the ClassGather website. Our program monitors both student and teacher activities, cultivating self awareness, student voice, STEM/STEAM, neuroscience, and community building. We offer workshops, technical assistance, and assistance with visioning, planning, implementation, & monitoring.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Last year we distributed monthly eNewsletters on the Heart Centered 21st Century topics to more than 6,000 principal leaders, linking to another 22,000 through the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). These eNewsletters are archived at our site. We also delivered 22 workshops on 21st Century Learning, Heart Centered Education, and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, & Math) in Washington, DC; Pittsfield, MA; Fairfax, VA; and Suffern, NY and at a planning and visioning session at the NAESP conference. Preschool-K teachers in DC turnkeyed implementation in their schools. We also delivered our first webinar on our approach last month. We are gearing up for potential pilots in PA, MA, DC, VA, SC, NY, and MI, as well as two presentations with P21 (a premier organization of 21st Century companies) and exemplary principals at this year's NAESP conference.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

CEI is currently promoting our program with Thrivist/ClassGather which has a network of over 1000 school districts, with sites in every state and internationally. We will offer webinars & workshops in DC, MA, NY, &PA & will reach out to sites with existing relationships with Thrivist/ClassGather. Dr. Mason is collaborating with Dr. Yvette Jackson (National Urban Alliance) to author a book and with P21 on another book. Both elaborate our approach.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The Berkeley Unified School District's "Toolbox Project" addresses this problem by offering a useful tool set for social and emotional learning, but no observational tool. Apperson's "Evo SEL" offers an observational tool for social and emotional learning, but it is not customizable. We offer both a powerful tool set and a customizable interactive observational tool to implement the Heart Centered 21st Century program and collect and report data on classroom interactions to support sound decision-making for professional development and teacher quality assessment.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

Mindfulness is critical, along with related approaches such as compassion-focused therapy, neuroscience, yoga, and meditation. Also, Dr. Jackson (National Urban Alliance) has developed an approach that advances student voice. Each of these has a strong research base demonstrating the power to help override the amygdala and create new neural pathways. In addition, we are co-developing and promoting tools such as Dr. Wexler's C8 Science's brain-based learning program; Exam Performance to reduce test anxiety; and CEI's Heart Beaming, which includes yoga-like mindfulness movements for students.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

George White, one of CEI's writers, and an educational policy expert focused on social justice and equity.

Program Design Clarity

a) Our main community includes principals, principal leaders, and teachers and our main connection is through NAESP. b) Our activities include focus groups, surveys, professional development, presentations, webinars, blogs, and our eNewsletter. c) CEI is a sponsor of the VA school principal affiliate; we network frequently with NAESP affiliates in MI and MA; connect with NAESP ZONE leaders like Dr. Patschke (PA); & hold annual meetings at the NAESP conference d) CEI CEO Dr. Mason delivers services with a group of 33 affiliates and interns (who assist with background research and writing).

Community Leadership

We are continually networking, incorporating feedback, and planning ways for others to share the limelight. At the recent elementary school principals' conference, we shared two presentations on 21st Century Learning with P21 and panels of exemplary principals, who highlighted their growth. Equity: CEI works with a diverse team in underserved communities; the CEI rubric includes domains for cultural responsiveness and social justice & equity.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Our community is an international community, beginning with a strong foundation in the US. We are engaged in international presentations with international representation on our board. CEO Dr. Mason is currently working on 2 books. We have a history of presenting at the annual NAESP conference and are gearing up for future webinars. We are working intensely with three NAESP affiliates (MI, VA, & MA) and seeking funding for demonstration projects.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

We envision schools as havens for healing with principals and teachers who intentionally integrate activities to establish a foundation of consciousness, compassion, courage, and confidence, for children. We have worked with principal leaders to design tools to help them with visioning, planning, and monitoring; we have schools lined up for project sites; we are seeking funds for demonstration projects and further refinement/dissemination.

Leadership Story

I have been inspired by many supporters, as well as new and ancient yogis, who have helped to clarify my vision. I spent hours with Mark Weiss (Operation Respect), and Drs. Kamran Namdar, Michele Rivers Murphy, Yvette Jackson, and others pouring over what is needed to wake people up so that they act with more compassion. My immersion at the Science of Compassion Institute was helpful. Gail Connelly, NAESP CEO, gave me encouragement, as did many principal leaders. Lastly, Paul Liabenow (MI NAESP Affiliate) helped me understand we needed a tool to help principals with measurement and visioning.

What awards or honors has the project received? (Optional)

Recognition as a Pioneer by the Children's Wellbeing Initiative. Selected to participate in the Science of Compassion Institute (2014) CEO Invited to be a Keynote Presenter at International Symposium on Educational Research (Finland, 2013) Invited to prepare two books (ASCD & Corwin Press publ.)

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)


Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)


Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 66.7%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 0%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 33.3%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 66.7%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 0%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 33.3%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 66.7%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 0%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 33.3%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 66.7%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 0%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 0%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 100%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 100%

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Team (7)

Christine's profile
Alleta's profile
Alleta Baltes

Role added on team:

"Alleta is an elementary school principal in Wyoming. She is known for her work with technology and 21st Century Learning."

Jordan's profile
Jordan Gilliard

Role added on team:

"Jordan Gilliard is a web intern with CEI"

suzan mullane's profile
suzan mullane

Role added on team:

"Suzan Mullane is a CEI Associate and presenter who focuses on helping to overcome childhood trauma."

Maud Schaafsma's profile
Britt's profile
Britt Weaver

Role added on team:

"Britt Weaver brings her experience as a teacher of students with learning disabilities to our team."

Michele's profile
Michele Rivers Murphy

Role added on team:

"Dr. Rivers Murphy is a significant partner in our Heart Centered Approach. She is a catalyst for much of our work and refinement. Well-connected, with significant experience in MA, Michele is one of our keys to implementing a local demonstration project in underserved schools in MA."

Attachments (1)

Chapter 1 Creating Havens of Healing, Health, & Well Being.pdf

Dr. Mason is collaborating with Dr. Yvette Jackson (National Urban Alliance) and Dr. Michele Rivers Murphy, a CEI Associate, in preparation of a book describing our approach of Heart Centered 21st Century Learning; the first draft is under review.


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