Join us!
Basic- Yellow 120px


Human Education for Happiness and Well-Being: Pedagogy & Classroom Management

"The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be ignited."
Plutarch, a follower of Socrates.

Effective humane education uses methods which are designed to bring inspiration through the drawing out of each learner’s intrinsic wisdom. A range of materials and methods can be used to suit different subjects and learning styles. These will include both creative and critical thinking approaches. Humane education programmes are designed to inspire each learner to explore, understand and play their unique role in making the world a better place. Each learner will be helped to recognize and develop their own gifts, skills, and talents. They are also encouraged to discover their own personal motivations, interests, and beliefs, in order to inspire a sense of mission which will lead to right action.

Infed, the online education and learning community, confirms this:

“For many concerned with education, it is also a matter of grace and wholeness, wherein we engage fully with the gifts we have been given. As Pestalozzi constantly affirmed, education is rooted in human nature; it is a matter of head, hand and heart (Brühlmeier 2010). We find identity, meaning, and purpose in life ‘through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values such as compassion and peace’ (Miller 2000).”

Humane education can be delivered in separate, targeted lessons or interwoven in other subject lessons; or a combination of both approaches (which is ideal). However, to be delivered effectively, the pedagogy needs to be carefully considered and adapted. It has a focus on flourishing and is an exercise in moral philosophy. Learners are asked to consider some profound questions about themselves and the situations they face. Fundamentally the questions examined are about how people should live their lives: ‘what is the right way to act in this situation or that; what does happiness consist of for me and for others; how should I relate to others (and other animals); what sort of society should I be working for?’ The designers of humane education lessons need to have spent some time themselves reflecting upon what might make for flourishing and happiness.

Humane education is about bringing learning to life, and life to learning.

World Animal Net’s humane education resource includes further information about pedagogy. See:

The following are a few key tips on methodology, extracted from this source:

  • Do not use instructional (didactic) methods, but facilitate in a supportive atmosphere in which learners feel free to explore their beliefs and express themselves.
  • Use moral discussion to support moral development. Stage change occurs most readily in students who disagree about the moral solution to a dilemma.
  • In moral discussion, help learners to distinguish between rules, norms and conventions and universal concerns for justice (fairness and welfare).
  • Use exploration of morals or values to influence motivation, rather than simply behavior (i.e. explore underlying motivations for change, rather than simply making learners carry out certain actions).
  • Use a range of materials and methods in order to suit different subjects and learning styles. Both creative and critical thinking abilities need to be used to gain maximum value.
  • Make wide use of creative methods for the teaching of humane education. Begin with mindfulness meditation/quiet time to aid creativity. Where possible, introduce visual arts, painting, drawing, collages, plays, imagination etc.
  • Incorporate well-organized group work where possible. Give groups control over their environment and the ways in which they get to the required results (including self-regulation of timing and workflow).
  • Encourage positive feedback and constructive criticism.
  • Encourage class members to care for any learners having problems with their behavior or learning. The ‘buddy’ system can be helpful (linking learners to support each other).
  • Do not restrict humane education values to lesson time; carry it through into all class interactions, creating a holistic humane (kind and caring) learning environment.

Classroom Management for Humane Education

Moral and emotional development should not just be something covered in lessons. It should run through the school and each classroom. To achieve this, classroom democracy and some co-operative classroom goals are needed. There is a considerable body of evidence that co-operative goal structures contribute to moral development. In addition to being linked to positive social outcomes, they have been associated with increases in student motivation and academic achievement.

Moral discussion is more like to take place in classrooms employing co-operative goal structures in a democratic atmosphere than in the traditional classroom environment.

Schools should emphasize co-operative decision-making and problem solving, nurturing moral development by requiring students to work out common rules based on fairness. The use of reasoning to respond to transgressions also aids moral development - the morality of justice emerges from coordinating the interactions of autonomous individuals.

Classroom management should be: 

  • Firm
  • Fair
  • Flexible (with room for negotiation between educators and learners)

Educators should foster an atmosphere in the classroom that is open, respectful and tolerant. Diversity should be valued, and different abilities stressed and appreciated. Different cultures, religions, and social constructs should be explored and understood in a sensitive and supportive manner. Educators should preach and practice empathy and compassion for all, sprinkled liberally with patience and understanding!

The educator should provide students with opportunities for personal discovery through problem-solving, rather than indoctrinating students with their own norms and values. Indeed, educators should work gradually to deconstruct social values and norms, whilst learners are replacing these with their own personal moral values.

Class discussions and negotiations should be encouraged. The educator should create an atmosphere which is open to all viewpoints. No views should be crushed or disregarded – even the more controversial. Create a climate of trust and acceptance in class. The class should be a ‘safe haven’ in which contributions are welcomed and valued. Where learners bring forward worrying (or intolerant or antagonistic) viewpoints, ask other learners to comment. Their reflections are likely to provide a greater spur to further reflection.

The way in which feedback is approached is as important as the task itself. Negative criticism should be discouraged (as it is de-motivating). A classroom culture should be developed where appreciative responses are the norm. Concentration on using strengths in teamwork should be followed by recognition of valuable contributions. Group work can build on this, by working consistently towards ‘best fit’ – giving appropriate roles and support within the team. Pleasure and appreciation should be given for shared outcomes. As groups feed back to the complete class, applause and constructive comments should be invited (until these become the norm). Feedback is an art to be learned. Constructive criticism should always be welcomed as a learning opportunity, but the way in which this is worded is important! The educator should guide the learners into ways of giving positive feedback (including through developing empathy with the person receiving feedback).

The educator should encourage the class to care for any learners having problems with their behavior or learning. The ‘buddy’ system can be useful – where an able learner takes a struggling learner under their wing (as a friend and mentor). Always check understanding, so learners are not marginalized or left out of class activities. Fostering the morality of care is an important part of classroom management which builds interconnectedness.

Conflict Resolution in Schools

One important aspect of classroom management is conflict resolution. A peer mediation system is recommended in humane education classrooms. This approach can reduce classroom conflict, and in particular teacher/learner antagonisms and polarisation. One system for achieving peer mediation in schools is outlined in the Conflict Resolution set of booklets: (see Booklets 1, 11 and 12). This can be easily be adapted to suit the requirements of individual schools. Key elements of the system are: 

  • Gaining support of school governors, and training/awareness briefing;
  • Selection and training of educators with special responsibility for Conflict Resolution;
  • Selection and training of learner conflict resolution mediator members;
  • Selection and training of class conflict resolution monitors; and
  • Establishment of monitoring and mediation procedures.

The mediation and negotiation techniques used include key aspects, such as:

  • Use of a neutral adjudicator/facilitator (or team);
  • Meeting to talk in a peaceful and constructive manner about the potential conflict;
  • Clarifying each party’s interests and desires;
  • Checking that each party understands the other’s position;
  • Exploring ways of solving the problem; and
  • Trying to find a solution that everyone involved likes.

Similar systems have already been introduced in the USA, where they were found to reduce the amount of time teachers need to spend on resolving disputes, whilst providing learners with the opportunity to talk over their difficulties with others. Simultaneously, these systems provide mediators with valuable life skills.

Compassion Bulletin Board

Create a compassion bulletin board for the class. Write an agreed definition of compassion, or a header explaining compassion, on the top of the board. Then include below these examples of compassion towards oneself, other people, animals and/or the environment. Encourage the learners to draw nice pictures or cartoons of the acts of compassion too, if they are artistic.

Compassion can be explained along the following lines:

A feeling of deep sympathy and sadness for the suffering, misfortune or damage caused to a person, animal or the environment; accompanied by a strong desire to help, and to alleviate the suffering.

Mindfulness, Meditation/'Quiet Time', and Calm

It is recommended that humane education lessons are preceded by a brief period of mindfulness meditation (or ‘quiet time’). Just five minutes is needed before a lesson and can yield significant benefits for teachers, learners, and humane education lessons. This quiet space helps learners to locate a calm core, which helps reflection, focus and creativity, and access to their inner moral compass and values. Research (for example, Exeter/Cambridge University study 2012 and Cambridge University Pilot Study 2008) has shown that mindfulness/meditation in schools has significant impacts on depression, stress, and wellbeing. Most students reported enjoying and benefiting from the mindfulness training; and they experienced increases in self-awareness and self-regulation, self-determination and self-efficacy. Proponents state that this important life skill enhances mental health and wellbeing, concentration, resilience, problem-solving, empathy and academic performance. Many teachers who have been trained in mindfulness report calmer classrooms, more attentive students and more effective learning.

Don't miss out!

Subscribe to the World Animal Navigator to get monthly updates on our programs and resources! Browse past issues here. 


Log in to update your WAN Directory listing