What Learners Need Now : A Classroom Oasis with the C.A.R.E. Approach

What Learners Need Now : A Classroom Oasis with the C.A.R.E. Approach

by Elizabeth Pappas

Educators all over the world are grappling with teaching and learning in the context of a global pandemic. Many moments have been nerve-racking, taxing, and anxiety-inducing for teachers, families, and kids. Creating positive classroom conditions under normal circumstances is just plain hard, but it's even harder now. So what do learners need now? They need a welcoming oasis to provide relief during difficult times. A classroom oasis is a space that promotes safety, sustenance, refuge, and calm so that students grow socially, emotionally, and academically. The oasis is our compass and the C.A.R.E. Approach is our map.  As we dive into the various aspects of the C.A.R.E. Approach, Maya Angelou gently reminds us to “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

The C.A.R.E. Approach



Compassion is described as understanding another person’s emotional state. It’s a sensitivity to noticing suffering in yourself and others and a dedication to soften suffering. Expressing compassion with one another increases a sense of belonging and well-being and improves learning opportunities. Compassion is a catalyst for building a kinder world.

Take a moment to think about our current reality with climate change, human rights violations, natural disasters, bias, prejudice, mental health crises, political divisiveness, poverty, and more. There is no doubt that these issues affect the health and well-being of educators, students, and families. Maybe you have felt heavy hearted, murky, flabbergasted, stuck, and drained lately. Because of our current reality, we need compassion for ourselves and one another now more than ever. Expressing compassion increases well-being, strengthens relationships, and builds a trusting classroom culture.

Ideas to Try

  • Start by listening well to others. It’s not easy to do with the myriad of distractions we are exposed to minute by minute. Try and listen FULLY with intention. Absorb words and silence and notice gestures. Engage in whole-body listening. Teach your students to do the same with one another.

  • Plan daily community-building experiences where EACH learner feels seen, heard, and felt. Practice the art of emotional granularity where you model and encourage students to express a full range of emotions. I feel __, __ and __ because__. This helps promote a sense of common humanity in the classroom.

  • Ask the students to respond to the prompt I wish my teacher knew... This simple sentence starter helps you learn about your learners’ life circumstances and enables you to be responsive, caring, and supportive.



Peter Johnston describes agency as children having a sense that if they act, and act strategically, they have the ability to effect change and accomplish their goals. The opposite of agency is to take a passive, compliant, submissive role. When learners feel like there is no relationship between what they do and what happens, they can become helpless, defeated, depressed, and disengaged.

Agency breaks down the teacher-centered power structure in the classroom. With agency, teachers take more of a facilitator role and nudge learners to use their voices, make their own choices, and feel in control of their problem-solving process. Kids with agency are more likely to choose challenging tasks, plan and set goals, stick with something, work harder, have higher interest, and be focused. Agency is empowering and builds independent thinkers.

American artist, poet, and activist Cleo Wade inspires us to spark agency with these words:

“When the world asks us big questions that require big answers we have two options:

  1. To feel so overwhelmed or unqualified we do nothing.

  2. To start with one small act and qualify ourselves.”

So today I’m doing what I can with what I’ve got where I am in my own way.


Ideas to try:

  • Promote learning from struggle. Resist the urge to tell students what to do when they are stuck. Instead ask, open-ended questions such as: What will you do next?

  • Encourage your learners have choices with texts they read and topics they write about.

  • Plan frequent student reflection time so your learners discover what they are doing well and identify next steps for themselves.


Relevance is knowing why something matters and how it’s important. It’s foundational to promoting interest, curiosity, and motivation, and it helps students realize that knowledge is useful, interesting, and worth knowing. Teachers spark relevance with learning experiences that draw on learners’ interests and cultural experiences. As educators strive to promote high levels of student engagement, relevance is instrumental.

We’ve all heard students say: “This doesn’t seem important to me. When will I ever use this?  What does this have to do with my life?” Educators should be able to respond to and facilitate discussions about these big, complex questions.

Ideas to Try

  • Plan time for the students to make real-world connections and work to improve real-world problems in schools, communities, and the world.

  • Intentionally plan time for students to connect to what they already know. “Give it context and make it count,” says Sara Bernard.

  • Make learning student-directed with “Let’s Talk About It” inquiry charts to find out what students are interested in to promote motivation. Chart paper markers and inquiry can be like a telescope of curiosity for the students. 


The CARE approach has Equity at the foundation of it all. The National Equity Project defines educational equity as each child receiving what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential. We need to interrupt inequitable practices, examine biases, and create inclusive school environments for adults and children.

For every child to receive what they need, Zaretta Hammond proposes that it’s critical for educators to reflect on and understand the distinctions of equity:

  • Multicultural education: celebration of diversity. See all students' cultures represented. Promote positive social interactions across differences.

  • Social justice: building a lens for the student and looking at the world and seeing where injustices exist; identity, diversity, justice, and action.

  • Culturally responsive teaching: building the learning capacity of EACH and EVERY student. Push back on dominant narrative about people of color. Ask yourself, Are your diverse students, language learners, students of color, immigrant students, and multilingual learners learning?

  • Social-emotional Learning competencies: self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision making, social-awareness, and relationship skills


Ideas to Try

Rudine Sims Bishop’s Mirrors, Windows, and Doors protocol is one mighty way to infuse an equity lens into a read-aloud experience.

  1. Select relevant texts such as:

    • Call Me Max by Kyle Lukoff

    • The Tree Told Me by Sophie Lescaut and Thanh Portal

    • Woodpecker Girl by Chingyen Liu and I-Tsun Chiang

  1. Hold up the mirror and ask: “How do you see yourself in this text? Who is represented? Who is not?”

  2. Look out the windows and say: “What other perspectives are you learning about?”

  3. Step through the door and consider: “What are some actions you might take? How will you become part of the world that has been created?”

Cleo Wade says, “Want to change the world? Be brave enough to care.”
As you show up day in and day out for your students, may the CARE Approach create fertile ground for your classroom oasis.


What's next?

Elizabeth Pappas joins author and educator Patty McGee in the Benchmark Education LitBlock Facebook Group to discuss her CARE method and how it can help turn your classroom into an oasis. By focusing on compassion, agency, relevancy, and equity, you can build support systems for students and yourself! Watch the full conversation.→ 

Join our Facebook LitBlock Group for weekly conversations with insights from experts in the field.


About the Author

Steve Fiedeldey

Elizabeth Pappas has worked in Education as a Dual Language classroom teacher, Bilingual Language Arts Specialist, English Learner Resource Teacher, Literacy Consultant, Presenter, and author for 28 years. She is part of the faculty in the Education Studies Department, UCSD, where she teaches classes and supervises student teachers.