Empathy, Reflection, Responsive Classroom

Genuinely Proactive

Today I joined our Middle School teachers for a Responsive Classroom all-day workshop. We have been introduced to RC through faculty meetings but it was great to spend the whole day learning ‘from the ground up’ as this is something our Primary School has been working on prior to my starting at NIS.

The day offered a lot to think about:

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With so much going on, the biggest takeaway for me was to be genuine and proactive in my dealings with kids. I really like that RC gives you permission to “go slow to go fast later” in the way you take the time to set up a strong social/emotional foundation on which to build academic growth and understanding.

I know I need to be more intentional and more specific in my language and continue to look for ways to have kids actively involved in their learning.

Most of all, I really appreciated the time to reflect on how things have started this year and how I hope to improve them as we move on. Here’s one idea that was sparked in our faculty meeting yesterday, percolated in my mind during the workshop and was refined in a 2 minute cafeteria conversation with our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen:

Rest Area!

During a discussion about regulatory zones and helping kids who have trouble self-regulating, there was a “blue zone” with the symbol for a Rest Area:

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I have taken this idea and have prepared a rest area sign for my room. I modeled to one class how they might choose to come here to take a breath, re-focus, or simply rest. Students were intrigued. As well as choosing to go there, I also said I may invite some students to hang out there if I felt they needed a rest. I was happy with this idea as a proactive way of addressing potentially problematic behaviors. Marina then suggested that when introducing this area to the classes I teach, I let the kids know that “Today, everyone will get a chance to use the Rest Area. When I come by and tap you on the shoulder, just head over there and stay long enough for you to feel what it is like to be there.”  The idea of Responsive Classroom is that redirection is not punitive and discipline and punishment are not synonymous.  There is also an expectation of interactive modeling so students will know what the expectations look and feel like.

I am looking forward to engaging with students in a genuinely proactive way in our coming classes.

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Communication, Empathy

More Thoughts on Empathy…

Last week, I was telling a fellow Masters student the story of my first year teaching in Munich. I was a new mom to a 10 week old baby when I started work at MIS. My husband would bring her to work so I could feed her and occasionally this would mean one or two kids would see her on her way in or out.

Until the day she stayed to say her ‘official’ hello a few weeks into the school year.

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My little Lulu at 12 weeks old, visiting with Papa at school.

My class of 18 4th graders were enthralled. So much care and concern was shown for her: was she warm enough? was it quiet enough? did she have enough personal space? did she need anything? how could they help her? This was quite different to the way they treated each other upon arrival to fourth grade. About a third were with classmates from the previous year. A third were new to the school. The other third were returning students but hadn’t been in the same class before. They didn’t show this same concern for each other.

When I asked them why, their answers were quick to come: “She isn’t going to make fun of me.  She isn’t going to be mean to me. She can’t talk back to me. I have to think about what she needs rather than what I want.”

It seems children are naturally empathetic, yet something drives that deeper within them to the point where it is not always their first response. Until it is. Until empathy is the first and only option.

So, why not tap into that as a basis for all that we do in the classroom?  I am a big fan of “starting with why” but I am becoming a bigger fan of “starting with empathy”. I really think that when kids are given the task to think of what they can do for another person/place/situation, the learning will flow from that.  Maybe that is idealistic but I don’t actually think so. I think it will work.

This following video talks about what empathy is but also how to start on a journey toward building empathy through the exchanging of stories. In particular, it highlights the importance of listening – really listening – as others tell their story, which is a key feature of empathy in the Design Thinking process.

 

I like this RSA animated short from Brené Brown on Empathy (which is actually referenced by one of the participants in the previous video). She describes empathy as making a connection with another by examining yourself first. I like this idea: that we each have to look to our own experiences first.

This last video was created by 8th grade students. Again, I think it highlights the idea that empathy is naturally present in the children we teach, we just have to place importance on it. The social issues that exist in many schools are a result of a lack of empathy for each other. If empathy was naturally a driving force in everything ‘school’, wouldn’t this also change the social culture of school?

What role does empathy play in your teaching?