Saturday 24 November 2012

Roots of Empathy...

One of our Empathy ReBoot Project initiatives starting this year is Roots of Empathy (ROE). Mrs. Grainger's classroom has been invited to participate in ROE with a baby named Taye and his mom. We hope to continue working with ROE in subsequent years with expanded numbers of our Glendale students. Interestingly, one of our Glendale kindergarten kids was a ROE participant baby with Mrs. Grainger in a different school five years ago.

The ROE program teaches children about feelings; their own feelings, and the feelings of others.  Once every three weeks, baby Taye and his mom will visit the classroom.  Marcia Jansen, a trained ROE instructor will gather the children in the classroom around a green blanket and together they watch the baby grow.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Developing Assets- An Empathy Building Opportunity

 flickr phot via Jenn Durfey

It's funny how when we become attuned to something in a deeper manner, it seems to heighten our sensibilities to others who are on the same path, and to other efforts that mirror our journey. Recently at my school we have embarked on a journey to learn about empathy and build empathy in our staff, students and their families. Our project is called Empathy Reboot, and after only two gatherings of our school Empathy ReBoot Team (ERT), we are certainly beginning to notice a convergence. We even have other schools wanting to partner with us to reboot empathy within their building.

We have received emails and telephone calls of support from our colleagues, other administrators from near and far and most recently, from other agencies who would like to collaborate with us on our project.  One very exciting connection that fell in our laps last week occurred when we received an invitation from the Superintendent of the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment to sit down and have a conversation about the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets. My principal, Larry Hartel and I had this conversation with Supt. Warren Dozko and our District psychologist, Jay Hetherington, last week. Warren has significant experience working with the Developmental Assets in his capacity as an administrator with the RCMP, and Jay also has worked extensively in the past to develop initiatives that support Asset building within our community. I too have experience with Asset building. I conducted action research as part of my graduate school program into the concept of Asset building in kids from at risk environments.

Monday 5 November 2012


 Original artwork by George D. Bluebird, Sr.

I believe that the importance of belonging to a larger group, community, or family cannot be understated in relation to today’s societies. On a large scale, we’ve wandered away from the village mentality into a highly individualized existence resulting in disproportionate demands on the person rather than persons. Pockets of true community are now sparse but tend to be the driving force for social, economic, and political change. On a smaller scale, in a school for example, a sense of community may be what makes true social and academic learning possible.

I believe a true sense of belonging is one of the most important factors to being engaged and successful at school. The truth is though, that this does not come often enough and certainly not without work and intention. At times, we need to choose to accept what might be different, what might make us uncomfortable, or what may even scare us. We must challenge ourselves to view the world through someone else’s eyes and see what they might see. We have all found ourselves in moments when we have desperately wanted someone else to be able to feel what it is like to be “us.”

Saturday 3 November 2012

Our Empathy ReBoot Project...

"Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn." ~Alice Miller
My colleagues and I along with our students at Glendale Sciences and Technology School are embarking on an exciting and challenging journey. We are calling it our Empathy Re-Boot Project.

I have returned to Glendale as its vice-principal three years after a one year stint as its counselor. I loved my time at Glendale before, and always felt like there was unfinished business there. The first time around in my role as counselor, I spent a good deal of time helping kids, and staff members too, develop their empathetic lens; the one that allowed them to walk a mile in the shoes of others toward a deeper understanding of their learning stories. We all have a learning story... the part already written; the part we are writing in the present and the hopeful part we intend to write toward the happy endings of the future. In my second term at Glendale I am thrilled to continue this work with the staff and students of my reunited Glendale family.

In Alberta, all schools are in the midst of an important and necessary paradigm shift toward inclusive learning environments. At Glendale, we have been working hard to re-frame our educational perspectives towards the diverse population of students at our school. We don't have segregated programming at our school. We don't pull students out of class anymore; we hold their hands as we walk alongside them. As we walk alongside them we talk to them. We talk to them about their learning story... what's happened in the past; what's happening in the present and what they want to happen in the future. Our goal is to learn their story behind the story, the one that enlightens us toward deeper understanding of what may be challenging students, and ever more importantly, what they need from us to help work toward mitigating the challenges. We're focusing on students' strengths in as asset-based model of intervention. We're downplaying student weakness and focusing our empathy lenses on solutions.

We are re-booting empathy.