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.


We had very good dialog about the possibilities surrounding the re-tooling of our school as an Asset building institution. As a vessel to build empathy, the process of identifying Assets in kids, and particularly Assets that have yet to be built, we believe we can do some good things with the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets. When we take the time to assess a child's Assets, we are essentially peeking into their private logic regarding how supported they feel externally, and how confident they feel internally with respect to their Asset toolkit... their Asset perspective.

At last week's ERT gathering, we discussed how an Asset building process would look at our school. I reiterated Warren's point that building Assets in kids is not a canned program to be added-on as one more thing we have to do. It is a re-framing of efforts already in place in schools that most definitely build Assets. For example, I coordinate an after school program for third to sixth grade students every week that involves two volunteer college students (they are pre-service teachers) providing what they are calling the Youth in Action Program (YIA). Kids participate in fun, safe and non-competitive physical activities to strengthen their physical and social literacy skills. This is directly correlated to building a number of External Assets for this age group...

External Assets
3. Other adult relationships—Child receives support from adults other than her or his parent(s).
5. Caring school climate—Relationships with teachers and peers provide a caring, encouraging environment.
7. Community values youth—Child feels valued and appreciated by adults in the community.
10. Safety—Child feels safe at home, at school, and in his or her neighborhood.
14. Adult role models—Parent(s) and other adults in the child’s family, as well as non family adults, model positive, responsible behavior.
16. High expectations—Parent(s) and teachers expect the child to do her or his best at school and in other activities.
18. Child programs—Child participates two or more times per week in co-curricular school activities or structured community programs for children.

...and also potentially correlates to some Internal Asset building opportunities as well if framed in the right way (for example when a participant self-regulates his/her association with peers to avoid conflict, or acts effectively to resolve a conflict or disagreement)...

Internal Assets
21. Achievement Motivation—Child is motivated and strives to do well in school.
22. Learning Engagement—Child is responsive, attentive, and actively engaged in learning at school and enjoys participating in learning activities outside of school.
35. Resistance skills—Child can stay away from people who are likely to get her or him in trouble and is able to say no to doing wrong or dangerous things.
36. Child seeks to resolve conflict nonviolently.

So simply by continuing to provide a program already in place at our school, we are potentially building eleven of the forty Assets for kids who volunteer to participate, and without any extra effort than was already being applied. This is a multiple win from many angles, and the fractal effect for kids who don't participate spins off from the program. When the kids who do participate exemplify their Assets out on the playground, in the hallway or in class, the hope is that through the awesome influence of morphic resonance, their Asset qualities will rub-off on others.

Needless to say, we are very excited about the potential to positively support kids through the Asset building process within our school. We plan to meet again in a couple of weeks with Warren and Jay to discuss the issue of transference; to truly create a ripple effect with Asset building, the paradigm needs to scale from the school outward to our student's homes and the broader community. We want to discuss the challenge of getting sport groups, business groups, government and social support agencies to join our initiative and share the common language of Asset building. We anticipate that this dialog will lead to collaborative efforts to support Asset building beyond the walls of our school. This is a fantastic opportunity for us to connect Glendale to the larger community... we want to work with others within our community to create possibilities in building Assets for everyone. Many thanks to Warren and Jay for reaching out and initiating the dialog.

Sean Grainger