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We continued our book study of Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning in February. The key points made included (p. 93):
-Students will have the ability to regulate others and co-regulate with others.
-Students will have a sense of honesty with themselves and others.
-Students will have empathy (really the big key in this chapter!) and care about the feelings of others and help them deal with their emotions.
-Students will learn to put the needs and interests of others ahead of their own when needed.
-Students will desire to do the "right thing" at the right time.
Discussion produced the following thoughts for the group:
1. This would be the hardest domain for students to learn because you have to think about the others rather than yourself.
2. There was wonder about how a teacher could teach about empathy if they were not empathetic themselves. Teachers likely weren't taught empathy as a student and if they do not have empathy, how will they see this as a need? What would the principal do in this case? How do you "make" a grownup feel empathy?
3. What about cultural differences in the meaning of empathy? Is empathy viewed the same in every culture?
4. Social emotional learning must be a part of a school culture. It would difficult to teach it as an add-on.
5. It would take a very creative teacher to infuse this concept throughout the curriculum. Teachers have a tough job!
6. Are our students desensitized to wrong doing and harmful behaviour because of television, video games and perhaps even modeling at home?
7. Students would need a very intact sense of self-identity and would need to learn that everything is "not all about me."
8. We liked the idea of caring for pets (p. 110) but there are very few pets in schools anymore due to the fear of disease and allergies. One of our social workers has a service dog and sees the value of "pet therapy" with students. This has been very positive. Here are a couple of articles about her work: here and on p. 24 of this publication.
9. Shanker lists the Roots of Empathy program that has had success in classrooms. Students interact with a baby and watch as it grows in their weekly visits.
10. Shanker also brings up the point that we can't focus on anti-bullying as this has limited success but instead should focus on belongingness (p. 96). Schools should concentrate on what you should do instead of bringing focus to what you shouldn't do.
Finally, it was noted that students need to understand the true meaning of feeling words. What does it really mean to be sad, happy, angry, etc.
Throughout this chapter, a great example of the positive work of a teacher was detailed with great ideas to use in the classroom, using literature and movies that the students are familiar with and could identify with. Rather than always looking to a canned program, there are so many ways to work within your classroom with tools readily at hand. Without making this an infused part of the school culture, it is unlikely to make impact, however. Every teacher and administrator needs to be a part of a culture of empathy and caring.
By the way, Stuart Shanker is making an Edmonton appearance again at the end of May. Register here if you are interested!