Welcome to Laurie Goodman's blog. I use this space to share news and opinions about education and schools in Ridgewood, the state of New Jersey and the nation, in addition to other issues I'm personally interested in. I invite you to share your thoughts, feelings, questions or opinions, too, by posting comments on any blog entry. Please observe basic courtesy -- keep your comments focused on issues, no personal attacks or bullying, please. Contact me directly at: lauriegood@mac.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Teaching empathy, or supporting our students' natural empathy

Instead of writing again about Trenton, and budgets and that kind of stuff, tonight I wished I could write about something going on in our schools on a daily basis. Something positive. A slice of the wonderful life that our students enjoy, for the most part. So much of my job as a member of the Board of Education revolves around those issues of finance and administration, if I go a few days without setting foot in a school, I start to get a little tunnel-vision. Frankly, it can be depressing (especially this budget-time-of-year). I need to re-orient my thinking and bring it down to the classroom level, to remember why I'm here. So...as I was preparing to write another boring (yet important) Trenton-based post (don't worry, I'll do it later!), I remembered the eNews I received from Somerville today...and I'm really happy to share it with you.

Somerville's principal, Dr. Lorna Oates-Santos, sent the following message (slightly edited here for length) to parents today:

Professor Nel Noddings is known for her work around the topic of the ethics of caring, particularly in the world of schools. Her most successful publication is The Challenge to Care in Schools, which focuses on developing students who are tuned in to the world around them and able to feel "productive empathy" for others. Over the past few weeks, I have often thought that Professor Noddings would really enjoy being at Somerville and get a chuckle out of the challenges that I face in regards to caring. Here are a few recent stories:

-- Two 1st grade students were in a tussle during lunch and Boy A hit Boy B with a lunchbox. At the end of the debrief session in my office, Boy A suggested the following, "Usually, after I say I am sorry, I like to give some hugs. Can I give some hugs?"

-- There have been a few graffiti incidents this year in our upstairs bathroom. After the usual warnings, I started to toughen up and informed the 4th and 5th graders that they would lose privileges if this continued. Later that day, one girl came up to me and asked, "Do you think we should start a club during lunch where we talk about what is bothering us and help find ways to work it out so that people don't get mad and write names on the bathroom stall?"

-- Each day someone comes to my office asking to start a shoe drive, a coat drive, a book drive or some other worthy program to help some worthy group. I have more "Help for Haiti" posters than wall space in this school. One student brought in her entire allowance from this year today to put in the coin drive jug for her grade.

Clearly, the ability to feel empathy, along with the capability to join together as a community for the greater good is alive and well at Somerville. Each month, we focus on a different character trait during our Open Circle Assemblies and the February 4th program will feature a discussion about caring. Several students are involved in this assembly and the next day, February 5th, we will hold two small fundraisers to benefit students in Ridgewood who are undergoing treatment for cancer. Students are asked to bring in $1 to participate in a PJ Day and $3 to buy a "Hope for Haley" bracelet. The goal is to make the donations small enough that the amounts have meaning to students and they have the ability to give on their own. Essentially, this is an opportunity for students to learn and practice "productive empathy."

However, as in so many ways, our students come to Somerville well prepared because they have witnessed "productive empathy" at home. Whether causes are local or distant, small or large, the Somerville Community is notorious for working together, digging deep and making things happen!...

At the end of the day, all of us are working to create happy children who will grow into happy adults. One important part of that is developing the IQ, and one is developing the EQ (emotional quotient). Rabbi Harold Kushner reminds all of us that, "Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness." I thank you for being great role models for our students and for continuing to support the opportunities that Somerville gives you to practice your caring skills over and over again.

There are those who will say it's not the schools' business to teach anything but "the basics" (as in, reading, writing & arithmetic), and issues of character have no place in the classroom. I respectfully disagree, and I am glad to see that this additional "basic" -- empathy -- is addressed in our classrooms. It comes, naturally, from the students, themselves. That's a good thing.

1 comment:

Mrs. Clinton said...

I like your posting! Specially when you quoted Rabbi Harold Kushner: "Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness." I feel very happy and rewarded teaching ESL at in Middle School and I am implementing the Open Circle curriculum in my instruction. It's a bit more complicated when kids get to the Middle School level without having had a chance to learn and practice basic social skills. It's hard to undo some of the effects that lack of empathy may have produced in an adolescent's existence, however I feel that when I show that I care and that I do my best in my practice I am planting the seeds for a better tomorrow in those kids' lives and that thought alone is very rewarding.