Roots Of Empathy – The Education of the Heart

Ken Robinson in a very charismatic talk at the Dalai Lama center for Peace+Education in 2011 claims education should be not just the education of the mind, but the education of the heart and I wholeheartedly agree. Particularly in relation to Peace Education and nurturing a civil society of responsible and caring citizens, the education of the heart and how to “feel” is just as important. We focus a lot of our educational energy on lecturing on the outside world and I believe Peace Education is the necessary inverse – it invites students to turn their gaze and perspective inward. They key to this inverse is the connection between humans and the power of empathy. In conflict we shut empathy off but empathy holds the power to solve conflict! There are numerous scientific studies that show the student’s early environment plays a large role in who they become as they grow, so this has become common knowledge. Empathy and nurturing emotional intelligence is one of the seven pillars of Peace Education and can be cultivated and groomed at different levels in the classroom. This was absent and not seen as important in my early childhood education, but it was in the household and this can vary from student to student. It is the role and duty of Peace Educators to foster a sense of empathy or increased emotional intelligence in our students and be part of the solution.

Sir Ken Robinson – Educating the Heart and Mind

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1A4OGiVK30 (more specifically the last 10 mintues or so)

“Roots of Empathy” is a unique and award winning yearlong charitable program that is actively part of the solution in a desensitized and emotionally out of touch society. It takes place in a Elementary through Middle schools and has programs available globally. It has been researched and has been proven to create significant change in participating schools. The program pillars are specific and include Emotional Literacy, Neuroscience, Temperament, Male Nurturance, Inclusion, Infant Safety, Perspective Taking, Prevention of Teen Pregnancy, Attachment/Attunement, Participatory Democracy, Infant Development, and Violence Prevention. Instead of targeting violence, bullying, and aggressive behavior directly the program takes a holistic approach and engages all the students in the classroom.“Roots of Empathy” focuses on the relationship between parent and child and gives students the opportunity to observe an infant and its development. This program is at its core a reflective practice, because the students are actively identifying problems with their child and solving them, which effects the way they solve their own problems and manage their own relationships. The program is very personal and children very quickly learn through this program their own temperament traits and the situations that may spike or increase the chances for conflict.

Roots Of Empathy

– A more in depth video

There is a healthy amount of useful information and great resources on the site as well as contact information if you or a school around you is interested in running the program. Many of the activities like asking the students to depict creatively episodes when they felt afraid or helpless and using the community to help create an atmosphere of social responsibility are activities that can be incorporated in any classroom at any level.

http://www.rootsofempathy.org/

Humans uniquely possess the ability to empathize with others, including non-humans. We must embrace this distinct trait and connect students with themselves and their feelings, so they can go on and empathize with friends, family, and people on the opposite side of the globe. If we are to create a future culture of peace, we must start with the future, the children and the power of empathy can go a long way.

Qigong

POSTED ON BEHALF OF BETH JIMERSON

“Qigong is a practice of aligning breath, movement, and awareness for exercise, healing, and meditation. With roots in Chinese medicine, martial arts, and philosophy, qigong is traditionally viewed as a practice to cultivate and balance qi (chi) or what has been translated as “intrinsic life energy”. Typically a qigong practice involves rhythmic breathing coordinated with slow stylized repetition of fluid movement, a calm mindful state, and visualization of guiding qi through the body. Qigong is now practiced throughout China and worldwide, and is considered by some to be exercise, and by others to be a type of alternative medicine or meditative practice. From a philosophical perspective qigong is believed to help develop human potential, allow access to higher realms of awareness, and awaken one’s “true nature”.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qigong)

My mother has recently become very involved with Qigong classes and incorporated Qigong into her daily routine. I attended one class when I was home (in Bellingham, WA) and was intrigued by the gentle, flowing movements.  After our unit on yoga and meditation, I was reminded of these practices and decided to read more into this ancient Chinese practice. I truly believe in the importance of slowing down and relaxing for better health for both the body and the mind. Yoga, meditation and Qigong provide different approaches to similar goals in breathing, relaxation and exercise. It is important for everyone to find a route that speaks to them personally, so I thought I would introduce a new addition to this unit. Read more about this ancient Chinese practice from the National Qigong Association: http://nqa.org/resources/what-is-qigong/

The gentle and rhythmic movements of Qigong combine some of the concepts of yoga and meditation. They can be done in a variety of settings and practiced by people of any age. These methods could be used for personal relaxation and health or even incorporated into the classroom. Just as we’ve talked about benefits of meditation and yoga in the classroom, Qigong movements could be explored to stimulate different areas of the body or mind in our students.

A recent example that my mom sent to me from her instructor, Richard, focuses on self-healing Qigong for clearing the lungs, throat, sinuses and other “lung” issues. It is called the White Butterfly. This exercise can be performed seated, standing, or lying down so it could easily be used in a classroom setting. You can hold the position for just a few minutes or longer if you wish. Holding this position allows time to concentrate on breathing and meditation. Your students can breathe along with you. It would be a great exercise especially for the winter months of the year to clear sinuses, concentrate on breathing and meditation and take a few moments to relax and learn about ancient Chinese healing methods.

Exploration of Qigong could be tied into history and used as a base to explore other ancient healing methods. Ancient Chinese concepts such as ‘qi’ are also found in martial arts or feng shui which could open the conversation to a variety of discussions on history and culture. It would be interesting to explore ways in which other cultures have traditionally used practices such as these to promote peace. The conversation could open to uses of meditation by peace promoters such as Gandhi and comparing the methods used in his culture and by him to Qigong.

The Qigong methods incorporate many different movements and combinations of movements to target different parts of the body as well. It sometimes uses a combination of pressure points similar to acupressure. Just as with yoga or other forms of exercise, I would suggest taking a few classes or learning from someone else before attempting to teach these techniques to anyone yourself. There are a lot of subtleties involved in these methods and ways to combine breathing techniques with movements that are best learned and explored personally first in order to help others understand how to perform them correctly.

These exercises could work towards the peace pillar of skill-building by building skills to deal with our own stress and physical well-being or teaching our students which movements can help with different parts of our bodies and minds. Just as yoga or meditation are skills for peace of mind or exercise, Qigong practice could be incorporated to target different parts of the body. These skills could be easily practiced outside the classroom as well or built upon through further exploration.

The peace pillar on nurturing emotional intelligence could also be incorporated through getting in touch with our feelings and our bodies. Students could record the way they feel before and after these exercises or on a weekly basis after practicing three or four days a week. One adaptation that could be made throughout these exercises (which I have seen done) is to smile while performing these movements. This can help with emotional well-being just as being conscious of smiling and being positive can. These exercises could be used before lessons to create a relaxed and thoughtful environment for discussion- to get our students ready and receptive to opening up.

For more information, check out my mother’s Qigong instructor’s website: www.robertbateshealing.com

Mattie Stepanek

POSTED ON BEHALF OF LEAH THOMPSON

I first learned about Mattie Stepanek from his interview on the Oprah show in 2001.  I was struck by his childlike innocence and inquisitiveness, and impressed by his sense of maturity and worldly wisdom.  Mattie Stepanek appeared on the Oprah show at age 11.  He suffered from a rare form of muscular dystrophy, a disease that confined him to a wheelchair and tethered him to an oxygen tank.  His message was about hope and peace.  Mattie was a philosopher, a poet, and a peacemaker.  He has over 8 published books of poetry, several of which are New York Times Best Sellers.  Mattie’s appearance on the Oprah show was commemorated as one of the top 25 moments in Oprah Show history.  Click on the link below to watch a clip of the Oprah Show interview where Mattie talks about his poetry or heartsongs.  Mattie says that everyone has a heartsong and “no matter what it is, it still sings the same beautiful message of peace and love. People are fighting over how our heartsongs are different. But they don’t need to be the same.  That’s the beauty. We are a mosaic of gifts. Each of us has our inner beauty no matter how we look.”

Watch Oprah’s reflection on her meeting with Mattie:

http://www.oprah.com/own-tv-guide-magazines-top-25-best-oprah-show-moments/Moment-24-Meeting-Mattie-Stepanek-Video

Back in 2004, Oprah introduced the world to an extraordinary little boy—poet and peacemaker Mattie Stepanek. The 11-year-old, who was wise beyond his years, became an Oprah Show regular and one of Oprah’s favorite guests. Watch as Oprah reflects on their first meeting.

I encourage you to explore the Mattie Stepanek website at:

http://www.mattieonline.com

On this website you will find Mattie’s full biography, information about programs and resources, and a description of the Mattie J.T. Stepanek Foundation.  The mission of the Foundation is “to further Mattie’s message of hope and peace by providing access to the message, promoting understanding of the message, and motivating people to action in sharing the message. Our vision is to offer educational and recreational programs, projects, activities, and resources that encourage peacemaking as a deliberate choice for individuals and for our world. We celebrate Mattie’s belief that “We have, we are, a mosaic of gifts, to nurture, to offer, to accept.” Like Mattie, we believe that “Peace is for all people!” and that “Peace is possible!”

Resources from this website can be used for students of all ages, and in a variety of settings.   A possible lesson for middle or high school students would incorporate reading one of Mattie’s books of Heartsongs during a language arts, reading, or poetry unit.  Students could read a poem by Mattie and then use this poem as a model or format to help them in writing their own poem.

The website below provides a specific lesson plan based on Mattie’s poems for a 4th, 5th, or 6th grade level literature lesson:

http://teachers.net/lessons/posts/3248.html

Or perhaps you are looking for a field trip idea?  The citizens of Rockville, Maryland created a Mattie Peace Garden and Park in 2008, shortly after Mattie passed away.  According to the website the park has a life-size bronze statue of Mattie and his service dog surrounded by chess tables.  The Peace Garden was created based on visual imagery and quotes from Mattie’s final book, Just Peace.  At the park visitors can listen to Mattie’s voice from a sound post that plays excerpts from his poetry, peace speeches, and songs.

Additional information about the park amenities and location can be found here:

http://www.mattieonline.com/?page_id=1195

Engaging students with Mattie’s life story and his books of poetry will be an empowering lesson.  Mattie’s biography is an inspiring chronicle of a young person who rose above all sorts of barriers and challenges, with a courageous and inspiring spirit.  Amid adversity, Mattie spoke a message of peace, love, and acceptance of all.  I think a lesson based on Mattie’s poetry would allow students the opportunity to tap into their heartsongs (as Mattie calls them) to realize their message and their purpose.  This will encourage students to become self aware, by providing an existing example of a young peacemaker, his message, and his goal for a more peaceful world.

This resource most supports the pillars of Nurturing Emotional Intelligence and Exploring Approaches to Peace.  By exploring Mattie’s poetry, or heartsongs, students will reflect and be sensitive to their emotions, and perhaps discover a new message or goal for themselves.  By sharing their heartsongs with their classmates they will build community and empathize with one another.  Poetry and written expression is also a way to explore a new approach to peace.  Mattie often talks about how he didn’t intend to sit down and write poems, but instead he just wanted to capture on paper the song inside his heart.  Peace through poetry is a powerful force that captures the true essence of a person’s emotional journey during his/her pursuit of peace. Mattie lived a remarkable and inspiring life, and left behind a legacy of hope and peace.  In closing, I will leave you with Mattie’s words…

Follow your heartsong.
Hope is real.
Peace is possible.
Life is worthy.
Believe, and celebrate!

PBIS for a more Peaceful School Environment

POSTED ON BEHALF OF MARG BRENNAN

For my final blog post, I wanted to share something that I’ve been working very closely with since beginning at my middle school, and up until this semester, I had been chairing. Since starting at my school, one pervasive and difficult issue has been the culture of the school and community – it’s an understatement to say that neither is conducive to learning.  Two years ago, we began to integrate PBIS – Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports – into our school and I’ve noticed the difference that it’s made.

The basic idea of PBIS is that behavior is taught like any other subject – through explicit instruction, modeling, reinforcement, etc. and that positive and/or appropriate behavior should be recognized, rather than solely punishing negative or inappropriate behavior. Additionally, programs are put into place to support students at all levels (or Tiers) of functioning – the idea being that roughly 85% of your student population are Tier 1 students, who will respond to school-wide supports, roughly 10% need Tier 2 small group support and roughly 5% will need focused individual support at Tier 3. General information on the program can be found at its website: http://www.pbis.org/. All behavior data is tracked through an online system to consistently monitor success of the program and make adjustments.

I was able to work with several of my colleagues over the summer to further develop our PBIS program and I wanted to share part of our lesson plans that we created. Our school-wide expectations are that all students are ready, responsible, and respectful. We spent the entire first week of school working with climate and culture building and explicitly teaching expectations.  I’m including the lesson plan for Be Responsible, but if anyone is interested in PBIS material, please just let me know!

We specifically designed this lesson (and all others) with our middle school students in mind, but the content and activities could be modified for any grade level. As PBIS is a very structured program and designed to be implemented in a school setting, I would say the materials are designed for a formal classroom setting. These lessons could also be incorporated into any subject, as the types of behaviors being addressed are applicable in all areas.

PBIS has been incorporated in ways that connect to peace education throughout the past couple of years. Students develop conflict resolution skills through working with teachers and mentors. Other students learn more about emotions, emotion regulation, and interpreting others’ emotions accurately through our social skills groups.  Lessons are reinforced in classrooms throughout the year. Last year, I ran a student leadership committee, where students were able to organize the field trips, activities, and build some of the community partnerships that we established throughout the year.

My one issue with this program has been the amount of extrinsic motivation that we provide to students (field trips, school currency, shout-outs on morning announcements, etc.) for displaying appropriate behaviors, as opposed to attempting to cultivate an intrinsic motivation in students. However, from where we started, which was at one of the highest suspension rates in the state of Maryland for many different issues, to where we are now, I definitely argue that for us the program works. We still have a long way to go, but we are making progress.

One pillar of peace education that is definitely supported by PBIS is skill building. The program is designed to work with the students who most need support in the areas of conflict resolution, developing knowledge of appropriate behavior and interactions with others, relationship building (with other students, staff, and families), managing more responsibilities, and multiple other skills that help the student become more ready to learn and often times, much less violent or aggressive and much more respectful in their interactions with others.

Another pillar that is supported, and is especially important for our Tier 2 and 3 students, is nurturing emotional intelligence. Many students are bringing issues to school with them that they do not know how to or are not capable of dealing with in a non-aggressive way. These students are often pegged as the “behavior problems” from the first day of school and then have one more aspect of their lives to struggle with. Our Tier 3 students actually have daily check-ins (sometimes multiple times per day) with our crisis intervention specialist or student advocates and they learn ways to express how they are feeling and have trusting relationships with those adults. They practice in situations with other students where they are able to model appropriate social interactions and emotion regulation. Some learn strategies for going home and talking with their parents or bringing skills back into the classroom in their interactions with other students and teachers.

PBIS Sample Lesson Be Responsible (.pdf)

Louisville’s CARE For Students Program

POSTED ON BEHALF OF DANIEL KNOLL

Edutopia.org, a website designed to share information and lessons with teachers about all kinds of topics in the modern classroom, (seriously it’s a really cool website, check it out) has a page of case studies called “Schools That Work.” One of the subjects Edutopia focuses on is Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Schools in Louisville have adopted what they hope will become a national standard for SEL called CARE For Students. CARE stands for Community, Autonomy, Relationships and Empowerment. Each of these four pillars shapes the idea that the students in this school district will understand how to share information about themselves with their classmates, develop positive relationships with their peers, and know how to handle conflict when it arises. CARE was developed by a Superintendent named Sheldon Berman, and Mr Berman is very clear this isn’t “touchy-feely stuff.” For Mr. Berman, CARE is “Core social skills that give kids the knowledge and experience to work effectively with others. This isn’t about being nice. It’s serious work to create a sense of community and resolve conflicts.”

One specific part of the CARE project is called a “Morning Meeting.” This twenty minute session starts with educators greeting students personally as they enter the school / classroom. Students then partake in a game or activity for 20 minutes that gets students excited to learn and comfortable sharing with others. There are all kinds of activities that take part in these “Morning Meetings,” and after watching a quick video about the program, the meetings look very similar to the types of check ins we did throughout this semester (such as Wind Blows and Roses and Thorns). I think these types of morning check ins work as an informal activity in a formal educational setting for all ages. Obviously the topic of discussion changes as the needs of the students change with age, school location etc, but the beauty of these types of activities is that they can change to adapt the needs of the community. These meetings set the tone for the rest of the day force students to think about real life conflict situations and how to best resolve them. Personally I plan to incorporate a number of the CARE For Students elements into my own classroom, especially the concept of developing positive relationships through trust and sharing, and setting the rules of the classroom. To learn more abut the details of CARE and how it works in Louisville, check out: http://www.edutopia.org/stw-louisville-sel-social-emotional-learning (Morning Meetings are just a small part of the program.)

The two pillars of Peace Education that CARE best introduces in the classroom are Community Building and Nurturing Emotional Intelligence. By hosting a number of activities focused around sharing and understanding amongst classmates, CARE creates a strong sense of community between students. By having students draft and reinforce the rules and expectations of the classroom, you are developing a community that is successful as a team, and not from the teacher exerting authority over students. By creating this type of buy-in to the program, students are much more likely to keep order within the classroom. The teacher creates a safe space, and the students run with the opportunity to develop SEL. The second pillar, Nurturing Emotional Intelligence is a fairly obvious outcome from the CARE program. By teaching students how to address conflict such as bullying in a productive and safe environment, you are teaching life skills that will set them up for success far beyond their time in the classroom. Conversations about how to build relationships and address issues with others are often absent from modern curriculums, and SEL is an attempt to fill this void in student’s development. I can’t wait to use some of the lessons and techniques discussed in the Schools That Work section in my own classroom.

Peace Learner Commitments

The above podcast was recorded on Wednesday, November 14th 2012 during the Peace Pedagogy (EDU-596) course I facilitate each year at American University.  As a final assignment for the class I asked each student to develop what I called a “Peace Learner Commitment.”  A Peace Learner Commitment is:

“…a pledge to yourself, and shared with our community, to achieve a goal that seeks to build and foster peaceable learning environments.  This environment can be built in the classroom, your community, among your peers, with your family, in the work place, or for yourself.  The choice is yours.

“The key is for an element of this course that resonated with you – skill, content, activity, attitude, technique, perspective, etc. – to bear fruit outside of the (tiny) classroom we shared this semester.”

In the podcast each student shares what their commitment is.  And listening to this podcast, I can honestly say that it has been a privilege spending an entire semester with this outstanding, kind, and inspirational group of learners. The 14 students all came to the course for different reasons, with different needs, and from different professional and academic backgrounds.  Given the diversity of the learning goals and needs, as the professor for the course I really had to give deep thought to what kinds of assignments were going to actually be useful to the class.