Academy for Social-Emotional Learning in Schools

Empathy

2

Feb

Simple Tips for a Kinder Middle School Culture

By Naomi Drew, M.A., and Christa M. Tinari, M.A

(Originally posted on the Free Spirit Publishing blog, posted March 13, 2017)

Kids thrive in an atmosphere of kindness. They blossom, do better in school, and feel safer when surrounded by kindness.

That said, middle schoolers can be sarcastic and just plain mean to one another. This was corroborated by a national survey we conducted with over 1,000 middle school students: 81 percent said they heard kids saying mean things to one another every single day. An eighth-grade teacher we interviewed concurred. “My kids are constantly putting each other down.” The raw truth is that gossiping, exclusion, and unkindness can be as much a part of the middle school culture as puberty and mood swings.

So what can we do?

Lots! The first thing is to remember that any investment of time you make to create a kinder, more accepting culture in your school will yield rewards far greater than just having students treat one another better. According to the America Institutes for Research,  “Positive school climate is tied to high or improving attendance rates, test scores, promotion rates, and graduation rates.” And who doesn’t want that?

The truth is we actually can teach kids to be kinder. Maurice Elias, director of the Social-Emotional Learning Lab at Rutgers University, eloquently reminds us: “Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.”

To this we say, “Yes!” And to help you get started, or move ahead even further in fostering kindness, here are three concrete things you can do right now:

  1. Model, teach, and expect acceptance, empathy, and kindness.
    Modeling and expecting kindness is critical. Kids watch us for clues as to how to behave. Even though middle schoolers are pretty peer-obsessed, our actions and attitudes hold more weight with them than we realize. Modeling kindness is key. Equally important is expecting kindness from your kids. Never let cruel behavior go unchecked. Each time we do, we normalize meanness.  A great example of promoting acceptance, kindness, and empathy is the true story of Coach Biff Poggi of Gillman High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Poggi prized kindness and empathy over all else. The character expectations he set for his football team far exceeded his expectations for prowess on the field. Poggi’s hard and fast rule was “Empathy and kindness for all.” See if you can be as steadfast as Coach Poggi in your commitment to empathy, kindness, and acceptance among your students.
  1. Help your kids see cliques and social groups through a lens of kindness.
    Peer acceptance is more important than ever in middle school. Tightly knit groups form quickly at this stage, and some kids relish the social power of being in the “in-crowd.” Others struggle to fit in, and being excluded chips away at their self-esteem. Kindness can fall by the wayside when kids become more focused on popularity than on respecting their peers.  Social groups based on common interests can provide kids with a sense of safety, purpose, and belonging. Cliques, on the other hand, can also provide these—but at a cost. Cliques are exclusive, and kids in them often discourage members from expressing individuality. They create unhealthy peer pressure for kids to fit in. More powerful members of cliques tend to mistreat less powerful members, who often put up with bad behavior just to stay in the group. Even more problematic is the use of collective power to ignore, tease, or bully others. Ultimately, cliques chip away at the possibility of a culture of kindness.  Your kids might not be aware of the advantage of forming inclusive social groups based on common interests rather than cliques. Understanding the negative impacts of cliques will also help your kids make better choices about which group to align with. Take a look at the following activity. Discuss it with your kids and help them see the benefits of opting for social groups and avoiding cliques.

Activity: Exploring Social Groups and Cliques. 

Think of a social group you belong to. This group must include one person in addition to yourself. It could be a group of friends you spend time with socially, friends from your sports team, kids in band or chess club, and so forth. Once you have thought of a social group, read the characteristics below. Circle the characteristics that describe your social group.

People in my group:

  1. Share similar interests
  2. Place a high value on popularity
  3. Support one another
  4. Are kind to people within the group and outside of it
  5. Are encouraged to act the same as other members of the group
  6. Exclude other students
  7. May feel pressured to do certain things to fit in with the group
  8. Are given the freedom to be themselves
  9. Make fun of, or look down on, students not in the group
  10. Are members of several groups

Discussion Questions

  • Which of the above characteristics seem positive to you?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students in the group?
  • Which could have a negative impact on students who are not part of the group?

Think About It
If your group includes more negative characteristics than positive ones, it might be a clique. A clique is a social group of students who may exclude, tease, or bully other students.

Choose Kindness Over Cliques
What are some actions you can take to ensure that you and your social group are kind, inclusive, and respectful of other students in your social group and students not in your social group?

  1. Teach kindness—literally.
    You can plant seeds of kindness in your classroom every time you talk about its importance and model it through your behaviors and attitudes. Help your students understand the basic human need all people have for being treated with acceptance, respect, and empathy—the fundamentals of kindness.  Here’s something else to remember: Just as kindness spreads, so can cruelty and callousness.  A Harvard Study of 10,000 middle school and high school students reported that 80 percent of students were more concerned about their own success and happiness than they were about others’. The report states something all of us have seen: “When caring takes a back seat, youth are at risk for being cruel, disrespectful, and dishonest.”  On the other hand, when enough kids treat each other with kindness and respect, others are likely to follow. This happens because of “mirror neurons” in the brain that prompt people to unconsciously mimic others’ behaviors. According to neuroscience researchers Souvra Acharya and Smarth Shukla, mirror neurons are activated when we observe the actions of the people around us. This helps explain why kids learn through imitation. We have to fill our classrooms and hallways with enough empathy, kindness, and respect to motivate every student toward kindness and away from cruelty.

One final thought: When you wonder how you can fit one more thing into your day, please remember that your efforts will touch your students’ lives in fundamental ways. Remember, too, that in this changing world, any infusion of kindness is both necessary and valuable.

Naomi Drew and Christa Tinari are coauthors of Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle School: 48 Character-Building Lessons to Foster Respect and Prevent Bullying.

 

12

Oct

“Our Students’ Relationships Start With Our Own”: A Special Educator’s Open Letter to Teachers

Summary:  This is an open letter from a special education teacher to her teacher colleagues which makes a number of points about differences and similarities between special education teachers and general education teachers.  One of the main points is that positive relationships between teachers leads the way to positive relationship between students.

Source:  Sasha Long, Education Week, October 11. 2017

Categories:  Positive Relationships, Special Education, Educational Equity, Empathy

11

Oct

Empathy Instilled Through Fictional Literature Can Curb Bullying

Summary:  This article supports the idea that fictional literature can help students understand relationships and help to curb bullying.  “When students read works of fiction that reflect the diversity they will encounter in their daily lives, they are less likely to bully those who are different from them”, author Michael Dahl writes for eSchool News.

Source:  Linda Jacobsen, Education DIVE, October 11, 2017

Categories:  Empathy, Anti-Bullying, Classroom Practice, Emotional Intelligence

22

Sep

Happy students

‘Kindness Curriculum’ Shown to Improve Grades and Relationship Skills

Summary:  This article reports on the success of the “Kindness Curriculum” in a pilot study with pre-K classrooms in Madison, Wisconsin.  While the study was relatively small, the researchers felt that the positive results warrant further studies to determine the effectiveness of the curriculum with a larger sample size and over the long term.

Source:  Brenda Iasevoli, Education Week, September 20, 2017

Categories:  Core Values, Empathy, Emotional Intelligence, SEL Basics

10

Sep

Study: SEL Tends to Produce More Engaged Citizens, Increased Voter Turnout

Summary:  This article reports on anew Princeton study examined the long-term effects of a 20-year-old program known as Fast Track, one of the earliest and largest programs designed to improve life outcomes for at-risk students by teaching psychosocial skills.  The study found benefits gained from teaching SEL in a variety of categories.

Source:  Amelia Harper, Education DIVE, September 5, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, SEL Research, Empathy, Emotional Intelligence

23

Aug

Teaching Love Over Hate: A Response to the Charlottesville Incident

by Karen Niemi, President and CEO, CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning)

Dear CASEL friends:

Like so many of you, I’ve been shaken and horrified by the events of this past weekend in Charlottesville, Va. The prospect of overt and violent hatred and bigotry once again entering the American public square of ideas is abhorrent, and again, a very real threat.

I couldn’t help being struck that so many of the participants in the violence were so young, like 20-year-old white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr., who drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring dozens and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. So much tragedy. . . a life cut short, and the living are left with pain, heartache, loss, and, for some, the inspiration for violence yet to come.

How could a society capable of nurturing so much beauty and compassion have also produced Mr. Fields? What forces stoked his fears of diversity and emboldened him with hate? How could his life have been different — not to mention the lives of hundreds of KKK members, alt-right supporters, white nationalists, and violent extremists — if he possessed the skills to understand and manage his emotions, feel empathy, and build positive relationships? We will never know.

I’m more convinced than ever that the work we do here at CASEL is part of the solution to this type of bigotry and fear. We believe in the power of education to teach nonviolence, promote understanding, endow children with purpose and meaning, and provide the skills and behaviors that can create a more inclusive, healthy, and positive future.

Our board chairman, Timothy Shriver, perfectly summed up what we must do to succeed when he said, “I want to change the cycle of stigma and prejudice that destroys lives all over the world every day. Until we can get in front of people and awaken them to the idea that this is not acceptable, it’s very difficult for people to appreciate what we do and change the way we act as a society.”

We are the educators who teach love over hate, the helpers who run toward disaster to comfort the afflicted, and the change agents who will help destroy prejudice and stigmatization.

I ask each of you not to disengage after the tragedy of this past weekend but instead to see it as a call to redouble our efforts because this work is vital, perhaps now more than ever. And we must succeed. Our children are counting on us. Our communities are counting on us. Our country is counting on us.

Together we will build a better tomorrow!

Karen Niemi

President and CEO

CASEL: Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning

Read the Full Post on CASEL’s Website

21

Aug

How to Combat a Negative Climate by Promoting Respect and Understanding

Summary:  This article by CASEL makes a statement about how respect and understanding is needed in this time of negativity in the aftermath of the Charlottesville incidents earlier this month.  The article also provides resources for addressing hate and racism in the classroom as well as resources supporting SEL.

Source:  CASEL, August 2017

Categories:  Core Values, Positive Relationships, Educational Equity, SEL Basics, Empathy

16

Aug

Charlottesville VA

The First Thing Teachers Should Do When School Starts is Talk About Hatred in America. Here’s help.

Summary:  This article from the Washington Post presents some ideas about how to handle the inevitable questions from students about Charlottesville as school begins this year.  There are many resources that are listed in the article that may be helpful in guiding discussions as schools start the 2017-18 year.

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post, August 13, 2017

Categories:  Core Values, Educational Equity, Classroom Practice, Empathy, Positive Relationships, Character Education

1

Aug

Addressing Hate and Intolerance in Trump’s America

Summary:  This article tells the story of how one school district in Washington State addressed the issue of hate and intolerance toward students who are members of “target groups.”  The author offers some suggestions for activities that will help to “look past hate toward hope.”

Source:  Jennifer Fichamba, Education Week, July 27. 2017

Categories:  Educational Equity, School Culture/Climate, Core Values, Empathy, Positive Relationships, Student Engagement

26

Jul

Is Social-Emotional Learning a Hoax? Readers Respond

Summary:  This post includes reactions from many readers who took issue with Chester Finn’s commentary calling social-emotional learning a hoax.  Read the reactions from educators and others across the county chiming in on the place of SEL in child development.

Source:  Education Week, July 18, 2017

Categories:  SEL Basics, SEL Research, Student Achievement, Positive Relationships, Empathy