Empathy is a pathway to better relationships in childhood that feeds resiliency, happiness and progress toward a more just and kinder world. Coming out of the isolation and disrupted learning of the pandemic, Roots of Empathy (ROE) returned to in-person experiential program delivery to classroom children around a ‘green blanket, while nourishing the knowledge capacity of staff and growing the conversation about empathy with new audiences. The answers to all of tomorrow’s problems rest on the empathy and imagination of today’s children.
As the pandemic isolation eased for the 2022-2023 school year, teachers identified an even greater need for emotional regulation as children returned with much less social experience. Children had missed the routine of school and the routine of its relationships in and around the classroom resulting in the lack of basic etiquette skills like raising hands and taking turns and increasing disruptive behaviour. These are all social learnings that were arrested as children related to screens and lacked opportunities to relate to classmates and teachers.
How does it work?
A parent volunteers to bring their baby into a classroom every month. Children are coached by a ROE Instructor to read a baby’s emotional cues, take the baby’s perspective and witness the baby-parent attachment relationship. They learn to identify the baby’s feelings, reflect on and understand their own feelings, then bridge to understand the feelings of others. Children understand how their behaviour and words can hurt others and enables them to build positive relationships improving their mental health and wellbeing. The “ Tiny Teacher” is a catalyst for children to learn that we share the same feelings and that our feelings are at the core of our humanity.
Why is the Roots of Empathy program an important innovation?
The program is scalable and works having reached children in 11 countries. Over 2 decades of independent research in numerous countries across 3 continents shows that ROE is a major support to children by increasing empathy, significantly decreasing aggressive behaviour including bullying, and increasing prosocial behaviours (e.g. sharing, caring, helping, and including). Furthermore, our global evaluation for 2021-2022, an annual feedback survey completed by classroom teachers, volunteer parents, students, and ROE Instructors- shows a big impact on students - 85% of students reported that Roots of Empathy has helped them to learn that everybody has feelings and 88% of students reported that if they saw a student or friend being bullied or treated meanly, they would help them. Results that contribute to our mission to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.
Program integrity, professional development, and ‘measuring what we treasure’ are core values at Roots of Empathy.
Since our founding, we have been committed to systematically evaluating the impact of our program. One example in the 2022/23 year includes survey development by our Research Department, intended for Trainers and Instructors who participate in ROE’s Three-Day Training and Mid-Year Training. The feedback was analyzed and condensed to disseminate key lessons learned to the Program Integrity Department, the Training Department, and other internal stakeholders. The evaluation aims to measure the learning on the part of the Instructor, how Trainers can be better supported, and what changes need to be made to the Training Curriculum to be most effective. That is one example of many that demonstrate our commitment to constantly evaluate how we’re doing and to invest in the professional development of Instructors. In an interview with HundrED, our Founder and President Mary Gordon shared her philosophy for the discipline of implementation integrity to maintain a valuable education innovation, which is why ROE spends a significant amount of time ensuring that what we are doing is what we claim to do and investing in the professional development of our Instructors, Mentors, and Trainers.
Reaching more children - Preparing for the future by skilling up our staff.
While continuing to maintain a high level of integrity in helping children with our ROE program and Seeds of Empathy (SOE) program, our organization also focused on deepening our staff’s knowledge to increase the capacity for staff to respond to the myriad of challenges facing children. This was accomplished through a series of ‘lean-in and learn’ lectures delivered to the staff of Roots of Empathy in 2022-2023. Ultimately, these capacity-building initiatives will build a cadre of experts and speaker-ready participants for academic collaboration and media interviews. Lectures included:
1) The Current Debate on Teaching Reading, Spurred by New Brain-Based Research
2) The Learning Gap - What Research Tells Us
3) How to Reassure Children in a World that Feels Very Unsafe
4) Developing Emotional Literacy in Roots of Empathy
5) Measuring Emotional Literacy Through the Annual Program Evaluation (APE) Tool.
6) The Current Crisis of Connection and the Global Threat to Democracy
7) An Overview of International NGOs and ROE’s Relationship to Them
8) Roots of Empathy Media Training
Future lecture ideas include: Screens and the Development of the Social Brain, The Importance of Friendships in Childhood, Our Trauma Informed Programming, the Role of Family in Education, and the Joy of Reading and Storytelling.
Delivering hope with Empathy!
ROE Founder Mary Gordon inspired new audiences towards empathic development programs and policies through important presentations. Examples of areas of expanded influence include: introducing emotional literacy at the University of Oxford World Summit on Literacy in April 2023, being part of the C20 working group Education and Digital Transformation that will contribute policy recommendations to the G20, presenting at the Spain “New Longevity Summit” organized by Ashoka, speaking at the Paediatric Society of New Zealand conference, and presenting as a panelist at the Toronto Collision Tech Conference on “The Future of Education in 2022’and in June 2023 on "ChatGPTeacher? The Future of Learning". ROE hosted our 10th Research Symposium called, “Empathy towards a More Caring World” featuring several high-profile speakers. Please find their compelling presentations here and an up-to-date list of presentations here.
At ROE, we will continue to innovate for children, who are 100% of our future.
Roots of Empathy provides support to students and their teachers as we raise the bar on what it means to be human – to be empathic. At ROE, we continue to innovate for our staff to be future-ready with research and rationale for why empathy and emotion regulation are a precursor to building positive relationships leading to improved mental health and wellbeing.
We are so proud to be in HundrED’s Hall of Fame for education innovation and to have been recognized as part of HundrED’s innovations since 2018.