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Roots of Empathy

Helping children develop the empathy they need for mental health, learning and caring for others.

Roots of Empathy(ROE) is known as one of the earliest and clearest voices in the empathy dialogue. ROE, its flagship program for elementary school children, has reached 1.2 million children on 3 continents and is proven by 2 decades of independent research to reduce aggression/bullying and increase prosocial behaviour. Seeds of Empathy is offered to children in early learning and childcare sites.

Hall of Fame


Web presence






Target group
Students lower
October 2023
As important as it is to learn to read in school, if children do not also learn to relate, we will have failed societies.

About the innovation

The role of Roots of Empathy in children’s learning

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 four day trainings. 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 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.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

Roots of Empathy is based on the idea that of taking the perspective of the other, to notice and appreciate our commonalities. Over 17 years of research has yielded consistent results, showing that Roots of Empathy students perceive a more inclusive and caring environment by the end of the program. Their motto"Changing the world, child by child" is apparent in their easily scaled approach.

HundrED Academy Reviews
The concept is fascinating. So much data exists pointing to its clear impact, which is great to see. And the concept is clearly scalable in its massive reach.
This is wonderful - it is bringing back something that would have been inherent to childhood and everyday life (family life). Highly impactful through relationships and watching a young child grow and develop. Just beautiful.
- Academy member
Academy review results
High Impact
Low Scalability
High Impact
High Scalability
Low Impact
Low Scalability
Low Impact
High Scalability
Read more about our selection process


Revolutionizing the Ways Boys are Taught about Care: A MenCare CARING Webinar
On August 25th, 2023, Mary Gordon presented on the Impact of the Roots of Empathy program for: MenCare Global Fatherhood Webinar Series: “Revolutionize the way boys are taught about care”. See the discussion here.
On July 19, 2023, Mary Gordon, Founder and President of Roots of Empathy spoke in British Columbia at “A Joyous Celebration of Ideas, the Arts, Science, and Efforts to Make the World a Better Place Organiser”. Mary’s topic was Roots of Empathy: The Global Children’s Program, The Research and Impact on Education Policy.
Mary Gordon speaks at Collision 2023 about Chat GPT
At the June 26-29, 2023 Collision Tech Conference in Toronto, an event with 36k participants, Mary Gordon, Founder and President of Roots of Empathy, spoke in a panel discussion on "ChatGPTeacher? The Future of Learning?". See a clip here.
Roots of Empathy Symposium 2023
On June 20th, Roots of Empathy held its 10th Research Symposium titled "Empathy Towards a More Caring Society" in Toronto and online. See the presentations here.
The University of Oxford held a world summit on literacy on April 2-4th 2023. Founder and President Mary Gordon spoke about ‘Fostering Literacy through the Lens of Empathy: Connecting emotional literacy to traditional literacy for the success of the whole child.’
Insights from the C20 Panel on “Education for Life & Global Citizenship” - Roots of Empathy
On March 11 and May 20th, Mary Gordon spoke as part of two C20 panels (Civil 20, India 2023) to contribute policy recommendations to the G20. One called Education and Digital Transformation: Education for Life, Global Citizenship” and the other “Education to Support Mental Health”.
Founder and President Mary Gordon was interviewed about: “Growing the garden of childhood: How Roots of Empathy nurtures connection for children and parents” by Jamie Lee. See the article.
Que reste-t-il de notre empathie ?
Article published in La Presse by Rima Elkouri from an interview with Roots of Empathy Founder and President Mary Gordon. Article here.
What is Emotional Literacy?
Mary Gordon, Founder/President talks to parents and educators about why they are the heroes in developing Emotional Literacy in young children. Listen here.
The Roots of Longevity & Quality of Life - Roots of Empathy
Mary Gordon, Founder/President was a featured speaker at the New Longevity Summit, organized by Ashoka and BBK. See the Roots of Empathy article on Longevity here.
At the 73rd Annual Scientific Meeting hosted by the Paediatric Society of New Zealand, Mary Gordon, Founder/President of Roots of Empathy was a featured speaker on the topic of "Building a Culture of Empathy".
The Early Childhood Community Development Centre hosted Mary Gordon, respected author, founder, and president Roots of Empathy on October 24th, alongside partners from the Niagara Catholic District School Board and the District School Board of Niagara. See the release.
The Lean-In and Learn 2022-2023 series for ROE staff is led by Mary Gordon to respond to the myriad of global challenges, which impact children. There were 8 topics this year. The expansive conversations will include: empathic ways of closing the learning gap to antecedents of civil society.
In October of 2022, Roots of Empathy was 1 of 4 education innovations to be selected globally to be in the HundrED Hall of Fame. See our release.
Knowledge transfer 
The 360 Project is a content bank containing research on Roots of Empathy. The purpose is to organize research and make it more accessible internally for proposals, reports, and social media. The resources within the 360 project include Annual Program Evaluation (APE) feedback quotes, Research Symposium speaker quotes, research findings on the impact of the Roots of Empathy program, and general research findings on the important themes for ROE — 47 themes are highlighted. The knowledge transfer is a democratizing process we are making available to ROE staff around the world.
BBC World Service
BBC World ServiceFormerly known as BBC World Hacks, People Fixing the World is planning a segment on Roots of Empathy, following up on their previous film (viewed over 24 million times) on Roots of Empathy, “Bully-busting babies”, which they produced in 2018. They are now producing a podcast on innovative approaches to reducing violence in schools and will include a “Where are they now?” segment about Roots of Empathy.
Kate Middleton & Prince William Adorably Bond w/ Kids In Scotland
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (Kate and William) visited a Roots Of Empathy classroom in Scotland as ROE compliments their focus on young children. Kate asked the students if more schools should have this program, when the students replied yes, she answered, “So do we.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPyMrQoz7Eo&t=40s
Collision Summit June 2022 
Collision runs the world’s largest technology events, connecting people and ideas that change the world. The Toronto Conference attracted 35,000 attendees. By invitation, Founder/President Mary Gordon spoke on a panel, “The Future of Education in 2022’. Click to see her response to “What is the connection between the health system and education?” and more. https://youtu.be/YKI_OCUz4HU  
Children’s Wishes for the World, 2022
Highlighted in our online Roots of Empathy Children’s Gallery, this show features a series of video clips of wishes made for our aching world in 2022 by 8 and 9 year old children from our New Zealand program. We are humbled by their insights, their empathy, and their hopeful generous spirits. https://rootsofempathy.org/childrens-gallery-introduction/wishes-2022/
Who better than the experts to paint a broad picture, through testimonials, of the scope and impact of our work and influence? Roots of Empathy testimonial videos are now available here. Listen to Dr. Bruce Perry, Maurice Meehan (Public Health Agency, Northern Ireland) and others applaud the work we do in changing the world, child by child. Testimonial videos - https://rootsofempathy.org/testimonials/
Roots of Empathy Virtual Research Symposium 2021
We reached over 4200 like-minded individuals from 52 countries coming from backgrounds in health, education, research, and aligned fields in a thought-provoking two-day symposium.Our virtual symposium not only brought together top North American neuroscientists and experts on wellbeing and empathy like Dr. Richard Davidson, Dr. Dan Siegel, Prof. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, and Dr. Bruce Perry, but we also dove into topics such as empathy in leadership, social justice, and had an across-border perspective on black fatherhood. To learn more, visit ourVirtual Research Symposium 2021 page. 
Switzerland Roots of Empathy Research Study
Watch the 2 minute video of the findings from the Bern University longitudinal study of Roots of Empathy. 
Roots Of Empathy celebrates 25 years of fostering empathy | Here and Now Toronto with Gill Deacon | Live Radio | CBC Listen
On May 12th, Mary Gordon appeared on the CBC radio program Here & Now, hosted by Gill Deacon. Mary’s storytelling captured the hearts and minds of the listeners. In terms of promoting our brand and increasing recognition of our organization, the interview was invaluable, providing millions of CBC listeners across Canada and beyond with relevant and interesting information about our organization. LISTEN HERE
ROE Children's Wishes for 2021
Listen and see our children giving their wishes for 2021. Some are moving, some are funny and all are worth a watch! Enjoy their visions of the future. CLICK HERE to watch. 
The Children's Gallery
The Children’s Gallery is a space reserved to celebrate the voices of children. All children have a voice but many need encouragement to use it. We embrace many themes in our gallery using children’s art and their words. We are humbled by their insights, their empathy, and their hopeful generous spirits. CLICK HERE to check it out. 
NIVEA Human Touch Video Series - Mary Gordon
CLICK HERE to watch Roots of Empathy's Founder/President Mary Gordon speak about the importance of human touch and the roles human touch can play in our lives with Ralph Zimmerer, Vice President Global NIVEA Brand Identity & Capability. 
Roots of Empathy Annual Research Symposium
The annual Roots of Empathy Research Symposium brings together leading thinkers and researchers on children's social and emotional development. CLICK HERE to learn more about our Research Symposia. 
The power of touch
At the beginning and end of each Family Visit, students sing to the baby and each student has an opportunity to connect with the baby by touch, by song and by looking into their eyes. Human touch is nurturing for both the baby and the students.
Roots of Empathy father and Tiny Teacher
All students enjoy the participation of fathers in their Roots of Empathy class. Fathers provide a model of positive male nurturing. There is no one right way to love but children understand when they are in the presence of love. Love is the best teacher.
Baby Celebration!
At the end of every school year, we invite our volunteer parents, babies, Instructors, families to gather and thank them for sharing their love for their baby in the baby’s first precious year of life. This loving relationship between parent and baby is where empathy begins to grow. Students in Roots of Empathy remember their "Tiny Teachers" forever. We know that from meeting adults who had the program more than 2 decades ago.
“The baby tackling bullying at school” 4 mins - 24 Million views
Mary Gordon: Using Innovations to Reduce Aggression and Bullying | HundrED Innovation Summit
Students follow all aspects of a baby’s development from two months to twelve months of age. They learn how “Love Grows Brains” and what babies need to develop into happy, fearless learners who know how to love and connect to others.
Classroom teacher and students observe as the Roots of Empathy Instructor demonstrates how the baby was able to visually track a toy and finally hold it for herself.

Implementation steps

Contact Roots of Empathy International Office

Contact us at international@rootsofempathy.org to get more information on what is required to bring Roots of Empathy to your community/country.

Determine which implementation models works best

Work with Roots of Empathy to discuss which implementation model is most appropriate for your location.

Determine which schools will host the program

Work with education authorities and school administrators to determine which schools will host the program. Identify pipeline for recruiting volunteer Instructors and families (with a baby).

Training and matching volunteers to classrooms

Once funding is secured and schools are selected, training of Instructors is arranged, matching of volunteer family with Instructor and classroom is arranged.

Annual Program Evaluation
At the end of the program year, the classroom teacher, students, volunteer parent and Instructor complete an Annual Program Evaluation which is used to inform local adaptation and quality assurance.
2023 Roots of Empathy Symposium
This year’s symposium theme is “Empathy Towards a More Caring World” on June 20, 2023. Register here.

Our symposia offer engaging and thought-provoking presentations from leaders, academics and world-renowned international scientists. To see videos from our 2021 symposium, please visit this link to our website.

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