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Roots of Empathy
What is Roots of Empathy?
Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy
2020 will always live in our minds and hearts as a year of anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Our children are witnessing and experiencing events like the pandemic and a raised awareness of racial inequity we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. We are experiencing a decline of empathy and a crisis of connection. However, it is a time of reckoning. It is an opportunity for change. A chance to help our children create a more aware, more just, kinder world.
In a world where our differences increasingly tend to alienate us from one another, there is a need to build empathy so we can find our shared humanity. We all ache to belong. When children are empathic, they include others because they understand what it feels like to be left out. We need to nurture empathy in our children so that they will build a caring, peaceful and civil society that is inclusive of all.
Our 20+ years of research shows that children in Roots of Empathy learn to be more empathic, are less likely to be aggressive, to bully, or to hurt others. They are more likely to treat others with kindness and to be aware of including others. Children learn how to build healthy relationships when they are emotionally literate and have developed a sense of their own self-efficacy, which allows them to have the courage to stand up for themselves and others. Roots of Empathy increases levels of empathy and increases the connection between students and that connection ripples out to all the relationships in their lives.
At the heart of the program are a neighborhood parent and baby who visit a classroom over the course of a school year. Using an age-appropriate curriculum, a certified Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s intentions and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “teacher” and a catalyst that the Instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others – empathy. Children learn that we share the same feelings and our feelings are at the core of our humanity.
Roots of Empathy delivers its program universally in the classroom without targeting specific children. Children, who through no fault of their own or their parents may not have had a secure attachment relationship, have another opportunity to develop empathy.
During the COVID-19 era, it is clear that children need Roots of Empathy more than ever. As schools re-open, we have adapted our program three ways to ensure that children can experience Roots of Empathy while keeping everyone safe – the baby, parent, Instructor, students, and classroom teacher. We adhere to the guidelines and recommendations of education and public health authorities in every region. We've also provided resources for parents during the pandemic to help them through some of the challenges of working and learning at home - we've subtitled them into 18 languages - including six Indigenous languages.
Our programs work on the principles of intrinsic pride and intrinsic motivation. Children are not manipulated by praise or rewards in the Roots of Empathy classroom, which acts as a participatory democracy. Children are encouraged to find their voice and use it.
Roots of Empathy’s curriculum activities also have links to classroom curricula. For example, students use math skills when they calculate and chart the baby’s weight and measurements. They use literature to help support and understand emotional literacy and perspective-taking.
Every classroom is a microcosm of society and children who are different are at risk of exclusion. In the Roots of Empathy program, children learn that our shared feelings unite us more than our differences. In the Roots of Empathy classrooms, where no judgments are made, a climate of social inclusion and equity develops. Roots of Empathy classrooms contribute to the development of caring schools and change not only the child, but also the teacher, and can tip the culture of a whole school when at scale.
Empathy is the developmental mechanism that correlates most highly with altruistic behavior. It is the ability to take the perspective of the other and to feel with them. Empathy cannot be successfully taught through traditional instruction, but it can be caught experientially, changing the architecture of the brain. If we develop empathy in children, they will behave inclusively. They will challenge cruelty and injustice, creating more empathic classrooms where all children are included. The best way to change tomorrow is to work with the children of today, creating a change from within that lasts.
Roots of Empathy is based on the idea that if we are able to take the perspective of the other, we will notice and appreciate our commonalities and we will be less likely to allow our differences to marginalize, hate or hurt each other. This is how caring, peaceful and civil societies are created. Roots of Empathy recognizes that a baby’s body is a theatre of emotion & that babies can be a unique and powerful way to teach empathy in schools.Impact
Roots of Empathy is committed to research and evaluation of our programs, and the exchange of knowledge. Roots of Empathy has been evaluated in both comparative and randomized controlled studies designed to measure changes in the behavior of participating students. Over 17 years of research has yielded consistent results, showing that Roots of Empathy students perceive a more inclusive and caring classroom environment by the end of the program. Roots of Empathy students exhibit: A decrease in aggression, including bullying, an increase in prosocial behavior, an increase in social and emotional understanding & an increase in knowledge of safe parenting. In addition to scientific university-based research on three continents, every child in all 11 countries who participates in Roots of Empathy is invited to evaluate their experience. A great amount of time and expense is directed towards aggregating the feedback and sending reports to all stakeholders in all 11 countries. They believe the voice of the children and often change curriculum based on their feedback.Scalability
Civil society requires empathy and solidarity. Roots of Empathy seeds civility at the classroom level. It has been called ‘Canada’s olive branch to the world’ and a program ‘that will build peace.’ It has proven itself sustainable, scalable to, at last count, 11 countries. All this, from the power of a tiny teacher. That is why the Roots of Empathy motto is: Changing the world, child by child.