A March 2022 scientific brief from the World Health Organization noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on the mental health and wellbeing of people around the world. In addition to the ongoing pandemic, racial inequity continued to be exposed, severe environmental events occurred, and war was in the headlines. Children are anxious, stressed, and lonely.
Empathy is a pathway to better relationships in childhood that feeds resiliency, happiness and progress towards to a more just and kinder world. During this period of disrupted learning and social distancing, Roots of Empathy (ROE) worked on robustly nourishing the knowledge capacity of staff, enhancing our empathy programs through innovation, and contributing to empathy conversations with new audiences to help a world coming out of the pandemic mentally scarred.
Preparing for the future by skilling up our staff. While Roots of Empathy continued to help children with our online ROE Recovery program in 2021-2022, we focused inward on deepening our staff’s knowledge to enable greater capacity to promote and implement more programs to more children. Knowledge transfer to build capacity included several initiatives.
One initiative, called the 360 Project, involved building an online content ‘bank’ containing years of research and expert advice on children’s issues and the empathy related solutions. The purpose of the 360 ‘bank’ is to continually organize ROE research and make it accessible and easy to use internally for proposals, reports, and social media to facilitate growth of empathy development. 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 including empathy, prosocial behaviour, emotional literacy, social justice, mental health and wellbeing. APE feedback quotes are especially powerful resources as they show the impact of the program through the participant’s voice. We have more than 1,700 quotes in APE reports from 2016 to 2021 across the world.
Additionally, President Mary Gordon has devised a series of ‘lean-in and learn’ lectures to be delivered to the staff of Roots of Empathy in 2022-2023. Ultimately, these capacity-building initiatives will build a cadre of experts in program and speaker ready participants for academic collaboration. Cultivating media ready staff will support our spread strategy.
A culture of continuous learning and innovation. In 2022, ROE combined feedback from our hybrid online Instructor training to blend best practices and learnings in redesigning our traditional in-person training to enhance quality and efficiency. During the pandemic, with our virtual program, we piloted an electronic version of our curriculum provided on a tablet. This worked so well that moving ahead we are abandoning paper curriculum for an electronic version. We have created a series of new program philosophy videos that are going to be used as preservice learning in our traditional in-person training and will be available on-demand through our Virtual Training Institute for Instructor’s independent learning.
Why were these important innovations? Because the programs work. Over 2 decades of research shows us that ROE programs are effective, and most recently, teachers tell us that the ROE Pandemic Recovery Program has been a major support to children who are having difficulties returning to school after the shutdown.
During the pandemic, ROE innovated from our experiential program with a local baby on a Green Blanket in a classroom, to a baby on screen. Both scenarios use an age-appropriate curriculum, and a certified ROE Instructor that coaches the students to observe the baby’s intentions, label the baby’s feelings, and witness the parent-baby attachment relationship. 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.
As the pandemic isolation measures ease and we move into the 2022-2023 school year, teachers are identifying an even greater need for emotional regulation as children have had much less social experience. Children missed the routine of school and the routine of its relationships in the classroom, at recess, and before and after school. These are all social learnings which were arrested as children related to screens. Many children are missing basic etiquette skills like raising hands and taking turns - and disruption and defiance are more apparent. Roots of Empathy programs interrupt this and help children understand their feelings, an important stage of self-regulation, allowing teachers to “teach” and move students ahead in traditional literacies that have also fallen behind in the pandemic. A Canadian teacher highlighted the benefits of Roots of Empathy in her classroom: “It allows the students to explore their emotions and work on self-awareness and self-regulation. That they are given tools to deal with big emotions they are then more able to focus on their learning. I have sincerely enjoyed the experience …”.
ROE programs’ footprint got bigger. As students started to return to classrooms, ROE expanded into new areas: In May 2022, a Seeds of Empathy program and a Nurturing Empathy in Children Parenting Workshop pilot was launched in Hawaii. Nurturing Empathy in Children consists of 10 workshops to support parents in understanding of their child through the lens of temperament. These workshops are provided to the parents of the children that are participating in Seeds of Empathy in their child care centre. The workshops provide parents with print resources, video recorded presentations and opportunities to join in virtual discussions with other parents participating in the workshops.
We are excited to return to school this 2022-2023 school year to deliver the traditional Roots of Empathy program, with the baby on a blanket in the classroom - so that students' experiences are first hand. Our traditional Roots of Empathy programs are rated highly by teachers and students alike. In our 2019 pre-pandemic evaluations of the traditional ROE programs, more than 87% of teachers agreed that as a result of Roots of Empathy, students are more able to understand other people’s points of view, students are more empathic to one another, and students are more inclusive or accepting of others who are different from themselves (including culture, race, special needs, gender, etc…). 79% of students reported better understanding how other people feel, and 86% of students reported that if they saw a student in the playground being bullied or treated meanly, they would help them.
Delivering hope by Empathy! ROE Founder Mary Gordon inspired new audiences towards empathic development programs and policies through important presentations. Examples of areas of expanded influence include: Canadian military personnel through an invitation from the Department of Defence, US policy influencers through her participation as a panellist for “ Preventing the Next Mental Health Crisis through Partnerships with Families and Communities”, part of the Forum for Children’s Well-Being, hosted by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), the media by participating in the June 2022 Collision Summit, a huge event connecting people and ideas that change the world where she will be a panellist on “The Future of Education in 2022’, focusing on a full range of topics around education from childhood to adulthood and the role of technology, and working with the BBC World Service for a Radio/podcast program follow-up segment looking at innovative approaches to reduce violence in schools.
The most famous parents in the world, their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate), visited a ROE classroom in Scotland, remarking on Instagram, "How you guide children’s understanding of a baby’s needs and emotions is such a forward-thinking approach. Helping children build empathy is a crucial part of good social and emotional development."
At ROE, we will continue to innovate for children, who are 100% of our future. At ROE, we continue to innovate for our staff to be future ready with research and rationale for why emotion regulation is a precursor to learning and will help close the learning gap caused by the pandemic. The pandemic has drawn the curtain on injustices of all kinds. Children are always the most vulnerable and invisible in times of change and chaos. Roots of Empathy provides support to students and to their teachers as we raise the bar on what it means to be human – to be empathic. We are so proud to have been recognized as part of HundrED’s innovations in education since 2018.