Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy
Roots of Empathy
What is Roots of Empathy?
2020-2021 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.
The organization delivers two empathy-based programs – Roots of Empathy for elementary school children aged 5 to 13 and Seeds of Empathy for 3 to 5-year-old children. Founded by global award-winning social entrepreneur, parenting expert, child advocate, and best-selling author Mary Gordon. Mary has been recognized in Canada and around the world for her innovation in the field of education and children's mental health, receiving awards and accolades at the provincial, national and international levels, including the Order of Newfoundland, the Order of Ontario, The Order of Canada, The Governor General’s Award for Innovation and the Queen's Silver & Diamond Jubilee Award. She was also a Canadian representative on the World Health Organization’s study of the Early Years as a Trajectory for Life-Long Health and Well-being and had the privilege of speaking at two WHO conferences, in Scotland at a conference of experts in violence prevention and in Luxembourg in the field of experts on Early Human Development. Read more about Mary's Presentations
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 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 alienate us. 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.
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