Roots of Empathy
What is Roots of Empathy?
Mary Gordon, Founder of Roots of Empathy
We are experiencing a decline of empathy and a crisis of connection. 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 and those who feel excluded from society very often retaliate with societal or domestic violence. 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.
When children learn to be empathic, they 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. In a Roots of Empathy classroom, this happens through experiential learning with the infant, parent and a certified Instructor. Roots of Empathy delivers its program universally in the classroom without targeting specific children. Those 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.
Roots of Empathy increases levels of empathy and increases the connection between students and that connection ripples out to all of 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.
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.
Our programs are experiential and 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.
In the Roots of Empathy program, children learn that our shared feelings unite us more than do our differences. Every classroom is a microcosm of society and children who are different are at risk of exclusion. 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.
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 also use literature to help support and understand emotional literacy and perspective-taking.