Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The importance of empathy

The Primary Years Program highlights five essential elements: knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. One of the recognised attitudes is Empathy. In 'Making the PYP Happen', Empathy is defined as:

"(Students) Imagining themselves in another's situation in order to understand his or her reasoning and emotions, so as to be open-minded and reflective about the perspective of others (pg. 24)."

This can usually be easy enough for students to comprehend by definition, however the application of it can sometimes be more difficult. My experience with students aged 10 and below (and many older than that too!) is that some of them can still be very self-centered and find it difficult to understand another person's perspective. This is, of course, a generalisation and I have met many empathetic children throughout my career.

It is important to continually find effective ways of promoting all of the attitudes within a school setting. This is particularly important with empathy as it is something that children of this generation can have difficulty accessing. Collaboration and socialisation is increasingly being experienced in situations that aren't face-to-face. Children of this generation regularly meet and connect with their peers in real time on-line, via email and also through telecommunication (especially SMS).

One of the side-effects of this type of communication can be that people don't have to deal with the immediate consequences of their actions. If someone uses bullying behaviour face-to-face with someone else then they see the effects of this straight away. They see how it makes people feel and the effect that it can have on their behaviour. This may not do anything to immediately deter their actions, however they are certainly faced with some of the repercussions straight away. They see how their actions make others feel.

Children today also have to deal with the possibility of cyber-bullying and this is something that can have just as much of an impact as if it were experienced in a face-to-face situation. The major difference here, though, is that a cyber-bully does not have to immediately deal with the effect that their actions may have on someone else. There is a real possibility that they may bully someone and never see or realise the consequences of their actions. A potential result of this is that many children may grow up without truly understanding or being able to show empathy to one another.

I recently watched an interesting documentary, entitled 'Children Full of Life'. You can view it here if you wish. It looks at a classroom teacher in Japan and how he deals with teaching his students the importance of empathy. While he is not dealing with such issues as cyber-bullying, some of the examples that occur during the film still apply. One way that the teacher fosters a community of perspective and empathetic understanding is through the use of what he calls notebooks. Each student writes in their personal notebook daily and then the teacher chooses three people to share their writing with the class. Their writing is personal and once they share it with the class there is time designated for discussion of the topic or issue. This allows for other students to connect with the writing and lets the students see that there are people who may share their feelings or have a different perspective.

I hear many parents telling me that, for various reasons, we should curtail the use of certain technological tools. Trying to solve issues raised in this post - particularly cyber-bullying - by instilling preventative measures will do nothing solve the issue. It may hide it for a little while, but it will not make it disappear totally. Just like in the Industrial age of the 18th and 19th century, we are in the midst of a revolution that is changing the way the world works. The digital changes that are occurring are happening at an exponential rate and are here to stay. We need to find ways to educate students in how to deal with these news ways of living in an effective and sustainable manner.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The value of service

I recently came across this quote:

Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they’ll never sit in.

It is an old Greek proverb and refers to how a society can develop when it’s members choose to perform actions that benefit the community as a whole, over ones that will serve only their personal needs. It shows the value of helping one another and putting things in place that will provide benefits for the future.

The Primary Years Program places a strong emphasis on service. It is one of the core elements of the curriculum and teachers of the PYP foster positive action in order to allow students to serve their communities. This service component is key throughout all three programs of the IB and they aim to produce students that will hopefully one day plant their own trees for their communities.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A balancing act

I haven't posted for some time now and this is my first one since the beginning of the school term this year. This isn't through want of trying - I simply haven't had the time to dedicate to writing a thoughtful post.

I had an email from one of my friends in Australia yesterday that really got me thinking. He was talking about trying to organise to have one day off work a week in order for him to focus on his own interests instead of being bogged down with work. He wants a better work/life balance. I think it's a great idea for him if he can work it out.

It got me thinking about my own situation. I have been putting in a lot of extra hours over the past month in order to get things to a level that I feel comfortable with for my grade. Part of this is due to my responsibility of being the Team Leader for my grade and I feel that it is my duty to ensure that what we're doing is up to scratch. The reasons for me having such little time are many. We are in the middle of several fairly major changes at my school and at the moment there is some confusion about the requirements and direction we are meant to be taking. The result of this is that there's a lot of 'discussing' and very little 'doing'. This has had a knock-on effect to the teachers as they also have the usual amount of class work to maintain and many people have experienced a build up that is unsustainable. There is light at the end of the tunnel though.

The other part of me allocating my spare time to work is that, no matter how stressful it can be, I really do enjoy it. I love it when my planned learning engagements hit the bullseye (although I'm devastated if the opposite occurs!). I like that our planners are clear and everyone has a shared understanding of where we are and where we need to go next. And I enjoy the discussions that have evolved out of the problems we've experienced. There is still a lot of work to be done but I am learning every step of the way from people that are more experienced and knowledgable than me. If my thoughts or opinions are questioned I feel motivated to explore the alternatives to see if I truly believe in what I say or whether I'm just following a crowd. This helps me to become a better educator.

I feel privileged to be working in a profession that I love. If I took a day off then I would probably spend most of it fine-tuning my lessons, updating my planning or reading books, articles or blogs related to education. To a stranger, my work/life balance is way out of line. But it suits me just fine.