Nurturing this Empathetic Habit – Take it from a Navy Seal #BCSLearns

This year at BCS we have focused on our theme were lean in and lead with EMPATHY always embracing our BCS Moral Compass.  Each month we have embraced a different habit of empathy, and with February upon us and a new habit, we embrace the the notion that empathetic people can keep their cool.  Helping children and ourselves learn ways to manage strong emotions, self regulate, and reduce personal distress to keep their empathy open, avoids what Michele Borba calls the “Empathy Gap” and allows them more likely to empathize and help others.  Below, I offer some strategies and a video for our young children from Borba and some strategies and a video from leadership coach John Baldoni for our older students and us adults.

In the below video (2:57), Borba suggests that we help children employ the strategies of a Navy Seal!

  1. Deep breaths as a relaxation response
  2. Mental rehearsals in advance of a potential stressful situation
  3. Chunk it – take it in small parts
  4. Positive self-talk – “I can do this!”

Not only will these four strategies reduce stress in our children, according to Borba, they will also keep their “empathy open.”

In the next video (2:36), John Baldoni “offers some techniques for leaders who want to keep their cool when the heat’s on.”  We need to maintain composure.  How?  Similar to Borba’s Navy Seal strategies, he suggests we invoke the strategies of battalion commanders.

  1. Breathe deeply
  2. Relax your facial muscles
  3. Keep your voice low
  4. Try a mindfulness exercise

In the final video (11:19), Katie Couric interviews Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger about his recollection of the final moments before he dramatically landed his U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in N.Y.’s Hudson River.  Notice how “Sully” stayed calm and maintained composure.  Notice the rehearsal, his breathing , keeping his voice low, the positive self-talk.  What else do you notice as he recounts the near tragedy?


Guess What Drives Creativity? #BCSLearns

Have your own kids ever said they’re bored? Has a parent ever told you as a teacher that their child is bored in your class? How have you responded to these questions in the past? I’m guessing you didn’t say, “you’re so lucky that you’re bored”? Or, “I’m just trying to nurture your child’s creativity.” Well, if you did, you’d be on the right track.

In the book Bored and Brilliant, author Manoush Zomorodi “shows the fascinating side of boredom. She investigates cutting-edge research as well as compelling real-life examples to demonstrate that boredom is actually a crucial tool for making our lives happier, more productive, and more creative. What’s more, the book is crammed with practical exercises for anyone who wants to reclaim the power of spacing out – deleting the Two Dots app, for instance, or having a photo-free day, or taking a ‘fakecation'” (Gretchen Rubin, author of #1 NYT Bestseller The Happiness Project).  Zomorodi explains how boredom and original thinking are intricately connect and she exploring how we can harness the power of boredom to become more productive and creative individuals. While the book is grounded in neuroscience and cognitive psychology Zomorodi also shared practical strategies each of us can take to slow down our busyness and enhance our ability to dream and wonder in both our work life and personal life.

Check out my previous blog posts on creativity:

In the end, Zomorodi shines a light on how boredom can lead to the most brilliant ideas.  Take a listen to her 16-minute TedTalk where she describes how “sometimes [you] have your most creative ideas while folding laundry, washing dishes or doing nothing in particular…because when your body goes on autopilot, your brain gets busy forming new neural connections that connect ideas and solve problems. Learn to love being bored as Manoush Zomorodi explains the connection between spacing out and creativity.” 

Equip yourself with a practical and research-based response to the age old comment from kids, “I’m bored,” and help them understand how lucky they should feel to have that moment of boredom, as well as the greatness they can achieve from it.

Make it More than Simply STEM #BCSLearns

In a Washington Post Article, The surprising thing Google learned about its employees — and what it means for today’s students,  reporter Valerie Strauss shares a study in 2013 called Project Oxygen where Google learned about its employees concluding that mastering STEM skills is a “gross simplification of what students need to know and be able to do.”  In the study, ranking the most important skills, “STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” 

Now, most recently, Google’s spring 2017 Project Aristotle showed “that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes.” 

Compare these two “lists” from Google from Tony Wagner’s 7 Survival Skills from his 2008 book, The Global Achievement Gap.  Below is his list and a 4-minute clip from his TedTalk where is summarizes the skills (or your can check out a 30-minute video worth the time).

  1. critical thinking and problem solving
  2. collaboration and leadership
  3. agility and adaptability
  4. initiative and entrepreneurism
  5. effective oral and written communication
  6. access and analyze information
  7. curiosity and imagination

Empathy Equals? #BCSLearns

BCS founding principal, Dale Truding, shared this article with me recently.  With our theme of empathy this year, I thought this read was quite fitting.  Posted in MindShift and written Thom Markham, In Our Connected World, What If Empathy Is Learning? is well worth the read.  As educators, we have known for years the important impact emotion has on learning.  To that end, we all can tend to believe that empathy helps learning. From the earliest work of Eric Jensen around brain-based learning, emotions can drive cognition.  Taking this notion a step further in this article, Markham outlines his argument that doesn’t just help “empathy is learning.”  Markham contends that “it’s time to match the emerging science with the tempo of the times and upend established ‘truths’ around learning. It’s time to act on the assumption that knowledge is flowing through students, not being delivered to them, and that the chief skill is openness. That means, for the foreseeable future, empathy is learning.” How?  Read, really read, the article whose key points are noted below.  Here’ how…

Promote a Holistic, Non-Brain Centric View of Learning: “All the emotions associated with empathy, such as openness, humility, gratitude, and compassion, affect the heart positively.”  Remember Jensen?  Emotion drives learning.

View Empathy as the Foundation:  “acknowledging empathy’s fundamental role in cognition and achievement.”

Turn Empathy into an Outcome:  “Empathy is the first step in the design process. Empathetic behavior makes teams function better and can be identified in teamwork rubrics as active listening, open body posture, kind critique, and similar behaviors that can be assessed.”  Post this Design Thinking Process and note the process in your classroom (in your home) as an everyday tool for solution finding.

Continue to Personalize Learning:  “Many choices equal many paths equal multiple ways to become educated.”  There is no one way!

Recognize Teachers as Co-creators:  “Teachers will inevitably begin to apply their subject expertise to real-world demands for solutions, innovation, and problem solving. That’s really the outgrowth of an empathic model of learning: To make a positive difference in the world.”  It is those service learning opportunities in which you involve your students that help them problem solve, innovate and solution find.

Get Students Out of the Classroom and into the World:  Service learning, “learning while doing, in service to the greater good.”  As our BCS Mission statement reads: “BCS is a dynamic and collaborative learning community. We cultivate an engaging environment that embraces all students and empowers them to pose questions, integrate resources, synthesize, evaluate and apply their knowledge to positively influence our diverse and ever-changing world.”  Let’s be sure to continue to act on our BCS Vision, Mission, Values & Beliefs!

Check out this 20-minute video The Heart-Brain Connection: The Neuroscience of Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning where neuroscientist Richard Davidson presents his research on how social and emotional learning can affect the brain.  If Davidson concludes that “Social emotional learning changes the brain,” then empathy is learning, right?  I welcome your thoughts on this.

How Am I Livin’? #BCSLearns

Many of us will enjoy a day of rest and reflection from the hustle of a school day tomorrow, Monday 1/15/18, as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legacy of peace and persistence with which he leaves us:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
I have decided to stick to love…Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

With the New Year in full swing and reflecting upon Dr. King’s legacy, I wanted to share Rick Rigsby’s 10-minute speech where he delivers wonderfully powerful and poignant nuggets of truth in simple phrases based on his father’s teachings.  Take a look at some of these thought-provoking phrases from another powerful African American orator, and take a listen to the speech in the below video.  As you read below and view the video, think about our empathetic habit of the month, moral imagination, as well.

Which one of these four phrases from the speech most resonate with and for you?

  • combine knowledge and wisdom to make an impact [knowledge isn’t enough]
  • Mark Twain once said, “I’ve never allowed my schooling “to get in the way of my education.”
  • Quoting Michelangelo, saying to us, “Boys, I won’t have a problem if you aim high and miss, but I’m gonna have a real issue if you aim low and hit.”
  • Henry Ford saying, “If you think you can or if you think you can’t, you’re right.”

Which one of these lessons/quotes from Rigsby’s father speak to a resolution you’d like to make for 2018?

  • Son, you’d rather be an hour early than a minute late.
  • Maybe one of my boys will catch me in the act of excellence.  Aristotle said you are what you repeatedly do, therefore excellence ought to be a habit not an act.
  • I know you’re tough but always remember to be kind.
  • Make sure your servant’s towel is bigger than your ego.  Ego is the anesthesia that deadens the pain of stupidity.
  • Pride is the burden of a foolish person.
  • You wanna make an impact? Find your broom. Every day of your life, you find your broom. You grow your influence that way. That way you’re attracting people so that you can impact them.
  • Telling myself every single day to shoot for the stars, to be the best that I can be. Good enough isn’t good enough if it can be better. And better isn’t good enough if it can be best.
  • When you hit rock bottom remember this, while you’re struggling, rock bottom can also be a great foundation on which to build and on which to grow. I’m not worried that you’ll be successful. I’m worried that you won’t fail from time to time. A person that gets up off the canvas and keeps growing, that’s the person that will continue to grow their influence.
  • Just stand. You keep standing. You keep standing. No matter how rough the sea, you keep standing. You keep standing. No matter what, you don’t give up.
  • It doesn’t matter to me any longer how long I live. What matters to me most is how I live.
  • I ask you all one question, a question that I was asked all my life by a third grade dropout. “How you livin’? Everyday ask yourself that question. “How you livin’?”

Now, have a listen to Rigsby’s 10-minute graduation speech “The Wisdom of a Third Grade Dropout.”

Imagine Your Best Self #BCSLearns

This week’s post, “Imagine Your Best Self”, believe it or not, speaks to our theme of empathy and the empathetic habits, particularly our focus habit for this month.  Our BCS Moral Compass is our touchstone and always our main focus as a way of being within our community, and Empathy is our annual theme this year at BCS as we focus on a different empathetic habits each month.  This month we will focus on the fact that empathetic people have a moral imagination.

Moral Imagination defined in the below video as “creatively imagining the full range of options while making moral decisions.” Check out this 90-second video that gives a great summary of what moral imagination is including some questions to ponder (on your own or with your students) and a real life example with Nestle.

For a complete text excerpt from the video check out this Ethics Unwrapped link.  As the video closes, “Indeed, moral imagination, combined with creativity and moral courage, enables both individuals and businesses to act more ethically in society.”

With the issues of valuing diversity with which our country is grappling today, give the article Bring Moral Imagination Back in Style a read, written by OP-ED writer Jennifer Finney Boylan published in the New York Times (01/22/2016).  Her editorial, as a transgender woman, is on point.  The two most poignant messages from the editorial, resonating with me, are Boylan’s take on moral imagination and Edmund Burke’s definition of it that she references in the article.  Boylan reflects that “It wasn’t that I didn’t understand that she suffered, back when she was old and death and I was young and not. It’s that whatever she suffered from was something I didn’t need to be concerned with. It didn’t occur to me that imagining the humanity of people other than myself was my responsibility. And yet the root cause of so much grief is our failure to do just that.”  She goes on to share that “Edmund Burke [calls] moral imagination, the idea that our ethics should transcend our own personal experience and embrace the dignity of the human race.”  Let us at BCS “embrace the dignity of the human race” and support the students we serve in doing the same by nurturing the habit of moral imagination within them.

And finally, below is a Ted Talk by Penn State sociology professor Sam Richards which is a bit of “an exercise in moral imagination.”  View the video and then reflect upon how you react to the claims made and evidence and reasoning shared (a bit of a CERS exercise from our Communicate Like a Cobra Rubric).  Thank you in advance for making moral imagination for your students this month!

Into My Mind – A Not-So-Scary Place #BCSLearns

I attended a session at the MEMSPA conference on December 7 on mindfulness.  Lisa Madden, Coordinator for Curriculum and Special Projects with Genessee ISD facilitated the session called Mindfulness in Schools.  She shared mindfulness guru, Jon Babat-Zinn’s quote that “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” You can check out Madden’s Smore by clicking on Mindfulness in Schools.  I wanted to share with you some key take-aways from the session.  As I though about both mindfulness in schools and mindfulness in my personal life, I reflected about the following, particularly poignant as we head into winter vacation:

What It’s Not…

  • Sitting 20 minutes in a meditative pose
  • Dependent upon religion or spirituality
  • Checking out
  • Passive, weak
  • quick fix

What it is…

  • Sitting quietly, breath-work, body scan, or other focused practice
  • Secular
  • Checking in
  • Empowering
  • A practice

In his book, Growing up Mindful, Dr. Christopher Willard concludes that mindfulness “greatly enhances what psychologist call “flourishing” —the opposite of depression, avoidance, and disengagement. Mindfulness builds emotional intelligence, boosts happiness, increases curiosity and engagement, reduces anxiety, soothes difficult emotions and trauma, and helps kids (and adults) focus, learn, and make better choices.” As a individual, a leader, an educator, a husband, a son, a sibling, and a parent, it is so critical that I personally find time to be present for myself, while also finding time to model for others how to be present for themselves.  In short, it is time well spent for ourselves.  How powerful can this be?  According to Thich Nhat Hanh, “With mindfulness you can establish your self in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment.” Let’s seize the day and see the wonders of the present!

Want more?