Category Archives: Character Education

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.

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?


Walk in Another Person’s Shoes #BCSLearns

Our BCS Moral Compass speaks to skills such as positive attitude, honesty & integrity, respect & kindness, and responsibility & accountability; all skills the help build empathy in each of us.  An article by Hunter Gehlbach in Phi Delta Kappan entitled Learning to Walk in Another’s Shoes the author outlines the importance of infusing perspective taking into our lesson as a way to build this core social-emotional skill in the students we serve.  This skill is directly aligned with our empathetic habit of the month:  empathetic people understand the needs of others.  In his article, Gehlbach contends that if we focus on “a single, teachable capacity that anchors almost all of our social interactions: social perspective-taking, or the capacity to make sense of others’ thoughts and feelings” the lasting effect in the growth and development of students can be profound. He suggests that perspective taking “allows us to interpret the motivations and behaviors of our friends and neighbors, or to see situations from the point of view of strangers, or to understand and appreciate values and beliefs that diverge from our own. Without it, we cannot empathize, engage in moral reasoning, love, or even hold a normal conversation.”  Gehlbach believes perspective-taking can be infused into anywhere in our schools and encourages us to consider these key points:

  • Make it a classroom expectation for students to talk about others’ perspectives.
  • Encourage students to be social detectives, not judges.
  • Provide low-stakes opportunities for practice.

“Once in the habit of trying to gauge other people’s ways of looking at the world,” Gehlbach concludes, “they will inevitably become more empathetic, more understanding, and more caring; they will become more thoughtful about how to navigate relationships; and they will become more likely to reach out across cultural groups rather than withdrawing into their own clique.”  Wow!  Behold the empathetic power of perspective taking in understanding the needs of others!

Check out Hunter Gehlbach in this 9-minute talk, “The Three Fundamentals of Social-Emotional Learning” presented as part of “Fast & Curious: ED Talks from UC Santa Barbara’s Gevirtz School”.