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?


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”.




Catch Someone Else’s Drift? #BCSLearns

MoralCompassBCSdescription9 habits of empathy

I conjured up the title of this week’s post, “Catch My Drift”, as I thought about our theme of empathy and the empathetic habits, particularly our focus habit for this month.  To be sure, 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.  As a reminder, our Moral Compass is a tool used to provide moral direction. Our 3 E’s that surround the compass (Education, Environment, Each Other) are the Values by which we live at BCS.  The words in the middle (Positive Attitude, Respect & Kindness, Honesty & Integrity, Responsibility & Accountability) are the action steps to accomplish living into our 3 E’s.  Ultimately, the compass, used as a metaphor, is set to a right angle to represent doing the right thing.  As it is an “old fashioned” tool, our Moral Compass shows timeless values!

With December upon us, our yearlong focus on Empathy moves into our December focus on one particular habit from Dr. Michele Borba’s 9 Habits of Empathetic Children. Since, Empathetic People Understand the Needs of Others, let’s focus this month on helping our students improve in “catching others’ drift”.  To instill this habit of understanding the needs of others, we want to stretch perspective taking abilities and Theory of Mind so children can step into others’ shoes to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and views.  Let’s check out some movie clips to see how characters do in showcasing this habit of “understanding the needs of others.”

Toy Story – Buzz Lightyear Arrives…Check out Buzz as he shares his perspective of this new world and how woody Woody shares his.  How might you rewrite this scene with either of the characters showing them better understanding the needs of the other?

The Big Bang Theory – Sheldon’s First Date…Check out how Amy tries to understand Sheldon’s perspective, albeit with a huge dose of sarcasm, “Please pass the butter”. How might you rewrite this scene with Amy understanding the needs of Sheldon?

The Incredibles – Check out “Edna’s Pep Talk”…How might you rewrite this scene with Edna understanding rather than lecturing?

The Incredibles – Edna’s Mode Ensemble (longer scene from the above video)… How is Edna understanding the needs of Jack and the suit she is making for him?

Enjoy having a little fun with these!

Culture Trumps Strategy #BCSLearns

Whether outlined in a book, an article, a slide presentation or oft-quoted, it is clear that “culture eats strategy for lunch” or as Peter Drucker first coined, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” In essence, the phrase simply means, no matter how much we focus on key, research-based strategies, it is the culture of an organization, business, school, that promotes its success.  So, how do we understand culture?  I share below, with my take on each, the “forces” that shape culture from Harvard’s Project Zero.  The project “is an intellectual wellspring, nourishing inquiry into the complexity of human potentials – intelligence, understanding, thinking, creativity, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural thinking, ethics – and exploring sustainable ways to support them across multiple and diverse contexts.”  Out of their work, research and learning, most notably the principle investigator Ron Ritchhart, come their 8 Forces that Shape Group Culture.  I list them below and note a few of my own connections to my learning and our learning over the years as educators within our BCS culture:

Check out this brief video below tauting the importance of companies shifting from a Chief Strategist to a Chief Culture Officer.  Zappos and Google are the only two companies known to have a Chief Culture Office and they are two “wildly successful” companies. In fact, I shared about the Zappos culture, headed by Tony Hsieh, in a past post Happiness Matters (just as a reminder) and his company’s efforts to build a culture of inspiration.  How about school districts having a Chief Culture Office? Interesting…

Here is another video (5 min 39 sec) focusing on Drucker’s quote and giving examples of this concept at work: culture eats strategy for breakfast.  Culture is not something you tell people to do, it’s what people actually do!  Interesting, huh?