Theory of Mind and Other People’s Shoes

Compassion is a key part of empathy. I believe any person’s ability to be compassionate or to practice empathy is completely dependent on one’s ability to step in to another’s shoes, or even beyond. In a lot of communication training, especially associated with Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), this is translated in to first, second and third positions adopted. First position is where I see a situation or perceive through my own eyes, my own experience and beliefs. Second position entails the ability to put myself in to the other person’s shoes – for example in an argument or disagreement. Third position goes even further and entails the ability to float above the situation and both me and you’ to see the situation, to hear the communication and perceive the surface and deep level emotions on all sides from the position of a third party – a person who can see the situation without direct emotions related to it, the archetypal fly on the wall’.

One of the things that has been clear from research for some time is that not every person grows up with the same levels of empathy. Secondly, there is a growing body of evidence that empathy can be taught and a belief that ultimately we will prepare people for a better future (and maybe even contribute to a better world for all). I find that, all too often, one meets leaders (let alone others) who lack the ability to move to second position, let alone third position. Some may have lost the ability out of habit and some might never have really had it. Some seem to fear that taking anything other than first position will lead to them being perceived as weak, vulnerable in their leadership. The truth is really quite the reverse. The most effective leader is a listener, has the humility to admit when wrong and to adopt another’s position. Also, if we are unable or unwilling to step in to second position we will always struggle to understand the acceptability or otherwise of decisions we make.

As I’ve touched on in a number of other articles, we’ve seen some fascinating and intriguing discoveries over the last few years as a result of MRI scanning technology and the ability to understand what is happening in the developing human brain. As the following article explains, we now know what is happening in the brain of a young child at the time that they are developing a sense of ‘other-ness’, the sense that leads to the ability to see the perspective of others and to empathise. In time, I hope that this will lead to greater refinement of our understanding about how and when to teach empathy, to increase the level of social emotional skills of more children. However, I also believe that we will likely learn in time that there are some negative impacts and influences to be avoided or minimised, as well as positive habits and skills to be taught if we are to enhance the empathy levels of children.

Greater Good – Berkeley – What Happens in a Child’s Brain When They Learn to Empathize?

This is certainly a fascinating field of study to be followed in the future.

Character as a Differentiator

As a young person, you want to stand out from the crowd? Is an extra 0.1 on your grade point average going to achieve that? Will one additional extra curricular activity on your biodata make the difference? In this day, it’s all pretty unlikely that your academic and other activities are going to make you significantly discernible from the mass of students applying for University places, or later for internships or jobs?

No, but as this well-written New York Times article makes clear, what will always make a young person stand out from the crowd is character.

New York Times – Check This Box If You’re A Good Person

It’s vitally important that our response, or that of our children, shouldn’t be to carry out altruistic acts for show or to tick boxes/ have others perceive us as empathic, kind and sensitive. It has to come from a genuine desire to help others, to treat others with respect and equality.

One question that will inevitably come to mind – can we teach this? How can we increase the likelihood of empathy in our children? This is a highly relevant and important debate in our schools as “compassion” is one of the values highlighted within the mission of the Tenby Schools, along with integrity. High empathy, caring and kindness won’t happen just because we tell our children that it’s right or the appropriate way to think and be towards others.

Firstly, I believe the likelihood is increased significantly when we, the adults, model empathy – in other words we show ourselves to be warm, kind, caring and compassionate to others – especially where there is difference. We need to show our children the mental processes of being understanding, thoughtful of others/ other-centric.

Over the last 15-20 years we went through a situation where, in education and in parenting there was so much emphasis placed upon building self-esteem. This led to adults stressing specialness, uniqueness and feeling good about oneself. Regrettably, as the children impacted move in to adulthood we’re seeing massive shifts towards narcissism and away from empathy, caring and compassion. The child brought up in the high self esteem environment is more likely to be seeking verification of themselves, endorsement of their feelings of self-worth. However, the child brought up to see being empathic to others will, more likely, find their self actualisation in acts of kindness and positivity towards others.

In schools, I believe there’s been a lot of good and positive work in this direction that can help us to move further. One example is the scope for using tools like Jenny Moseley’s Quality Circle Time with children of all ages. These processes allow children to be more reflective of the effect of their actions and behaviours on others and how they feel according to how others act. In this way, the children learn for themselves and guide each other to be more understanding of what others need and expect from them.

It’s positive that we’re seeing more interest in schools putting a focus on social and emotional development. I’m particularly hopeful for programmes like the Ashoka Foundation’s “Start Empathy” Changemaker schools. It’s vitally important, though, to not treat empathy as just another subject area in school, to be packaged as a set of lessons or even just parceled as part of PSHE to be ‘delivered’ to children. Rather, it has to be built in to the ethos of the school, an integral part of everything from discipline policies to approaches to sports, learning and play time.

There is much work to be done. We have to do more for these children. Schools and education systems or societies that turn out predominantly narcissistic, self-absorbed children are going to find that they haven’t served them well to live their lives most effectively. They certainly won’t have prepared them well to be leaders of others in their lives. All this will, increasingly, make it likely that their university selection chances will be less.

10 Virtues For the Modern Age

Well worth 4 minutes of anyone's time. Striving for these ten virtues enables us to be a better person - and that's likely to be in our best interest as well as everyone else's.

The School of Life

The school of Life Website

As the video above highlights, our education for children is all too often lacking in attention to the key skills of living - the skills that can enable a person to do more than just exist or muddle along.

School of Life sets out to provide lots of interesting and well presented material to fill that gap. The website link above will give you access to lots of videos, articles and even items available to purchase. Appropriate selection can yield lots of learning material for the school classroom.

Raising Children in the ‘Post Truth’ World

post-truth-world-p1

post-truth-world-p2

Here is an article that I wrote that was published in the January edition of Ipoh Valley of Dreams. I was provoked to write it in response to more and more media comments about the world we’re living in and the nature of politics in the world.

I found myself very conscious of the impact all this can potentially have on children and young people, growing up confronted by all this.

When Smart People Speak ……

Simon Sinek first crossed my radar a couple of years ago with an excellent and very popular TED talk. Since then i've followed his work with a lot of interest, because i feel he's one really smart guy and we should be taking note of the things he says.

So, I was delighted when a friend shared this video of an interview he gave recently. In it, i believe he sums up so well some critical aspects of the world we're living in today, and particularly the life experiences of so many 'millennials'.

The video has struck such a chord with so many, that Sinek has produced a further short video in which he elaborates a little more about how he came to take an interest in these issues. He also responds to some of the feedback that came his way after the initial interview.

Sinek’s work has predominantly been about leadership and organisations. As he points out, how to manage and lead millennials is now a significant issue in leadership. It does no good to simply condemn how they are, to criticize or to belittle. Millennials, as much as any generation before them are a product of the culture and environment they’ve grown up in.

I believe this is of way more than mere curious interest to us as educators. Firstly, there’s now a fair proportion of the teachers in our schools who are millennials. We need to understand how to lead them, motivate them, keep them and ensure that they are engaged and passionately committed to their work.

Secondly, I was especially struck by Sinek’s comment about how leaders cannot shrug off their responsibility to deal with the challenges associated with millennials. It’s no good to simply blame parents, earlier educators or the millennials themselves. So, we have to understand that if lack of quality parenting, or over-protective cossetting parenting is still influencing the lives of the children in our schools, then we have to figure out how to work with them. We need to help them to develop the skills pertaining to relationships, empathy for others, determining and recognising the importance of life meaning and purpose. Sinek’s arguments are valid, important and we need to be discussing our responses in schools.

Finally, here, I share the link to Simon Sinek’s website that carries more articles, resources and links to his other work:
Simon Sinek – Start With Why

Helping Children Build Empathy & The Growth Mindset

In the past, I have to admit fully that I've been somewhat critical of Classdojo for their app used by some school teachers for classroom management (classroom manipulation?) However, in recent months i believe that the people at classdojo have hit on a winner with their short series of videos based on the experiences of the monster Mojo.

They started out tackling Growth Mindset, working alongside experts of Stanford University making a series of short videos based upon the engaging little monster Mojo. These are designed for teachers to use with children, are engaging, attention grabbing and really quite thought-provoking.

Now, as this article highlights, they've built on that success by working with experts from Harvard Graduate School of Education on empathy. The principle behind these initiatives is that if there is promising research and ideas on skills development in the social-emotional domain, such vehicles can enable swift transfer to the learning environment to benefit teachers and pupils.

Huffington Post - Empathy Videos

The Growth Mindset video series hthey've gone on to work further with the team from Stanford on a new series on Perseverance. The first has just been issued, with two further episodes to follow over the next couple of weeks.

All three sets of videos, accompanied by discussion questions that can be used in class, can be found here;

ClassDojo - Big Ideas

There is a wealth of evidence that the development of strong social-emotional skills early in school life have a big impact in improving behaviour in school, interpersonal relationships, but also benefit academic performance from an early stage. I personally think these videos would make a great added resource for classes using Jenny Mosely's 'Quality Circle Time' principles to explore and address issues of how children behave, regulate their personal relations and develop strength as social beings.

And, the earlier children embark on such learning the greater their potential to build strengths that will be vital as they grow and valuable in their adult life.