#SOL15: Day 5, Reflecting Back

The themes of emotional intelligence, empathy and compassion have featured frequently on my blog, especially the need for them to be incorporated into classroom practice and taught, particularly through modelling, to children.
My most recent series of posts about compassion, starting with Who cares anyway? and concluding with Ripples through time, with three more in between, were prompted by the #1000Speak for Compassion Project.
I thought I was done with that theme for a little while at least, but last night I read a very moving post by Julieanne Harmatz on her blog To Read To Write To Be.
Julieanne wrote with much emotion and compassion about a child in her class; a child who tears at your heartstrings, (and sometimes makes you want to tear out your hair), a child most teachers will recognise from their practice, a child you wish to be everything to but know that at least if you can be someone who really sees the child within, for a little while, you have done something worthwhile.
I urge you to read Julieanne’s story, and watch the TEDxtalk by Helen Riess that Julieanne has embedded in her post. Riess explains what empathy means through this acronym:

Empathy

Thank you

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To Read To Write To Be

Magic moments happen in teaching, and they make our hearts soar.

But, there are moments that can break. Us and our hearts.

Z is struggling. He lies down on the picnic table outside the room. When we’re all inside, he enters saying, “I don’t want to sit there.” He paces. We look for a place. He settles beside N. Then moves. Again and again. Searching for a spot.

Sitting is painful. School doesn’t fit, and the discomfort emanates from his being.

Someone says something about dads. He blurts, “My dad doesn’t come home no more.”

Gulp.

Enter Reading Workshop. Z gets together with his book group they are planning. Z says, “I don’t read at home. I read here, not at home.”

Later, Z paces in the corner, reading his book, Reading and walking, in circles. This is his way.

Lunch happens. Z doesn’t eat. He doesn’t want to. Can’t. He just…

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9 thoughts on “#SOL15: Day 5, Reflecting Back

  1. Sarah Brentyn

    Thanks for reposting this, Norah. Finally got to read Julieanne’s full post. (Haven’t watched the TedTalk yet, but will come back for that.) Like you said, we can all recognize Z on some level. All teachers have had to deal with situations like this–though not exactly. Never in the exact way as all children are different. The story was just so beautifully told.

    I find the explanation of “EMPATHY” by Riess interesting. It seems to be a description of how people display empathy to others, not a definition of what it means. (Though, like I said, I’ll have to come back and watch the talk to see what she was using the acronym for.) I’m very curious to see what she has to say about that acronym because, as I was reading it, I was hit over and over as my son (who has Asperger’s) doesn’t have a single one of these.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sarah,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m pleased your enjoyed Julieanne’s post. She did tell the story beautifully. As you say, every child is an individual so no two stories are exactly the same.
      I will be interested to hear what you think of Riess’s talk if you get a chance to listen to it. I understand what you mean about her description of empathy. I guess they are really the surface features to display engagement, a way of being attentive. The actions that you have shared with others and told us about in your posts are authentic practices that display genuine compassion, which may be based on empathy.
      Thinking about your son in relation to Riess’s description perhaps shows the inadequacy of any one model to truly define just what empathy is. I wonder if empathy is a necessary prerequisite for compassion. Is it possible your son has learned to show compassion as a way of being? How would you describe the way he feels empathy with others? Or how would you describe empathy in general if Riess’s description falls short.
      You have previously talked about the need to ‘walk the walk’ not just ‘talk the talk’ with compassion. Is empathy perhaps an attempt to understand another’s walk?
      I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have time to share. 🙂

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  2. Annecdotist

    I thought this was lovely, Norah. It must be so challenging to have a child like Z in the classroom, but this teacher is going out of her way to try to understand him and his needs. Just as I imagine you would!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Yes. It is great to hear that this teacher may be able to make a connection with the child that may positively impact his life. It’s what we all hope to do.

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