Thursday, November 1, 2012

Empathy Re-Boot Project

 flickr image via Allen McGregor

My colleagues and I along with our students at Glendale Sciences and Technology School are embarking on an exciting and challenging journey. We are calling it our Empathy Re-Boot Project.

I have returned to Glendale as its vice-principal three years after a one year stint as its counselor. I loved my time at Glendale before, and always felt like there was unfinished business there. The first time around in my role as counselor, I spent a good deal of time helping kids, and staff members too, develop their empathetic lens; the one that allowed them to walk a mile in the shoes of others toward a deeper understanding of their learning stories. We all have a learning story... the part already written; the part we are writing in the present and the hopeful part we intend to write toward the happy endings of the future. In my second term at Glendale I am thrilled to continue this work with the staff and students of my reunited Glendale family.

In Alberta, all schools are in the midst of an important and necessary paradigm shift toward inclusive learning environments. At Glendale, we have been working hard to re-frame our educational perspectives towards the diverse population of students at our school. We don't have segregated programming at our school. We don't pull students out of class anymore; we hold their hands as we walk alongside them. As we walk alongside them we talk to them. We talk to them about their learning story... what's happened in the past; what's happening in the present and what they want to happen in the future. Our goal is to learn their story behind the story, the one that enlightens us toward deeper understanding of what may be challenging students, and ever more importantly, what they need from us to help work toward mitigating the challenges. We're focusing on students' strengths in as asset-based model of intervention. We're downplaying student weakness and focusing our empathy lenses on solutions.

We are re-booting empathy.

Thinking deeply about virtues and character development, we have concluded that true inclusion in our school requires an intense understanding of others, and in particular, their stories. We are taking a phenomenological-post modernist perspective. We believe that individual circumstances can distract from the learning process, but also that striving to know these circumstances, and focusing on supporting strategies that mitigate them at school will lead us down solution focused paths toward optimized teaching and learning. There is always a better path to take. We must honor the perspectives of those we work with when helping divine the best paths.

We are using our empathic lenses to focus on the resiliency of our students, and we are tapping into that resiliency with intent to nurture its growth. We are recognizing resiliency in ourselves, and  we are using it to support kids who are vulnerable. We are teaching them to be more resilient over time by making sure they know we care, and that we want to help them write personal learning stories with happy endings.
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