Learning & Brain: School of Belonging

David Levine, Ph.D.
New Paltz, NY

Teaching Empathy

A blueprint for caring, compassion & community

Stoneridge School / High Meadows School upstate New York
work in the south bronx and scarsdale, NY… two different schools; methods, not materials, still the same.
parents were folkies – a mighty wind!, grew up in very musical family, grew up playing multiple instruments, didn’t want to be a musician. Why am I who I am? Music as a vehicle for a sense of community. The High Meadows School is a community… parents and students do 25 hours of community service a term. Wrote book: Building Classroom Communities. Went to UNH. Substitute teaching… school district, Pittsfield, MA – “there will be no teaching positions for many years to come.” Finally got a class that was made up of rejects from other classes and they knew it… hated school, but formed classroom circles to teach, began to wake up. Book – Emotional Intelligence – “people who are able to have healthy, happy social interactions with others will be happy in life.” Stephen Covey – “got to have more deposits in an emotional bank than withdrawals.” The Circle, most underutilized form in classroom process. Class meeting as teaching technique. Kids revealed that they were angry, unhappy and ‘stupid’. Levine taught them a song, they wrote a song together, sang it together. The emotional root of that memory persists in all 18 kids in that classroom for the last 30+ years.

What can we do to express the essence of unity and community in a classroom?

Song- “Howard Gray” – helped create a culture of caring. Students spoke about the song for three hours after the performance. Took Levine a month to learn how to sing the song.

Sharing: Stories called up by the emotional content of the song. Stories: lost on bicycle, september 1980; RF and the story about the beat-up author. Sister stopping her, preventing her from assisting in emotional bullying. 10% of students exhibit anti-social tendencies; but remember — behavior is a form of communication. 15% of students are victims, so 75% are the bystanders. Don’t call it an ‘anti-bullying program’, it’s a culture-building program. Teach replacement behaviors.

Empathy is identifying what other people is feeling, and sympathizing with the other. Honoring what the other person is feeling. Honor- the capacity to meet others where they are -> Book: The Four-fold Way. Two kids- gideon hates it when he’s not allowed to share or help; Sam is very selfish. Telling someone what to do, vs. opening the heart and helping others see where others are coming from.

E+R = O
(Event + Response = Outcome)

Everyone wants to change the event. But it’s in the past; has to change the Response to get a different outcome. This requires honest self-reflection. What do kids need, and why do you teach?

Commentary: students always enmeshed in a web of interrelationships – student lacks social skills, new in school, winds up having (book: The Quality School by Glassner. Focus on needs not met first – we feed breakfast to kids who haven’t eaten yet to students so that they’ll have the energy. We have needs: food, shelter, emotion. Emotional needs are: Belonging, Power (empowerment) (google it: Strength-based intervention), Freedom, Fun(self-management: e.g., mentoring. Practical emotional needs: imagination, roleplay, etc. Where your four needs are met – belonging, power, freedom fun – you enjoy being, and your motivation rises.

Process vs. Content… creating an emotionally safe space is a priori to all the content and academic skills. It’s creating the vessel in which all this other work can survive and thrive.

Belonging – Use Class Meetings: teach listening, problem solving, compromise, honor, delayed gratification, expressing of feelings. The opposite of empathy is aggression. Dialogue is part of the tool-set, too. Homework style can include this – teach the material in order to learn it. Circle of Courage

Anti-social behaviors emerge when four basic emotional needs aren’t met: Belonging, Power, Freedom, and Fun. Lose any one of these, and people begin disconnecting.

Emotional Memories: types

Imprints – emotional issues. You may intellectually reject grandpa’s racism, but you may still carry the emotional imprint of what he said or did around you.

Private Logic – Talking group of kids… you turn to them, “would you mind not talking?”, another kid jumps in, “I wasn’t talking!” because the private logic is “I’m always in trouble.”

private logic responds to stressful situation with a feeling. The feeling translates to a behavior. Your (teacher’s) response can either de-escalate the process or escalate it. REspond with anger or discipline, and increase the stressful situation, or respond with listening and empathy, and de-escalate the process.

loyal soldiers: soldiers of Japan, WWII, crashed on islands, kept up the war for 15 years as lone saboteurs and agents of stress. What parts of a kid or ourselves sabotage our good fortune. There’s a voice inside you that may say, “tune out adults, they only yell out you,” or it may say, “yell at your bosses and superiors, because they don’t like you and they’re going to fire/expell you anyway”.

Emotional Needs

Emotional Needs lead to risk factors. COunter risks with protective factors, which leads to resilience of students and adults. External protective factors – greeting students, creating safe space and person. Internal protective factors – social skills, bonding to school or to peers, academic or social skills, collaborative and team projects. EQ – emotional quotient.

dialogue: who what when where how. “We have a new kid coming on Thursday. He’ll be coming in the morning. What do you think he’ll be feeling? How can we help him come into the room? ” Clarify and summarize student responses, reflect feelings.

FISHBOWL: 3-6 students are the fish (sitting in the center of the circle). Everyone else is the bowl (a circle around them). The kids in the fishbowl carry on the discussion, while the bowl are the observers. Round 1: ask a question. The fish respond. Freeze the fish. The bowl responds. Round 2: ask 2nd question. The fish respond. Freeze the fish. The bowl responds.

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