Expanding empathy; making change

Expanding empathy; making change

Last week, I represented Opal School at Ashoka Changemaker Schools Network Summit in Oracle, Arizona. The Changemaker Schools Network is a global community of elementary, middle, and high schools whose approaches to developing empathy and agency have the potential to inspire a new educational framework. Over an intense three-and-a-half days, sixty representatives from 27 schools explored how we – as teachers, administrators, parents, and colleagues – see the important work of social emotional learning in our environments. We were also there to brainstorm ways to move this work beyond our individual schools, districts, and communities: to make it the norm in all schools and programs.

The common thread that lived inside most of the conversations during the duration of the Summit was the importance of listening and relationships. Schools and classrooms will be able to be full of children who are changemakers when core values of empathy, teamwork, problem-solving, and leadership are alive and implemented. All schools need to be places where children hear, “I see you and you matter.”

Throughout the Summit, I had visions of the community within my own classroom of five to seven-year-olds. As I shared with others, I mainly focused on ways that we – as teachers, facilitators, mentors, models, and friends – cultivate empathetic and mindful communities, as well as ways that we might do more. In all my interactions throughout the week, I had visions of specific interactions about what I witness every day in the community, like this interaction I captured last month:

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I love to think about how, for every interaction such as this one that I am able to capture on film, there are so many other empathetic and caring interactions happening every day of the children being together with one another!

The Summit gave Opal School the opportunity to connect with schools all over the country that value the importance of social emotional learning. In close quarters, we worked and played together and participated in many conversations, presentations, and simulations that we were invited to bring back to our own environments, children, colleagues, and communities. The time was thought provoking and inspiring and left me full with wonderings, as well as possibilities. The ideas that percolated in the desert in Arizona were not new ones for me, nor foreign to the work that is happening at Opal School. These are foundational Opal School values and ideas that are our guiding principles.  The ideas and stories that were shared among participants was the desire to not only create these environments for our own students, but the desire to spread it beyond our classroom walls.  I felt proud as I thought of all the ways that Opal School and The Museum Center for Learning do this through professional development, publications, and outreach with other schools across the country.

As we document learning at Opal School, we make visible how the conditions we’re cultivating support empathy and agency. At the Changemaker Summit, I saw how rewarding and inspiring it is to hear stories from other learning communities. I look forward to continuing to exchange stories as we work to transform all schools into the kinds of learning environments all children have a right to.

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