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Roland Martin - Issue #28

Back to school. Empathy and why it matters. Be more Einstein; be passionately curious.

Roland Martin

September 2 · Issue #28 · View online
Headmaster - City of London Freemen's school; Chief Officer - City of London - '...write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing' Benjamin Franklin

Back to school.
Empathy and why it matters.
Be more Einstein; be passionately curious.

Preparing your 'Back to school' kit.
A school counsellor with whom I once worked used to run a workshop with Year 6 pupils preparing for their big step into Year 7. She asked the children to imagine a backpack on their shoulders, not like George Clooney’s Up in the Air version which you just want to shake off, but with all the essentials you’d really, really want to take with you as you enter a transitional stage from one school to another, from one school section to another, from one year group to another.
Children tended to suggest stationery, a dictionary, a calculator, maybe a protractor or a lab coat as essentials. She suggested that there were other, more abstract, supplies to consider; all the strength and skills they’d built up over their lives to date.
As parents and teachers we hope that our children have resilience in spades. Resilience* - defined as: being able to learn from your experiences and grow; having positive relationships with others; the capability to manage your own emotions and experience/express empathy for others; having proficient communication skills; having solid problem solving skills; being able to set realistic and rewarding goals and working towards them - is desirable, whether you have it within or whether you help yourselves to it through the support of others. But it’s ok - and important for staff and parents to remember as much - to have ’brittle’ days too. 
Something stands out for me among those criteria.
Empathy and why it matters.
I’ve been thinking about empathy a great deal recently. As teachers, the empathy muscle is probably (hopefully?) something we use automatically/unwittingly/subconsciously. What we might not be thinking about though, is how we model behaviour for children in our care as school leaders, teachers, assistants, parents, carers. I’m going to be spending a few minutes reflecting on my parenting too - I’m going to take this Harvard quiz to think about what messages I send to my own children, at home.  Interestingly, there is a gender/age imbalance here regarding when most young people really develop empathy: girls from 13 and boys from 15 start to make empathic connections after a dip in ’perspective-taking’.
Empathy is crucial, in a society/community. As Harvard psychologists put it, it’s about raising ’good’ kids. It’s discussed in greater detail over on Edutopia
What else do we want?
Credit to - Einstein's Ten Most Inspirational Quotations.
Curiosity. Curiosity won’t kill the cat.
Curiosity from whom? From everyone. While Conrad might pontificate in The Secret Agent - “Curiosity being one of the forms of self-revelation, a systematically incurious person remains always partly mysterious.” - for every teacher, for every student, we all need to stay curious. I was once told by a SEN specialist (perhaps somewhat anecdotally, I don’t have research to back this one up!) that if a child hasn’t been exposed to cultured, stimulating environments by the time they are around six years old, that it’s really hard to incite curiosity later in life. Given that we start our schooling at Freemen’s with seven year olds, we’re heavily reliant on Early Years providers and parents to offer up stimulated students; obviously, part of our assessment of potential Freemen’s students, though, be it at 7, 11, 13 or 16, looks to spot that germ of curiosity. Einstein believed that curiosity and imagination were of much more use than knowledge. He might just be worth backing on this one.

*Trying something a little different with layout - links via the blue words.
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