by Cheryl Jackson Thursday June 7, 2012

What do you get when you have more than a hundred babies and their parents in one room? Noise. Lots and lots of noise. Or as Mary Gordon graciously calls it, singing. Mary would say this because she adores babies and she values the fact that they wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak. When babies are happy, they let you know. When they're sad, they let you know. When they're frustrated, they really let you know. She uses this to teach empathy to school children with her Roots of Empathy program which she started 16 years ago. Yesterday, she celebrated the babies who have gone into Toronto schools this year. I was honoured to host the celebration.

Here's how Roots of Empathy works. Babies and parents visit a classroom nine times in a year, once a month. Before and after each visit, a Roots of Empathy instructor gives the kids a lesson on what to watch for. When the babies visit, the kids see how the babies share their feelings without being able to talk, how the parent responds, and they learn about loving, caring relationships and how to respond to distress. Classrooms with Roots of Empathy programs function better and have fewer behaviour problems. Roots of Empathy is beginning research with the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, in Seattle, USA, which will evaluate brain and behavioural development in 5-year-olds and 9-year-olds in the program. Neurophysiological evaluations will investigate structural (MRI) and functional (MEG brain imaging) changes associated with participation in the programs. This is pretty cool.

Mary's joined us to talk about the importance of teaching kids empathy.

After the baby visit, I headed to York University for the Faculty of Education's 40th Anniversary celebration. One of the highlights was a play about teaching performed by teacher candidates. Rest assured, these young people about to teach your kids are thoughtful, insightful, passionate, caring adults who promise to do their best. It was good to see.  What makes a great teacher great anyway?