This week my coauthors and I participating in our little New Year’s tradition of choosing our One Little Words (OLW’s) for 2017.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really into it the first year (“grow”), or the second year (“patience”). But then last year, my OLW was play—and you know what? 2016 turned out to be the year that I read books and research about the importance of play-based learning, I attended workshops and institutes on play, I participated in twitter chats and real life chats, and I now play a role in our district’s first-ever (albeit unofficial) “Joy Committee.” Play turned out to be a super successful OLW because it became a theme for my professional learning.
But what about 2017? 2017, I already know, needs to be a different kind of year of professional learning. Events around the world and here in the United States are on my mind every day as I plan and carry out my work. Lately, I see every book I select to read aloud, every demonstration lesson, and every workshop agenda I create as an opportunity to do my small part in creating some good in the world.
So my One Little Word for 2017 is empathy. I’ve begun to understand empathy as a set of skills that can be learned, rather than an innate ability. I’ve also begun to realize that empathy is an enormously important aspect of being a reader, and writer, and decent human. Sadly, I’ve also begun to see that empathy seems to be in short supply among many people, and not something I really feel equipped to teach well–yet.
Here’s what I do have: I’ve got a fairly large collection of excellent books for kids and young adults with strong themes of empathy. I’ve got a strong network of teachers and building leaders who will support me. Plus, I love to research.
Last year, I began my year of studying play with a few professional books. I think I’ll do the same this year, with a few guiding questions: How can I authentically teach the skills of empathy to the teachers and students I work with? How can I do this inside the framework of reading and writing workshop? How can I teach members of my community to have empathy for people outside of our community? How do I do this well?
Once I’ve read a few books as a foundation, I’m hoping to weave this into the work I already do when I teach graduate courses, workshops and labsites with teachers, and present at conferences. I’ll try to write about teaching empathy. I’ll create a book list or list of resources for teachers I work with. In particular, I’m hoping to help create curriculum resources for third and fourth grades to teach about local Vermont refugee communities. In the words of Bob Shea and Lane Smith, “I’ve got big plans! Big plans I say!”
If you’ve done inquiry like this on empathy, help me out! Please share your favorite books, articles, and resources in the comment section below.