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In the fury and heartache of another mass school shooting, someone told me that the cause of school shootings is due to kids not having empathy. Aside from blaming children for mass murders with militarized weapons (regardless of being in the first to twelfth grade), this baffled and outraged me. I am in the business of fostering empathetic and compassionate leadership in K-12 public school students. My entire program centers on empowering students to change the culture and climate of their communities.
Instead of continuing a debate, on #NationalWalkOutDay, that rapidly went nowhere, I compiled examples of dozens of ways my own students and other children display empathy every day. Ready to feel all warm and fuzzy?
Why are you in Allies In Action?
“I became an Ally because I want to make the world a better place.” Gabriela, 3rd Grade
“I chose to join Allies because I want to help and support people. To change differences in others. And help people learn how to be nicer.” Gavi, 3rd Grade
“I practice being an ally because I wanted to make an impact in our community.” Liam, 5th Grade
“I became an Ally because I like to help others when they are blue and stay in school and do art.” Marley, 4th Grade
Aiden, 3rd Grade, “I became an Ally to make friends.”
Kylie, 4th Grade, “I want to make Geiger have less bullies.”
“I want to learn how to be a better Ally. People will start copying the behavior then there will be more and more Allies!” Lucy, 2nd Grade
“Why did I want to join Allies In Action? Because it’s FUN to be an Ally! You get to make a lot of new friends and be nice.” Daniel, 3rd Grade
“I became an Ally because you get to be kind and generous.” Ayla, 3rd Grade
Katie, 4th Grade, “I chose to be an Ally because I wanted to make people feel better.”
“I wanted to stand up to bullying.” Somika, 2nd Grade
Timmy, 3rd Grade, “I became an Ally to stand up for others.”
“I am proud to be in Allies In Action because it’s sticking up for people and you have to have a lot of courage to do it. And you are also sticking up for yourself.” Elora, 4th Grade
“I am an Ally because there is a chance to make new friends, and when anyone is sad you have a lot of Allies to make you feel better.” Mia, 2nd Grade
Bianca, 5th Grade, “I chose to become an Ally because I like helping other people.”
“I like meeting people who aren’t being an Ally and making them one.” Nora, 4th Grade
Don’t you just love these kids??
Let’s keep this feel good train going, shall we? I asked community members to share examples, too. They are too good not to share!
“My daughter has started a self-care account on Instagram. It’s focused on making yourself feel good through easy exercises, homemade skin care, and daily affirmations. She also posts suicide prevention numbers. And signed up to learn sign language so she can better communicate with the deaf clients at the food bank we serve at. She is pretty rad.” Melissa, fierce mama.
(To say the least!)
“A friend shared this on her page the other day and it made my heart smile: “Was reminded today of a cute story from Nathan’s class. He came home with his shirt on backwards. When I told him it was backwards he said, “Yeah, I wore it like that all day because the new kid in my class had his shirt on backwards. So we said, “Trending” and we all turned our shirts backwards, too.”
I love how what could have been a teasing moment for the new kid turned out to be one of support and friendship.” Astrid, awesome parent.
“Students write me notes about how they plan to include a special needs child in their play, and in conversation.” Zoe, powerhouse 4th grade teacher.
“My fifteen-year-old niece visits a retirement home to spend time with a lady she met from a school project from over four years ago. She visits because she is lonely, and my niece will play cards with her and talk for about an hour every Tuesday afternoon. Such a cool relationship!” Judi, loving aunt.
“When someone is upset or sad, it is very common for one of the students to get one of our Peace Bears we have and gently give it to that person. We also have the Empathy Patrol, who, in the mornings, pick up the stranded worms and put them back into the flower beds.” Alysa, Montessori teacher extraordinaire.
“Last year my son texted me and asked me about autism. A kid he knew was making fun of a kids with autism and, instead of punching the kid who was being rude, he said he wanted to educate the other kid about what autism was. That kid thanked him because he had no idea why the student, with autism, was doing the things he was doing. He apologized. Later, my son said he would rather change someone’s way of thinking rather than just scold them. WOW, good job!” Jenny, proud parent.
We are living in a time when children are subjected to leaders in this country blatantly and grotesquely model the worst kinds of human behavior. Addressing harassment, intimidation, and bullying requires opportunities to learn and practice how to recognize and have the skills to act. Students often want to do something but don’t have the tools. More importantly, adults must model the behavior first. It does no good to tell children how to behave and treat others if the adults in charge are doing the exact opposite.
The final example of student lead empathy is about a school field trip. Forty-one elementary students delivered donations, from a hygiene drive, to the Metropolitan Development Council, in downtown Tacoma. The mission of MDC is “to educate our community to change the perception of poverty and deliver innovative services that equip individuals and families to thrive.”
Geiger ASB and Allies In Action students, partnered for the second year, to support those experiencing homelessness in our community. These students ranged from second to fifth grade. They took part in activities learning about Maslow’s human basic needs. And culminated the trip by building and filling ninety-one welcome kits to be handed out to MCD clients. Each kit also included a hand-written note of encouragement from each student. Because these children understand the importance of human connection.
Time to let them lead.
If you have an example of an act of empathy your kid or student did share it in the comments below!