The Most Important Back-To-School Supply
As I look to the 2016-17 school year which will begin in just a few short weeks, I ask myself if it will ever be possible to have a year in which not one incident of bullying occurs or a year when not one child feels left out or isolated. I fear this school year could be more challenging than others given the level of political rhetoric and division that we hear every day. How do we create schools and classrooms in which students treat each other with respect and kindness? How do we raise our children to be compassionate?
I recently read an online article on Edutopia written by Homa Tavenger entitled, “Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply”. Tavenger discusses how empathy is like a muscle in that it can be strengthened with practice and it can also become weak if not provided with opportunities to be developed. Helping our children to be empathic not only means they will treat others better, but it means they will do better. Empathy is the foundation for working well with others- it leads to improved leadership, communication, and teamwork. We are fortunate that the Remembering Jesse Parker Foundation provides financial resources to our schools so that our children can engage in projects which promote the development of that empathy muscle. However, we all have a responsibility to model empathic behavior for our children and have discussions on the importance of this “muscle” with them.
The consequences which result when our children are not empathic, but rather bully and ostracize one another, are profound. Scientists studying the brain have found that social rejection can cause someone to feel actual, physical pain and can lead to intense anger (and even violence). This response seems to be a normal human behavior hard-wired into our system. I had the opportunity to view the film, REJECT, at the State Education Convention last January, and I believe a national dialogue on the issue of rejection and its long-lasting negative psychological and behavioral impact is needed. It doesn’t matter if you are six or sixty-six, being excluded socially or ostracized is hurtful. The good news is that the film presented a simple idea- inclusion- which can improve children’s physical and mental health and self-esteem. We must build a culture of acceptance and belonging in our classrooms and on our school playgrounds so that no child feels rejected or ostracized. This can begin immediately with a rule that states, “You can’t say you can’t play.” This rule was developed and explored by Kindergarten teacher Vivian Gussin Paley. Paley was struck by how often she heard children say, “Go away, you can’t play with us” so she created this new rule for her students. Initially her students were in disbelief thinking that if they couldn’t just play with their friends, their play time would be ruined. However, the students adjusted and came to appreciate the structure created by the rule. In Tomah and in schools throughout our state and country, we need to tell our children, “You can’t say you can’t play”. We must be committed to a culture of inclusion. We must help our children learn to value the worth of each individual.
So as the 2016-17 school year commences, let’s fill our children’s backpacks with not only supplies like pencils, glue, paper and scissors, but let’s also add some empathy, some kindness, and the concept of inclusion. Let’s encourage all of our children to walk in the shoes of others, to choose helping another instead of looking the other way, and to widen their circle of friendship to allow anyone in who wants to play. Maybe then, we can have a school year without bullying and without a child feeling socially isolated or rejected.
If you have any questions or comments about the information and opinions expressed in this edition of The School Bell, please contact Cindy Zahrte, District Administrator, at email@example.com or 374-7002.