For teacher Abby Rose, empathy is “the path from me to you.” As a dancer who discovered her passion in helping students grow socially and emotionally through dance, Rose has much to share about empathy education. She also has expertise in changemaker education, which she gained from being a changemaker herself at Namaste Charter School.
Rose began her teaching career through the Inner-City Teaching Corps, earning a Masters degree in education and becoming a third grade teacher in Chicago. Although she loved teaching, she wanted a way to incorporate her love for dance and her additional Masters degree in dance movement therapy into her teaching. She then met Allison Slade, who was founding a new school: Namaste Charter. Slade gave Rose the opportunity to create a developmental movement curriculum and implement a social and emotional learning curriculum called Peaceful People. After this experience in changemaking and thriving in the school’s encouraging atmosphere, Rose has come to see Namaste as her “education home. "
As the Director of Health and Wellness, a position she created, Rose is highly involved in all of Namaste’s efforts to promote empathy and other changemaker skills within students. In addition to the Peaceful People curriculum, the school uses peer mediation and advisory-style homeroom for its middle school students as well as culture assemblies for every grade level band (consisting of two levels, i.e. 1st and 2nd).
One of Namaste’s most successful initiatives to foster changemaker skills in students is Kindness Week. Kindness Week takes place during the week of Valentine’s Day, which the school uses as an opportunity to highlight kindness as a core school value. Students participate in service projects during Kindness Week, which have included fundraising for Haitian earthquake victims and writing thank you cards to their own janitorial staff.
Together, these social and emotional learning initiatives have created a positive school culture where students feel safe and are eager to learn. Rose describes one example:
“We have a boy who came out of the closet in 6th grade, and it was a non-event. This was a moment when there could have been lot of really bad behavior at another school, and terrible things could have happened to him. That never happened here.”
When bullying does occur, Namaste uses a relationship-building approach to solve the issue. For instance, when a group of 4th grade students were having bullying problems, their teacher called a community meeting. The Chicago teachers’ strike had just ended, and using the strike as their inspiration, the 4th grade decided to go on strike – against hate. Meanwhile, Principal Slade invited the students involved in the bullying incident to lunch. The group talked about Halloween and the interests they had in common, which served as the basis for students to build empathy and compassion among one another.
According to Rose, one of Namaste’s strengths is providing their students with opportunities to meet other students in different classes and utilize relationship-building strategies to solve problems. Next time your students or children have a disagreement, create a safe space for them to find commonalities, and use this as an opportunity to build positive relationships between them.