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The Seaside Series: Empathy Inside Out

On the importance of implicit transformation as a first step toward teaching empathy

By Carrie Lee Ferguson

Carrie Lee Ferguson is a mother and writer, furthering global awareness by creating new perspectives and connecting mind with heart. She writes on childbirth, childhood, education and social change. Holding a masters degree in education, Carrie has always been passionate about teaching and learning and views childhood as a critical stage laying the foundation for compassion and creative thinking. She is co-author of A Child's Way: Slowing Down for Goodness Sake and blogs at www.carrieleeferguson.com.

October 8, 2013

Editor's Note: Here's Chapter 3 of The Seaside Series!  Take a look at Chaper 2 here.

“Many programs are trying to effect educational reform from the outside in, but the greatest immediate power we have is to work to reform from the inside out.  Ultimately, human wholeness does not come from changes in our institutions, it comes from the reformation of our hearts.”
  - Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

I have long agreed with Parker Palmer’s notion that the transformation of teaching begins in the transformed heart of the teacher.  For the teacher willing to look inside him/herself and to grow each day with his/her students, the profession takes on the creative edge necessary to enthuse not only cognitive thinking but also the feeling and willing capacities of those with whom they share their classroom. 

When we were imagining Seaside Community Charter School, we envisioned learning communities that awaken the child’s creative potential and provide a sense of service to the world.  We imagined joyful, compassionate, creative and natural environments where children were motivated and buoyed in a deep respect of themselves, others and the world around them.  I knew that, more than anything, this educational vision would be brought to life by those doing the good and hard work of showing up each day facilitating learning -- the teachers. 

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We were extremely fortunate to find the person who would lead our future teachers with expertise, practicality and integrity, our principal, from our own community, who knew where we came from and where we wanted to go.  With our intended leader and as an education committee, we met educators from across the country who were attracted to our vision.  We held individual interviews and one group interview in which we observed the candidates collaborating with one another.  We felt the abilities to empathize and to offer one's gifts while receiving those of others were essential.  The artfulness and graciousness to enter into and to help create an open, give-and-take conversation would be a core competency in creating the conditions for minds and hearts to come alive.

We chose teachers who are willing to participate in their own learning journeys; we chose teachers for who they are, not on their mastery of curriculum.  Techniques can be learned, but can they hear the creative work calling, and say yes to the adventure?

What became clear was that we wanted the teachers to show up on day one with an open heart, meeting the children with respect and authenticity; not feeling inadequate because they don’t yet know how to felt or do chalk art, skills for which the Waldorf curriculum called.  Instead of allowing fear of what we didn’t yet know to overwhelm our big picture and the relationships within it, our teachers began in a circle of support, grounding themselves in an understanding of what is at the core of Waldorf education:  the view of the unfolding human being with thinking, feeling and willing capacities.  The circle facilitator said it was “a place where your genius can weave with Waldorf principles and make something of your own.”  In the words of a first grade teacher, it felt “like coming home.” 

And so, from this place that feels like home, our teachers are awakening to their greatness, and in turn are awakening greatness within their students.  They are pioneers, transforming old processes while simultaneously being transformed by the process itself.  Not only are they innovative teachers, these are people who I trust and deeply admire.  The heart of our school culture reflects what is at the heart of each of these teachers.

Read Chapter 4 here.