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Activating Empathy to Fight Bullying in Schools

Written by: Eleanor Bedford

Laura Hay |

One day, all children will attain a bully-free education.

That is not a new slogan for a non-profit. It’s my gut reaction to seeing a moving 4-minute-video, Stop Bullying, produced by three 8-year-old friends and a sister during a four-hour playdate.

The video was not a school project. It was not filmed or edited by a parent. The kids conceptualized and completed it on a fun Sunday afternoon because their mom challenged them to do something creative.  They collaboratively choose a song and a storyline, filmed with an iPhone, and edited with iMovie and the Video Star App.  Before the play date was over, the young girls saw that they created a powerful video, which they chose to share with their school. This is how change begins.

Where did they get this kind of drive, creativity, and desire to help make the world a better place…for fun? And really, is altruism normal behavior for kids this age without parents or teachers putting them up to it?

It is normal if you attend North Glendale Elementary School in St. Louis, Missouri, one of 60 Changemaker Schools across the country recognized for elevating empathy and leadership on par with math and science. The video is an indicator of the positive impact on children’s attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors that this approach to education produces both in and out of school. And hopefully for a lifetime to come. This is what the future direction of education looks like.

What’s empathy got to do with it?

The textbook definition is “the ability to understand what someone is feeling.” But when put into practice, empathy means a whole lot more. It means the ability to grasp the many sides of today’s complex problems and the capacity to collaborate with others to solve them; it means being as good at listening to the ideas of others as articulating your own; it means being able to lead a team one day and participate as a team member the next. In today’s rapidly changing world, empathy is critical to our success – at home, at school, and in the workplace.

Want to teach it but feel short on resources or don’t know where to begin?

There is a free, open-to-anyone, online course to help. Activating Empathy: A Roadmap to Changemaker Classrooms is based on best practices across the Changemaker Schools and greater Ashoka networks. Designed by and for educators, it enables participants to identify their strengths and weaknesses in promoting empathy in children and offers specific resources that can help them improve. It is short and customizable for each participant’s needs, encouraging educators to discover empathy-promoting practices that will work in their particular context.

Check it out and join the growing number of schools committed to all children attaining a bully-free education. And to cultivating the next generation of changemakers in the process.

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