Empathy – A quality of character that can change the world . . . Barack Obama

I am really grateful to my good Twitter friend/fiend @smithsmm for his gorgeous and hopeful blog  New year…New Hope. Deep breath and a big grin and for inspiring me to put down my optimistic thoughts for the start of the new academic year.

I will be going to Big Tesco this evening to buy a selection of confectionery to put out on the tables for my colleagues when we have our training day on Monday 4th September: sherbet lemons, allsorts, coconut kisses and humbugs. (I know, I know and some satsumas, dragon fruit, and grapes for the health conscious among us!)


I am very, very excited about our training day for many reasons:

  1. It will be a shared training day with my lovely colleagues Rebecca (Headteacher) and Helen (Deputyhead) and their fabulous nearby school and the brilliant teachers and TAs who work there.
  2. It is always exciting to catch up with the Spinney team to find out about what everyone has been up to and to share holiday stories.
  3. We are having a shared EmpathyLab introduction day delivered by
  4. Miranda McKearney OBE (co-founder of The Reading Agency and co-founder of EmpathyLab) and
  5. Marilyn Brocklehurst from Norfolk Children’s Bookshop
  6. (Pain au chocolat, coffee, biscuits and a delicious lunch is being organised by our good friends at LUNCHTIME Company!)

EmpathyLab is a new organisation. We are incubating an empathy, literature and social action programme for 4-11 year olds. We aim to make a real difference to thousands of children’s lives story by story. Our brains are plastic, and with practice 98% of us are capable of becoming more empathetic. A growing bank of neuroscience research shows that literature is a key tool. Our work is inspired and underpinned by the research showing that relating imaginatively to book characters builds real-life empathy skills

We are working with schools, libraries and authors to test this approach:

In today’s divided world, the need for more empathy has never been more urgent. Helping children put empathy into action will reduce prejudice, and build a more caring society. The UK’s shocking post-Brexit rise in hate crimes has highlighted the urgency of educating children to enter into other people’s feelings”

Empathy is one of the elements that we pay close attention to in our curriculum at The Spinney, (although having recently had a conversation with Professor Felicia Huppert – Founder and Director of Cambridge University’s Well-Being Institute, we tend to prefer the word Compassion or even, based on Professor Paul Bloom’s studies Rational Compassion) and The Spinney, as an Ashoka Changemaker School which strongly promotes art, creativity, culture and connection in the curriculum, along with EmpathyLab and Empathy Museum feature in Sir Peter Bazalgette’s Book The Empathy Instinct – How to Create a More Civil Society.


We feel very fortunate to be part of EmpathyLab’s network of schools and the opportunity to work on the project in partnership with another school in the Kite Teaching School Alliance is very exciting indeed and we are looking forward to learning with and from each other.

When we turn on the television, or read the newspaper the need for compassion to be turned into positive action is clear if we are indeed going to have a more civil, kinder, fairer society.

Trump’s apparent lack of compassion in responding to the terrifying storms battering Texas at the moment has given rise to much criticism and has been contrasted with President Obama’s actions during such catastrophic times when he demonstrated a much more humane and caring attitude towards his people during such tragic and devastating events.

During his presidency Obama was well known for speaking frequently about the need for empathy in society and he described it as his most important value.

“There’s a lot of talk in this Country about the federal deficit, but if we hope to meet the moral test of our times, if we hope to eradicate child poverty or aids, or joblessness or homelessness or any of the other issues then I think we are going to have to talk more about the empathy deficit the ability to put ourselves in somebody else’s shoes, to see the world through somebody else’s eyes,  . . .when we start to think like this it becomes harder not to act. . .”

If we are going to offer our young people the knowledge, skills and understanding to be successful in the future, to follow their dreams and as President Obama suggests to make the world an even better place, then teaching empathy and compassion through literature (or other ways) is an important thing for us to do. And which is why we are really looking forward to learning with our colleagues and with Miranda and Marilyn!

In the meantime I’d better get into the car and pop along to Big Tescos to buy the sweeties and exotic fruit.
Image result for dragon fruit


Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and hopeful new academic year!

And check out the new @classactionmag for more optimistic updates that are #positivelydifferent


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