Eggcellent Opportunity to Educate on Empathy

This morning I followed tradition and enjoyed the delicious taste of chocolate to celebrate Easter. Over the past few weeks though, I couldn’t help but think that the true ‘meaning’ of Easter was perhaps lost amongst this commercialised chocolaty experience.

I was lucky enough to have a few surprises this morning, full of Marvel’s Avengers. As much as I enjoy kinder chocolate & Marvel, the real superheroes today are those helping others – practicing servant leadership.

marvel easter

While Easter is celebrated by many around the world, it did occur to me that regardless of how you feel about the idea of Jesus as a ‘saviour’, his story does present an opportunity to both reflect and educate young people about empathy. As Jesus said, Matthew 7:12 ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.’ The infinite compassion, empathy and love that is displayed in the stories from his life is a call to action.

The concept of servant leadership is much discussed in literature, as is empathy, but only limited attention is given to these concepts in schools. While initiatives like ‘Start Empathy’ from Ashoka, and others, provide new platforms to support schools, more work is needed.

Easter and other religious occasions present schools and families with an opportunity to educate our children about empathy and love for other people. Rather than shying away from religious celebrations, schools should support students to understand what they are about – not to indoctrinate, but to inform. This should not be limited to Christian celebrations, but should be part of a broader cultural education in our schools on the various celebrations of religions.

While many have no faith, the history of our world is defined by those of various religious inclinations and this should not be ignored. The message here is that the focus of this education should be on the beautiful messages that come out of these celebrations, not conversion or indoctrination.

Volunteering doesn’t just happen, it occurs because people have had the opportunity to reflect and understand their role in a ‘community’, and after gaining empathy. While some are far more empathetic than others from an early age, experiences and education can teach people how to understand what another person is experiencing from their perspective or ‘place themselves in another’s shoes’.

Today I spent time reflecting on the activities I participated in that helped me to learn empathy. While school gave me a few select opportunities, my work with a Labor Member of Parliament exposed me to so many incredible volunteers in my community supporting many in need. It was these experiences that inspired me to begin volunteering myself and coordinating activities for others to volunteer too with Raising Hope Education Foundation.

I hope that schools begin to have a more structured approach to empathy education. While this post has suggested one idea, volunteering opportunities and experiences in the community can highlight to students the privilege they have and the capacity they have to help.

Programs from World Vision, Oaktree and others to great work showcasing international causes, it’s also important for students to learn that there is a need for help in their own backyard. I would like to see localised opportunities for students to volunteer in school time, supported by organisations in our community.

While this would take considerable effort, the opportunities for quality project-based learning and learning-by-doing are incredible. Happy Easter to all those who read my blog, I hope that today presents you with an opportunity to reflect on how you serve your own community too.

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The School Entrance

One thing that I find is a constant reminder of ‘status’ within education is a school entrance. While independent schools often invest in the visual appearance of the entrance, struggling schools in urban and regional areas often don’t have the finances to spare on these non-essentials.

I do agree that the value of an education is the knowledge students take away, rather than the aesthetics of the place. However, I think it is important for students to enter their school and feel proud of the environment and history of the place.

While I know this isn’t a problem that exists at every school, there are many there a bit of work could go a long way to improving the school-pride both students and teachers have.

There are two key elements to the school entrance. One is the external entrance at the school gates and where people drive past the school, this is the first symbol of what the school is like.

One of my favourite examples of how a school can do this well is

Building a modest but aesthetically pleasing entrance to a school with the school logo and motto would make for a great community project to give back to the local primary or high school. It’s amazing what a few bricks and some plants can do!

This could be a great project for your P&C to engage a local Lions or Rotary Club. Schools can often fundraise with engraved bricks, as you can see here with Signature-Engraving.

A significant school year for example a 50th anniversary could be a timely occasion to get old students to buy a brick with their name and the year they graduated. These bricks could be used to build the entrance way or another structure within the school.

I would also love to see some of the ‘home renovation’ shows pick a school to work their magic on too.

And so it begins…

Here we are, at last. Honestly, I didn’t think I would get here. It’s all so bright… and white. However, we are here and sometimes, that’s all it takes.

Like a student on their first day of kindergarten, here I am, typing my first blog on exactly what I want to think, read, write and change for the rest of my life. School environments.

It’s been a long time coming but over the summer break I’ve realised that is what makes me tick.

I’ve known that I want to work with students and in the education space for quite some time, but there are so many different areas that could take someones fancy within education.

I’ve had a bent about communities being engaged with their schools for the past few years. When starting Raising Hope Education Foundation I was inspired by the work of Citizen Schools and the School Volunteer Program. I love the discussions between teachers like Betty Chau and Jason Borton on Twitter and the arguments people have over dinner tables about which is the best school for their children.

I’m fascinated by the work of Teach for All and Students First and the discussions and debates they have with teachers unions. Teacher training and quality is obviously what makes the biggest difference, but while it is important and interesting… that still doesn’t make me tick.

What I love, is a school environment.

From the moment I walk into a school to the moment I leave, I am constantly looking, listening, analysing and judging the school environment. From the ring of a school bell at lunch time to the trophy cabinet in the front of school reception, the paint, a classrooms layout or those tacky motivational posters you find hanging on the wall of the school counsellor, how a school looks, feels and how this impacts learning is what I find most intriguing and exciting.

But it’s not just the visuals or the architecture.

I also love the way a school feels and it’s community. The environment teachers have manufactured and how that impacts students is so fascinating to me.

School environments might not be as important as a good teacher, but I know it makes a difference. If we want to give our kids the best chance to believe in themselves, gain confidence and feel worthy you need a good school environment too.

As Julia Gillard once said, ‘a good teacher can teach under a tree, but we shouldn’t expect them to.’ We also shouldn’t expect students to study environments that don’t support and encourage their learning journey.

This is what I want to spend my life learning about and hopefully improving.

So naturally, Eduvironment will be about the schools I visit, school environment ideas I hear about or things I’ve read. Hopefully there will be some discoveries you might find interesting too.

If you have any articles/ blogs I should read, things I should know about or generally have some advice for my Edu-Quest please email me on ben.duggan@raisinghope.org.au or tweet me at @Ben_Duggan.

And now I’ll leave with my dream school environment…

Hogwarts Hall