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Compassionate Classrooms

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“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries.  Without them humanity cannot survive.”                                                                                                                                                                                     -Dalai Lama

Did you know that the Child Mind Institute reports that almost half of the students we teach will be diagnosed with some form of mental illness by the time they are 18 years old?  The most common diagnosis is anxiety, and many of these children will not receive any type of professional help.  Some of the long term effects of anxiety are mental illness, anger, substance abuse, and violence.  This amazed me, so as I continued to search for more about this troubling information, I ran across some insights by Professor Lisa Swain.  She was discussing how readily we strive to teach children math skills and reading strategies, but we often neglect to explicitly teach them how to be compassionate problem solvers. We rush to help the child that can’t solve a math problem, but often get upset with the child that does not know how to behave appropriately.  We naturally provide reading strategies daily, but expect children to interact respectfully as if by osmosis.  We live in a stressful time and many of our children will not receive the support they need to face the demands of school and of life.  The need for compassion in our classrooms is greater than ever.

A compassionate classroom is not one that lacks expectations or rigor.  On the contrary, a compassionate classroom is one that holds high expectations and sets the tone for responsible behavior choices and respect for all.  Research shows that “human beings are wired for compassion.”   Here is the brain science:

“When a person thinks in a compassionate way, they activate the neurochemistry of kindness, which begins with the release of the peptide hormone oxytocin.  Oxytocin then activates dopamine and serotonin, which contribute to a person feeling happy and optimistic.  The keys of compassion are the vagus nerve (sometimes called the nerve of compassion), the inferior parietal cortex, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the hypothalamus and the nucleus accumbens.”  – Choose Love Enrichment Project

Scarlett Lewis is the founder of the The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement.  She began this program after her son was killed along with 19 classmates and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  This is a charitable organization that is committed to helping children develop the ability to:

  • Understand and manage their emotions – “self-awareness and self-management”
  • Set and accomplish positive goals
  • Show empathy and compassion for others – “social awareness”
  • Create and keep positive relationships
  • Make responsible choices

This program offers a research based curriculum created by teachers to help children learn and apply the skills necessary to manage their emotions, have empathy for others, and make responsible decisions that help them build positive relationships.  It focuses on social and emotional learning (SEL) and teachers who have been trained in SEL say it has helped them handle conflict, created a more positive teaching atmosphere, and has helped with critical thinking and problem solving.  Helping our students grow socially and emotionally sets the foundation for academic learning and creates a climate that fosters healthy problem solving.  This in turn enhances our ability to teach and a student’s ability to learn.

We strive each day to deliver instruction that helps our students develop the strategies to be proficient readers, writers, and math problem solvers.  Shouldn’t we also make a concentrated effort to teach them the strategies to understand and handle their emotions and learn to interact responsibly with others?   If we can help students learn about the “brain science of social and emotional development,” maybe we can empower them to become the responsible citizens who will make this world a better place.

You might like to investigate The Choose Love Movement.  The program is free and the curriculum is broken down for elementary, middle, and high school aged students.

“We can teach children to choose love.  Love is a universal need, the lack of which can be devastating.  That’s why I started the Choose Love Movement.”  – Scarlett Lewis

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