Slice of Life March Challenge: March 16th., 2014 – Inspired by Diane Mayr, Colby Sharp, and R.J. Palacio

orange soltwt

The March Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers .  

This beautiful Sunday morning, I happened across two social network posts that linked up in their message and meaning, and have me thinking ever since.  First, there is was thought from Diane Mayr on Facebook referencing this article  about poverty and inequality in American society today:

I don’t think anyone who reads this will come away without realizing we all need to look a bit closer and adjust our attitudes. I was at a workshop today in which the leader spoke about compassion. Compassion is needed, but not as much as a good job, money, recognition as a fellow human being, and some hope that things will get better.

 And then there was this wonderful picture that Colby Sharp Tweeted from the MIRA convention at which everyone seems to be learning so much (and having such fun – note to self, go next year)”:
colby sharp
Compassion and empathy. How much is innate, something one either has a capacity for…or not.  How much can we learn through our experiences, our openness to the experiences of others – but, then again,  is that openness really also a question of an innate quality that we possess, that we can be open to learning from the suffering of others?
I am thinking about the power of Wonder – the way my kids learn so much from Auggie , Via, and their friends.    We are in their hearts and souls, experiencing their challenges, every step of the way.  It’s no wonder that I catch my kids wiping away tears during our readaloud, or when they’re scrunched up in their favorite reading spots, completely into the story.  And, when they discuss Wonder,  there is again that sense of connecting with Auggie and Via, of being moved by their challenges.
Somehow, I don’t get the same reaction when I try to “teach” compassion, or empathy, or sensitivity, or even responsibility.  These are the moments when I see something disturbing happening in my classroom, the lunchroom, or the hallway, and talk to my kids about what I noticed, what they could learn from the moment.  They listen, and in their shifting glances and awkward shuffling around, I know that they hear me – they understand that they shouldn’t have used that particular word, made that particular gesture, decided to exclude that particular classmate.  They love me, they want to listen to me, they want me to believe that they have heard me. But I don’t know that I’ve reached into their hearts…that I’ve inspired them.
It’s the same thing, I feel, with the visual guides to empathetic behavior that I have all over my classroom, things such as:
gay poster   be kind
We make note of these, and from time to time I reference them in our lessons.  But, sometimes, I feel that my kids see these posters without really thinking about their message – they are there to say “oh, this is a nice thought” as opposed to “this is the way I want to live my life, be as a person.”  They become merely decoration.
Which brings me back to Palacio’s idea of inspiring empathy.  Auggie’s story, and those of others like  Malala Yousafzai, Solomon Northrup, Iqbal Masif, and Ryan White, can inspire our kids (and ourselves) to empathy, and living an empathetic life.     These stories bring tears to the eyes of my kids…they inspire them…and, sharing them allows us to do what Diane was talking about in her post – to cultivate ” recognition as a fellow human being”.
We need more Auggies to share with our kids…..
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17 thoughts on “Slice of Life March Challenge: March 16th., 2014 – Inspired by Diane Mayr, Colby Sharp, and R.J. Palacio

  1. Oh thank you Tara. Wonder is the touchstone of our classroom this year. Malala had made an impact too as well as Melody from Out of My Mind and Ivan. I think people, students as well, divorce themselves from the actions of Julian, Rose, Claire, the Taliban, and Mack. They see them as that’s not me. That being said, when bullying happens with fifth graders, I can reference Julian and get an immediate, I get it reaction. I’m reading A Long Walk to Water now. Students are trying to figure out who is the bad guy. Not as clear. I’m wondering how they will connect this read aloud to the others.

  2. I lOVED Wonder and wished I was still teaching so I could share it with those crazy 8th graders so hard on the outside and so self-absorbed. I loved watching them tear up when they were struck by injustice.
    Great to hear about your Wonder experiences. A cool quote is not enough for them, even if it makes an impression on us.
    See you tomorrow, friend. It’s been too long.

  3. Yet even with Wonder, I think that some might not apply to ‘smaller’ situations, those small kindnesses that some kids need because while they are overtly accepted, they are still left out. It also must come from family modeling along with teacher modeling. Great post to think about Tara. I wish there was an easy answer.

  4. Tara, your words so true, “we need more Auggies.” But, as Linda says, there has to be support from the family, and there is no easy answer. Thank you for sharing these important thoughts with us today.

  5. I think about the kids of the inner city I saw last week, compassion and empathy was lacking. It makes me sad that they live in that environment and they don’t know otherwise.

  6. Sometimes it may seem like a losing battle with all the cruel things that kids do and say to each other, but I do think sharing literature with Wonder’s message gets through and makes kids think. They’re listening.

  7. This is such a wonderful post Tara. It gives me some things to think about as we had a rough week last week and we’ll be having a conversation tomorrow about how we want the rest of our year to go. 🙂

  8. This is a great post. I see at least three things that you do to inspire/teach/foster empathy. You work to inspire it, you overtly teach it, and you use the physical classroom environment however you can. It seems like the more methods, the better. We can’t be inspirational every moment of every day, but we can do whatever we can.

  9. “How much can we learn through our experiences, our openness to the experiences of others – but, then again, is that openness really also a question of an innate quality that we possess, that we can be open to learning from the suffering of others?” This question haunts me, Tara, as I work so hard to inspire empathy and compassion in my own children. I agree with Linda, that it has to start at home, and even then, not everyone has the same capacity. I’m looking forward to the day, though, when empathy is right up there with academic skills as something that we emphasize and even evaluate in schools. We would all benefit…

  10. This is such a thoughtful and interesting post, Tara. Part of me loves that fact that it would be the stories we share through literature that have the greatest impact when trying to inspire compassion and empathy. But, on the other hand, it’s a little disappointing to think that our teachable moments and inspirational posters aren’t always working. It’s worth it though to pay attention so that we can spend our time where we will be most effective.

  11. You make some true and thoughtful points. I believe that we need to have an experience of being the bullied, the ignored, the outcast soul before we can understand how that really feels. You are right – posters and lectures don’t do that. But in a book, when the reader connects to the character, then his/her feelings get transferred into our own selves. Then we understand how that feels. That is the beginning of empathy and compassion. Oh, the power of a good book!

  12. Pingback: SLOC 2014: Recognizing a Stranger | Reading to the Core

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