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Did You Know

Did you know that lessons about empathy, compassion and other social and emotional skills are for adults, as well as children? Social and Emotional Learning, or SEL, is based on the research on emotional intelligence. It is a process that enables children to learn specific skills – how to recognize and control their emotions, how to care about people and animals around them (which is where the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum’s link to humane education comes in), how to cooperate and develop positive and rewarding relationships, and how to make ethical and responsible decisions that benefit themselves, their friends and family, their pets, and the environment. The first step in this process is developing self-awareness: helping children learn about themselves and become aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Achieving awareness enhances children’s self- confidence. Did you know that the benefits of gaining self-awareness extend beyond childhood?

Theme: Encouraging Empathy

Encouraging Empathy is the core of the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum; the preceding two themes set the foundation for developing empathy, and the themes that follow -- Cultivating Cooperation and Dealing With Decisions -- build on this skill. Although known as a social skill, empathy is critical, not only to effective relationships, but also to academic achievement. It is often referred to as the missing piece in the education puzzle. Empathy, or lack of it, is also at the root of bullying and other anti-social behaviors that disrupt learning and classroom management. Although we are born with the capacity for empathy, it needs to be nurtured and can be taught. Often, children learn to be empathetic by example. If their teachers, parents, and other adults ask them how they feel, they will learn to do the same and acquire the ability to take others’ perspective.

Looking through a different lens. It is important to learn how to recognize and understand how other people experience the world since not everyone thinks, feels, or reacts the same way. Think about the world as your students see it. Or pick one child: what is it like to be in that child’s shoes? How does the child feel? The ability to take another’s perspective is essential in the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with other people. This skill is known as empathy; helping children develop empathy enables them to be caring and compassionate.

Try this in the classroom:

In your shoes: Play a game of “walking” in someone else’s shoes. Pair students with a member of the school staff for part of a day; have students shadow staff and perform as many job responsibilities as possible. Following the activity, ask students what was fun, challenging, and surprising about their experience “walking” in someone else’s shoes.

Switch! At random times throughout the day (or when you see students engaged in a disagreement) call out “Switch” and have students switch places and roles. Help students take each other’s perspective and try to work together or resolve conflicts more effectively.

Teach about Dog Behavior: Cesar Millan led the development of Dog Dialog Lessons. His rationale: in order to have empathy and compassion for dogs, we have to understand how they feel and what guides their behavior. Read more about Dog Dialog lessons to learn about dogs’ instinctual behavior...

Theme: Finding Feelings

Finding Feelings, the second theme in the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum, teaches children to understand and label their own emotions and the emotions of others. Before children can begin to figure out how others might be feeling, they have to be attuned to their own feelings. Adults, too, need to be aware, not only of the various feelings they have, but also of the way that these feelings are evident in facial expressions and body language.

Reading faces. How we feel is often “written” on our faces! Our faces can be very expressive – we use our eyes, eyebrows, mouth, and facial muscles to show different feelings and various degrees of happiness, excitement, sadness, or frustration. Although not everyone feels the same emotion in response to the same situation or stimulus, research has shown that there are universal similarities in how we show certain basic emotions, including fear and anger. Physical cues help us express how we are feeling and also help us figure out how someone else might be feeling. It’s important to learn how to “read” these signals so that we can effectively communicate with and respond to other people. Promoting our and children’s ability to accurately identify and label feelings in others can enhance empathy, communication, and relationship skills.

Try this in the classroom:

Mad about you! Ask students to make a “mad” face and then take a photograph of the group. You can also instruct students to make a “sad” and “happy” face. Show the photograph to the students and ask them to identify similarities in how they express this emotion. For example, prompt students to look at everyone’s mouth or eyebrow and see if it is in the same shape or position.

Check this out: Older students may enjoy segments or photos from the TV series Lie To Me. Based on the research of Paul Ekman, an expert in non-verbal communications at the University of California, San Francisco, Lie To Me features Tim Roth, who plays Dr. Cal Lightman. Lightman looks for micro-expressions - a slight move of the brow, for example - to find out whether subjects are telling the truth. His great skill at this has led to his being known as the human polygraph.

Theme: Self-Awareness

How well do you know yourself? Self-awareness is the first step in social and emotional learning. Although we often focus on getting to know our students and their families and, in the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum, on enhancing students’ self-awareness, it’s important to take the time to make sure we get to know ourselves! Gaining awareness of our own characteristics, skills, and styles will help us better understand our own actions and reactions, and enhance our ability to communicate and interact with other people (and animals, too). It is important to recognize your strengths, talents, abilities, and special gifts, even those not related to teaching. However, it’s also important to acknowledge areas where we can improve. As is the case with children, promoting self-awareness can increase self-confidence and appreciation of diversity, as well as enhanced communication skills and the capacity for empathy.

Try this in the classroom:

All about you. Surprise students with a fun fact about yourself. Sharing a favorite hobby or activity that may not be readily apparent in school will enable you to think about your special characteristics and will challenge students to think differently about you.

Find one thing in common. Challenge students to find one thing in common with every other student in the class; examples include sharing the same birthday month, hair color, favorite pizza topping, or television show. Ask students if anyone was surprised by the similarities they share with other classmates. Can you find one thing you share in common with each of your students?