This part of the year always reminds me why I love my job.  I start to feel purposeless and bored around mid-August.  I don’t have smiling faces asking me questions; I don’t have bright eyes lighting up over a new story.  I don’t have the addictive satisfaction that comes from being a teacher.

However, I appreciate my time off. This summer has allowed me to do some personal exploration, and I so desperately needed the time away from the kids to accomplish this.  But I always find, that each time I spend time away from the classroom, even if it is time spent selfishly, that I come back with a lesson that I’d like to share with my kids.

A couple of weeks ago, in our first meeting as a team for this year, we were discussing the idea of yearly themes.  We thought it would be nice to have one this year, because we wanted to create a vision for the end of the year, one which will entail the kids giving their own TED talk.  We threw out many ideas, but nothing felt quite right.  I started to think about other possibilities, drawing on what I learned on my personal journey this summer.  It all centered on vulnerability, shame, and empathy.

And then I had it.  Empathy.  That could be our theme this year.  So I suggested it to the team.

I feel like I say this all the time when I speak with people, but I’m starting to realize that I do not mention this enough on here.  A good team is what makes a good teaching experience, and I have utmost respect and love for the team with whom I work.  I feel like there are few groups of people in the educational world that would jump on topic as heady and touchy-feely as empathy, not to mention one that is difficult for adults to understand.

So why empathy?  

Empathy cannot really be concretely defined, which will, in turn, lead us to a year full of inquiry.  The unanswerable questions are the ones that make us think and learn the most.  In fact, many people, even the people who research it, have trouble defining empathy.  But for the kids, I want them to see the importance of finding themselves in one another.  I think that this is the thread that runs through our entire lives; it is the conduit for connection and ultimate understanding. If we can see ourselves in one another, we can feel understood and we can understand others.  If we can understand another’s plight, then we cannot only help others, but we can help ourselves, too.

What’s more, if we can empathize, we can become the best versions of ourselves we can possibly be, and isn’t that what we want for kids?  I know I do.

And it will tie so beautifully into the work we do this year.  We’ll start with stories.  The kids will go on a quest to define the term “story” in all of it’s contexts, but what I’m hoping is that they will see that everything is a story, and that the only way we understand stories is by connecting to them, empathizing with the characters in the stories, and seeing parts of ourselves within the stories.  After all, that’s how we learn lessons and infer messages from stories: We need to connect to understand.

We’ll learn about the American Revolution, and we will use our knowledge of empathy to try and understand the various perspectives that were present at the time of the revolution.  And we’ll end with TED Talks, where the kids will find an idea about which they’re passionate–an idea worth spreading.  In order to make their message clear and communicate it well to their audience, they will have to empathize; they will have to know their audience.  They will have to see a part of themselves inside that audience member.  They’ll have to read them and speak to them, not just at them.

My excitement for this year is beginning to bubble over.  August 20th, get here!

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