Despite the school being mainly closed to students, a number of activities have been taking place at Teign School to celebrate Empathy Day (on 9th June). Empathy, the ability to step into someone else’s shoes, is a vital human skill which has come into sharp focus during the Covid-19 pandemic and whilst witnessing the discrimination in the USA (and beyond). Empathy Day itself focuses on using stories as a training ground to teach young people to empathise and then act in ways to make a difference. Scientists have proven that having this ability leads to better wellbeing for individuals and a less selfish world for us all to live in (find out more at www.empathylab.uk).
Throughout June, staff, volunteers, students and even children’s authors sent in photos of themselves reading that were posted on the school’s social media to join the national initiative. Then, on Empathy Day itself, Head Teacher Suzannah Wharf unveiled the striking ‘Empathy Tree’ in the school’s library. The leaves of this tree contain book reviews recording how students felt whilst reading books from the new print and eBook #ReadforEmpathy collection. The tree will be a permanent place for staff and students to add leaves demonstrating compassion. For example, the Beliefs, Values and Citizenship staff are currently asking students to record their ‘Acts of Kindness’ onto leaves which can be added to the tree.
As part of the empathy initiative, the ‘Teign is Green’ club has plans to plant 1,000 trees later this year. This is a real demonstration of how empathy and concern leading to a positive action. The school has also linked up with author Sita Brahmachari whose book ‘Where the River Runs Gold’ is all about a world where trees and nature have been destroyed. There are plans to work together in the autumn term, even if this has to be using remote techniques.
Frequent visitor to Teign, Chris d’Lacey sums up below why reading is so important to developing empathy…
“Where would an author be without empathy? Not long ago, I was at Teign School in Devon, talking with a group of enthusiastic students. They were saying things like, “I felt I was really part of the story” or “That is SO me” and “How did you make that character so real?” The answer, of course, is that writers like myself create fictional characters to highlight every aspect of human emotion, characters that young readers can hopefully relate to and more importantly care about. Empathy is a skill that life experience alone can’t always teach us. Thankfully, when we want a hand understanding other’s needs, there’s always a book, somewhere, to help us.”