Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Power of Empowerment, Empathy and the Strength found in Numbers

One day this past school week, my students came together and were empowered to take control of a situation.

One of my students bullied another one during their lunch. I am not present during their lunch time. As soon as my class returned to our room, one of my students informed me that someone was crying.

Usually, right after lunch I read our "read aloud" story. I asked one of my students to fill in for me while I addressed what had happened at lunch.

Out in the hall, I found out that the "victim's" personal notebook was taken and the other student refused to give it back. The notebook apparently had personal notes in it and the victim's privacy was being threatened. After many firm requests and teasing from the bully, the notebook was finally given back.

After speaking to the victim, whom was clearly upset, I then called the student who did the "bullying" out into the hall. I sent the "victim" to the lav to wash his face and to have a few minutes to himself.

After strongly encouraging the "bully" to write on a piece of paper what he did, why it was wrong, and why he won't do it again, I returned to the class. During the time he was writing in the hall, I sat to read for a few minutes. The "victim" had already returned to our class, but was still clearly upset. Ironically, the theme of the chapter we were reading was all about "empathy." As I wrapped up the chapter, the bully returned to our class. Considering the context of the chapter and the incident at lunch, this was the perfect opportunity for a meaningful whole class discussion.

Remembering what one of my students had written about in her reflection journal early in the day, I called on her to ask "What was this chapter's theme?" Refreshing her memory and encouraging her to think about what she has written about, she smiled and said, "Empathy."

This led the whole class conversation, during which many students contributed to. It was great. Next I asked, "How can we relate this to what has happened today?" Mind you that all of the students were well aware of what happened during lunch.

During this meaningful conversation, the victim was still having a hard time to pull himself together. So I called him to come up to talk to me. I could see he was still upset, so I asked if he wanted a few more minutes to himself. He said, "Yes." I allowed him to go out in the hall to sit in one of our hall desks.

Right after that I wrapped up the whole class discussion, which touched upon topics like being a family, repsect, how we have to be together for 180 days, 6+ hours a day, empathy, thinking before acting, how one's actions can effect the whole group, etc.

My last question to my students was "Who is going to go get "student's name" so he knows that we care about him?" One by one all of my students got up and walked out to the hall to make him feel better. It was very moving. Even the one that did the bullying went out there.

I feel that the students were provided an opportunity of empowerment where they could take control of what had happened. The chance to demonstrate their empathy. They weren't told to do anything. Instead, they were asked then they chose to get up.
I sat back and watched.

Needless to say the student came back in and was comforted.

The next day I noticed a special smile on the boy's face upon entering the class in the morning.


  1. PSE,

    Thank you for visiting. Your comments are appreciated!

    Your lesson on empathy should be taught in all schools (and homes). You turn what is often a lesson on doing something into an experience being someone. Wonderful!

    If there is EVER anything that I can do to help promote what you are doing, please let me know. Other than looking for opportunities to invite people to your blog, there must be something more than can be done.

    A story in your local paper? Recognition through some award? You have my email address. If there is anything you can think of, please write.

  2. Thanks for sharing another moving and inspirational story! Your students are very fortunate to have such a caring and supportive teacher! I can't think of a better policy for a teacher to have than a 'zero tolerance for bullying!'