Mary Gordon is recognized internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert who has created programs informed by the power of empathy. Over 20 years ago, Ms. Gordon created Roots of Empathy, a national and international not for profit children's charity which now offers programs in 14 countries. Ms. Gordon is also the founder of Canada's first and largest school-based Parenting and Family Literacy Centers, which she initiated in 1981.
Here is TVO TeachOntario In Conversation with Mary Gordon, Founder and President of Roots of Empathy
1) What do you see as the impact of empathy-focused work in schools?
Empathy-focused work in schools not only improves the perspective taking skills of children, but also improves teacher’s awareness of student perspectives. This is cognitive empathy and it is supportive of better communication. Classroom dynamics shift when students and teachers have the ability to express how they feel in a shared expanded vocabulary of emotions. With Roots of Empathy, both students and teachers become more emotionally literate. This emotional literacy leads to better relationships in the classroom and therefore better learning.
2) It seems that educators are becoming increasingly interested in implementing ways to foster empathy in the classroom. Why do you think this is?
Teachers and principals typically are alert and willing to implement any approaches, which will improve the climate of the classroom or children’s learning. Teachers more than any professional group focus on their development for the benefit of their students. They are aware of the research, which speaks to teacher/student relationships as being powerful conduits for student learning. Empathy is at the base of all positive relationships.
3) What role do you see empathy playing in combating the issues that plague contemporary society such as: inequality, inequity, racism, sexism?
Empathy is integral to solving problems in the playroom, the boardroom and the war room. The ability to take the perspective of another person, to identify commonalities through our shared feelings, is the best peace pill we have. Empathy is the ultimate human trait. Its absence is underscored in violence and cruelty of all kinds including bullying in childhood and in the workplace. The current Black Lives Matter movement, the MeToo movement, global warming, income and gender inequality and the LGBTQ+ movement are current examples of situations that require empathy in order to advance just policies and responsible behavior. A major cause of many of the conflicts in the world is our intolerance of difference. On the world stage, differences provide the justification for genocide and war, or failure to respond in times of disaster and disease. On the playground, the absence of empathy allows differences to become a target for bullies. In the difference lies the vulnerability. Dismantling systemic bullying, systemic racism and systemic gender inequality is doable if we grow a generation of children whose empathy allows them to challenge injustice of all kinds, as empathy allows them to recognize our shared humanity.
More about our guest on In Conversation with ...
Ms. Gordon speaks and consults to governments, educational organizations, and public institutions, including the World Health Organization and the United Nations. Ms. Gordon is often a keynote presenter at international conferences such as Skoll World Forum and UBS Global Philanthropy Forum, Collision, Digital-Living-Design among others. She is a frequent participant on global panels discussing empathy. She is the recipient of several awards recognizing her contribution to innovation in education and international social entrepreneurship, including the 2018 Governor General of Canada Award for Innovation. Ms. Gordon is a Member of the Order of Ontario and Order of Canada and is the recipient of honorary doctorates. Ms. Gordon is an Ashoka Fellow (Globalizer) and sits on the Ashoka Global Board out of Washington DC. Roots of Empathy is quoted in more than 400 Academic journals and both Ms. Gordon and the program have been featured in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, The Globe and Mail, Time Magazine, Japan’s NHK, CBC and in features on PBS, CNN, NBC and the Huffington Post. She has written many articles, book chapters, children’s books and her book, Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child, is a Canadian bestseller and is available in multiple languages.
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