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RIDE supports several blogs throughout our website where Rhode Islanders and RIDE staff share their thoughts.

On this page, we have collected all of the blogs on our site - many of which share posts from Rhode Island educators other than RIDE staff. Blogs are listed in alphabetical order:

  • Commissioner's Corner: Blog posts and messages from the Commissioner to the Rhode Island community.
  • District Teacher of the Year (DTOY): Posts from the Rhode Island District Teachers of the Year, past and present, who share about instructional successes and challenges they encounter in Rhode Island classrooms.
  • Equitable Access to Excellent Educators: Rhode Island educators and RIDE staff explore factors and perspectives on the importance of ensuring that all students are taught by high quality educators.
  • Leadership: Reflections and insights from RIDE’s Leadership Fellow and other district and school leaders on the challenges and opportunities of being a school leader.
  • Rhode Island Poet Laureate: Reflections and poetry focused on teaching, learning, and the experience of education from Tina Cane, Rhode Island Poet Laureate.
  • Rhode Island Science Education (R.I.S.E.): A communication blog to update stakeholders in education and in the community on important developments, events and accomplishments in science education in Rhode Island.
  • Student Voice: Because student voice is an essential component of our discussion on education, RIDE will post essays written by students from around Rhode Island.

Click on a category below to filter by a particular blog:

The Power of Empathy

Posted by: Kamlyn Keith on 3/2/2018
Caitlin Whalley, 2018 W.M. Davies Career and Technical HS Teacher of the Year
English Teacher

“Empathy is the only human superpower - it can shrink distance, cut through social and power hierarchies, transcend differences, and provoke political and social change.” -Elizabeth Thomas

On Monday, October 2, 2017, many awoke to the awful news that there had been another mass shooting, this time in Las Vegas, Nevada. I drove to work grappling with how I would tackle this topic with my students. As an educator, I find it can be so difficult to find the words to answer the “why’s?” that are so often asked of us. I also feel it is incredibly important to try to help develop young men and women who are not only aware of the world and its issues, but are also active participants in its improvement.

On that morning, I scrapped my previously planned bell-ringer and opted to ask my ninth grade ELA students the question that I wanted the answer to: “How do we stop these incidents from happening?” My students took a few minutes to jot down their thoughts and then our discussions began. In each and every class, there were two majority opinions: “we are ninth graders, how should we know what to do?” and “there is nothing we can do.”

I left that day feeling defeated. I worried about how my students were living in a world where an incident of this gravity was becoming the “new normal.” Yet, as I stewed over their commentary, I refused to accept their answers as truth. There must be something that each of us could do.

I came in the next morning and told them that I wouldn’t accept their answers; we needed to work harder and dig deeper to discover solutions. With the true sass of new high schoolers, they said, “Fine. Tell us what you think will solve this problem.” Now I was caught. If the great leaders of our country hadn’t yet figured this out, how would I?

After sitting for a minute, I said one word: empathy. This is what we need. I asked if they knew what the term meant and only a handful in each class did.

I had found a new focus, a new, strong thread to weave throughout my lessons.

Every year, I strive to reinvent my curriculum to reach my students, to promote a development of strong opinions and stances, and to help them find their voices. So often the content doesn’t reach them, doesn’t connect. Of course, it is imperative that we are skills based, that students leave us with abilities to be successful in college or the workforce. At the same time, character development is so, so important.

Through the use of a website called The Global Oneness Project, I have been working to introduce my students to life outside of their “bubble.” This is an incredible resource filled with personal accounts, photographic essays, and lesson plans. We learned about a student named Amar in India who wakes at 4am, works two jobs, goes to school, and then returns home to complete homework by flashlight in his bed. We have focused on immigrants after watching a powerful video called “Crossing Borders.” My students wrote reflections and answered questions regarding the lives of these individuals.

Yet, as we neared Thanksgiving, I realized that as fantastic as it was to read about the lives of others to develop empathy, it was time to act. We needed to “talk the talk” and “walk the walk.” My classes and I decided to “adopt” a family in need for the holidays. We committed to a “Pennies from Heaven Challenge” and planned to raise the money through a competition between my six class periods to earn the most points. I chose a family with one child, for whom the company we worked with suggested a goal of $150. Our fundraiser lasted for four weeks, and my students’ dedication and commitment raised a total of $272!

As exciting as the amount was – nearly double our goal – for me the most incredible thing was watching my students picking out gifts based on the child’s wish list and then wrapping those gifts. On multiple occasions, I heard them say, “Wow, she’s going to have the best Christmas of her life!” They recognized that their efforts had a real, positive effect on someone else – someone they had never met.

Ultimately, I can’t be sure how long this feeling of giving will stick with them. I frequently recount to them how great it felt, not only to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but to then do something about it. We are a long way from solving the conflicts of the world, but hopefully moments like these help to mold our students into the great humans they are on the verge of becoming.

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