How Can We Work to Consistently Cultivate Values of Thoughtfulness and Empathy Without Directly Teaching it?

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this question:

Atmosphere of school

In early 2000 British school evaluators were invited to visit some Finnish schools. I was wondering how it is possible that people who don’t even understand our language, can get any picture from our school? Later when I was myself a principal and had the opportunity to visit in many schools around Finland and some aboard, I did understand. Only looking, doing observations how students, teacher-student and teacher-teacher meet and talk to each other, you can get a picture of the atmosphere of the school. Also looking the corridors and common spaces, you get the idea of how students and their work are respected in the school.

In my opinion the ground for good learning environment for students is the prevalent human understanding of staff. How attended the teacher is with every student. I have seen schools where teachers did not say good day when passing by a student! I have been in situations when teacher is more bullying than educating student. Mostly I have seen teachers with sincere care and interest to the student’s life. School has to have values which everyone in the school knows. Every year there comes new students in the school so those values are good for them to know too.  The leader of the school has the most important role to maintain and show that values are respected in the school community.


Photo: Steve Weaver

Role of teacher

How we behave in daily situations in school? We have hundreds of ears and eyes around us. We are role models for students all the time, even we are not conscious about it.  We can operate as agents of high ethics modelling acceptance and empathy. Furthermore, as teachers it is important to promote the development of social and emotional skills and knowledge in our students that promote mindfulness, empathy and compassion. We can be facing situations like bulling where we are expected to have opinion or solution to solve the situation.

It is important that as teachers we have common ideas when building the rules of schools. Are the rules of the school more for discipline or as a guideline to increase young people’s understanding of wrong and right? There are still schools in this world which have detention time instead of having discussions why the student did something not acceptable. In some countries teachers are still allowed to use a cane to hit and discourage the student! These practices support distrust and unfairness. How to promote the values of thoughtfulness and empathy?

What role do we give for students in the school?

I am so proud of the ways how the biggest celebrations are organized in my school. All the students from the grades 5, 3 and 1 are performing in the end of autumn term.  All students from the grades 6, 4 and 2 are performing in the end of spring term. Teachers have planned such program numbers that every child has a role. Every child is appreciated and have an important role in school community.

In many countries students have their own school faculty, where they learn how to influence and give their opinion what they want to have or change in the school practices. What about when they have a change in planning of their studies? In the Finnish curriculum this is one of the most interesting adding to student’s rights.

Shortly, celebrating unity diversity in different level, opens the doors to ethics and support high values of thoughtfulness and empathy. I hope that schools provide the best education opportunities for every child across the globe.  I hope that schools sets students on positive life tracks that will carry humankind, today and tomorrow.