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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.

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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.

What is the Best Gift You Would Recommend for Your Students this Holiday Season?

I was honored to be named in Top Global Teacher Bloggers / CMRubinWorld.com / Global Search for Education http://www.cmrubinworld.com/TGTB. The bloggers on this list have been asked to contribute to Huffington Post’s Education blogs for 2016. This month we look to answer the following highly controversial question “ What is the best gift you would recommend for your students this holiday season?”

My December blog writer is Kirsti Savikko, my sister, Headteacher in Kähäri school,Turku, Finland.

In Finland we are closing our fall term at school. 18 weeks of hard labour! Well, not only hard  we’ve had some fun, too. We have familiarized ourselves with the new curriculum OPS2016 since August. Some things – hopefully – have changed a lot and some things have remained the same. We believe that students in ages 7-12 learn best by playing. In a good, educational play:

– you have to take others in condiseration

– you have to find your best way to reach the goal

– you have to follow the rules

– you sometimes have to find the right questions

– you sometimes have to play together with an other player

– you have to strive to the end – even if you don’t like the game!

I could go on this list forever but I think you’ve got the idea.

So what do I tell my students to do during the holiday? Play games? Perhaps. Get some rest? Sleep late? Forget the school? Read some extra? Reread the subjects? This list could also be quite long.

But what I really would like to give them is a gift. Not just any gift or present wrapped in a silver paper. The gift of dreaming.

I’d urged them to reminisce when they small, smaller than today. When they were small and they still believed in Santa (who honestly lives in Finland!). When December started, Christmas carols were heard in the malls, mother baked gingerbreads, father looked mysterious, everyone being nice and helpful…. To catch that feeling again. Waiting for something special to happen. Not really knowing what or when. But the sense of expectation, the warm feeling, the tickle in the stomach… that feeling is worth the search. It will give them a huge amount of motivation, duration and eagerness for the coming spring term.

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Photo: Maarit Rossi

Sometimes the reality is something very different. There is no warmth around you. Nothing to expect. No one to share it with. And the future looks frightening. If you have this one gift – the gift of  dreaming, you can fight your miseries, you can leave them behind if only for a little while. Maybe the thing you expect and want most is the school start. There you have people who care about you. Want the best for you. And believe me, the school will begin again in January!

The things we want or need can be very different. But the ability to dream and hope is the one gift that can save us.

Joyful Season Greetings