Tag Archive: Empathy


Light on a Darkened Path

image

Maya Angelou spoke of the tenacious human spirit in her poem And Still I Rise. Viktor Frankl wrote about a choice of attitude in stories about his experience in a concentration camp. Malala Yousafzai speaks about the importance of our voices when others attempt to silence them. Mother Theresa’s actions spoke louder than her words. There are multiple examples, historical and current, that bring light in times when you perceive a gathering darkness.

imageDouglas Abrams’ book, The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, contains dialogues between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The wisdom shared in the dialogues from one man who lost his country when exiled from Tibet and the other who was the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, is sagacious, healing, and empowering. Here are ten quotes from the book:

“As one of the seven billion human beings, I believe everyone has the responsibility to develop a happier world. We need, ultimately, to have a greater concern for others’ well-being. In other words, kindness or compassion, which is lacking now. We must pay more attention to our inner values. We must look inside.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.” Dalai Lama

“Then after 1959, when I left Tibet, I started thinking, These people are just like me, same human being. If we think we are something special or not special enough, then fear, nervousness, stress, and anxiety arise. We are the same.” Dalai Lama

“Too much fear brings frustration. Too much frustration brings anger. So that’s the psychology, the system of mind, of emotion, which creates a chain reaction. With a self-centered attitude, you become distanced from others, then distrust, then feel insecure, then fear, then anxiety, then frustration, then anger, then violence.” Dalai Lama

“If you really feel a sense of concern for the well-being of others, then trust will come. That’s the basis of friendship.” Dali Lama

“…the more we heal our own pain, the more we can turn to the pain of others. But in a surprising way, what the Archbishop and the Dalai Lama were saying is that the way we heal our own pain is actually by turning to the pain of others. It is a virtuous cycle. The more we turn toward others, the more joy we experience, and the more joy we experience, the more we can bring joy to others.” Douglas Abrams

“But this being on earth is a time for us to learn to be good, to learn to be more loving, to learn to be more compassionate. And you learn, not theoretically, you learn when something happens that tests you.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“If we can have compassion for ourselves, and acknowledge how we feel afraid, hurt, or threatened, we can have compassion for others—possibly even for those who have evoked our anger.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

“The way through the sadness and grief that comes from great loss is to use it as motivation and to generate a deeper sense of purpose.” Dalai Lama

“You show your humanity by how you see yourself not as apart from others but from your connection to others.” Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Our collaborative purpose at SUNY Plattsburgh is focused on the success of our students. Doing this well during rancorous times in our country will take a mindful approach to modeling in words and actions. I wish each of you peace, purpose, and joy as we continue to create a caring community and world together.

 

Bonus: Maya Angelou shares the importance of words we speak in this 1 minute 27 second video.

EHHS Shared Values Highlighted
• Respect and Empathy
• Lifelong Learning/Growth
• Inclusion/Culturally Responsive
• Social Justice
• Broad Minded

References:

Abrams, D.C. (2016). The book of joy: Lasting happiness in a changing world. New York: Avery.

Light image (n.d.) Retrieved November 13, 2016 from: http://www.rabbisacks.org/the-road-less-travelled-published-in-the-islamic-monthly/

Book of Joy image(n.d.) Retrieved October 30, 2016 from: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Joy-Lasting-Happiness-Changing/dp/0399185046/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1477839575&sr=8-1&keywords=The+book+of+joy

The Heart and Soul of Teaching

Heart 3

Over the past five years, I have had the privilege of interviewing many people for teaching positions.  Hearing their life experiences and perspectives always is enlightening and often inspiring.  Their application packets typically contain a document detailing their teaching philosophies.  Theorists are often mentioned and the multiple ways in which students can learn and we can teach are discussed.  I always pay close attention to whether the applicant is student-focused rather than self-focused.

A recent example from popular media that demonstrated being student-focused came from Kyle Schwartz, an elementary teacher in Denver.  She passed out Post-it notes to her elementary students with a sentence to be completed that read, “I wish my teacher knew…”  As you may have seen, there was an amazing response to what the children wrote.  Many of them read their responses aloud in class, something Ms. Schwartz said created a deeper sense of community.  There were statements that often spoke to their struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Teachers across the country now are using this approach with their students and using the information to guide ways to better teach their students.  This approach by Ms. Schwartz speaks to the heart and soul of teaching.   Her holistic approach is a good example of heart, something else I look for in job applicants.

Make a difference John-F.-Kennedy

 

A recent applicant’s teaching philosophy addressed the holistic perspective of the learner; it was a student-focused philosophy with heart.  This applicant spoke to educating the whole person and stated, “…this type of learning depends on the creation of a space where adult learners can bring their experiences into conversation with the content.  Effective teaching offers a holding space for crisis in one’s assumptive world.”  Powerful discussions can challenge believe systems and cause disequilibrium; this is in addition to any disequilibrium that may already exist due to a student’s life circumstances.  As we come to the last weeks of the semester, instances of disequilibrium experienced by students get amplified under the pressure and stress of finishing the semester.  The disequilibrium provides powerful teaching moments that can help students improve problem solving, inner strength, persistence, and ability to push beyond perceived limits (AKA grit).  Are we seizing these teaching moments in our day-to-day interactions to help our students improve their grit?

The job applicant who sparked the idea for this blog quoted Henri Nouwen (1997) to support the position of working holistically with learners.

Teaching means the creation of the space in which the validity of the questions does not depend on the availability of answers, but on their capability to open us to new perspectives and horizons.  Teaching means to allow all the daily experiences of life such as loneliness, fear, anxiety, insecurity, doubt, ignorance, need for affection, support, and understanding, and the long cry for love to be recognized as and essential part of the quest for meaning.  This quest, precisely because it does not lead to ready answers but to new questions, is extremely painful and at times even excruciating.  But when we ignore, and thus deny, this pain in our students, we deprive them of their humanity.  The pain of the human search is a growing pain (p. 99).

The first sentence of the quote is powerful by itself.  The whole statement by Nouwen poignantly reminds us about the complexity of learning where the inner-self struggles with growth, thus leading to more questions.  In our standardized test society, our students may be more used to focusing on answers than questions, something that can result in greater struggle.  We know for some of our students, if not all, the path to the mind is often through the heart.  This is a path that allows for the persistence necessary to explore unanswered questions.

As we come to the end of the semester, we are faced with our own struggles to reach goals and meet student learning objectives.  As you focus on completing the semester, please take time with your students to “check in” and see how they are doing.  Not a “How are you doing?” with an expected, habitual, socially-polite response of “fine,” but a sincere inquiry into their well-being as they approach the end-of-semester challenges.  This holistic approach respects students’ hearts and souls.  It also will improve their ability to learn and discover deeper levels of grit.

Bonus:  Imagine if you handed your college students a Post-it note that said, “I wish my professor knew….”

EHHS Shared Values Addressed:
Respect and Empathy
Excellence in Teaching

 

Nouwen, H. (1997). Seeds of Hope: A Henri Nouwen Reader. R. Durbank (Ed.). New York, NY: Doubleday.

Image (2013). Retrieved April 19, 2015 from: http://br1ana01.deviantart.com/art/Flaming-Heart-352586111

Image (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2015 from: http://emilysquotes.com/one-person-can-make-a-difference-and-everyone-should-try/

Our Shared Values

 

Shared Values

Fall 2010 was when the EHHS faculty developed categories for their first shared values document.  Spring 2011, faculty breathed life into the document by creating examples that represented how each category was demonstrated with colleagues and with students.  The Shared Values document was revised/updated by the faculty this semester at our Community Gathering.  It is an honor to serve as Dean for mindful professionals who aspire to create a work environment that honors our shared values.

 

Education, Health, and Human Services
Shared Values

Respect and Empathy

  • Seek to understand before being understood
  • Listening to each other
  • Communicate with the person, not about the person, when there is conflict
  • Enter into differences of opinion and conflict with respect
  • Demonstrate compassion to evoke potential in students and colleagues
  • Share our challenges as well as our successes
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness,
  • Embrace diversity of opinions and perspectives


Excellence in Teaching

  • Clear expectations
  • Model passion and professionalism
  • Timely feedback
  • Effective assessment tools
  • Engage students
  • Recognize and respond to students’ needs


Lifelong Learning/Growth

  • Participate in professional development (inclusive of student participation)
  • Require applied assessment of student learning
  • Provide students exposure to professional experts within the community
  • Create an environment in which active engagement and learning are valued, respected, and expected.
  • Inspire critical thinking that challenges the way things have always been done

 

Inclusion/Culturally Responsive

  • Demonstrated awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Culturally responsive teaching
  • Self-reflection
  • Caring attitude
  • Courage to discuss sensitive issues and “sit with discomfort”
  • Continued learning, challenging and changing of our attitudes

 

Social Justice

  • Recognize social justice issues
  • Advocate to enhance social change
  • Enhance community responsibility/social responsibility

 

Helping Students Achieve Goals

  • Reaching out to struggling students
  • Challenge students to create connections, follow passions, and think critically
  • Empower students to realize goals
  • Provide real-life professional experiences

 

Service

  • Contact with the public – education and resources
  • Service learning
  • Help and support for local agencies
  • Model for students

 

Professionalism

  • Demonstrate ethical decision making/behavior across all settings
  • Dependability
  • Positive attitude
  • Appropriate boundaries
  • Being present
  • Make time to share and collaborate
  • Exhibit a strong work ethic
  • Earn respect of students, colleagues, and area professionals

 

Broad-minded

  • Take a creative perspective
  • Out-of-the box problem solving
  • Be non-dogmatic
  • Embrace multicultural perspectives
  • Evolve

 

Collaboration

  • Creativity
  • Team-teaching
  • Divergent thinking
  • Drawing on diverse perspectives

 

Honesty

  • Transparency
  • Openness about our limitations
  • Following through with our campus commitments: students, colleagues, college

 

Appreciation

  • Announce achievements
  • Celebrate success
  • Make time to celebrate success in the School of EHHS

We’re All In This Together

community-cropped

This time of year professors are grading, organizing the most pertinent information for the last class, and preparing to give final exams.  Support staff members are dedicated to helping the whole operation run smoothly. Students are completing projects, finishing assignments, and preparing for finals; some are preparing to graduate.  The well of motivation may seem almost dry for some, which results in additional trips to the well of discipline.  Even with appropriate discipline, the compressed collection of events and responsibilities can start to feel chaotic as we race toward the finish line for this academic year. 

Margaret Wheatley has written and spoken a lot about chaos.  She says that when there is chaos, people and organizations operate best when they have a good set of values and that the values are best when centered on community.   Margaret Wheatley (2011) said, “Whatever is the problem, community is the answer” (Check out the YouTube link in the reference).   This is critical at the end of the year when feelings of stress and chaos from multiple goals and responsibilities are felt at a deeper level.  If we let negative feelings rule rather than focusing on our shared values, then there is a risk of toxicity in the learning/work environment.

As professionals, we are all called upon to be leaders as we model for our students and honor the values that make us good community members.  With this in mind, I share some questions from Dan Rockwell (2013) who stated that exceptional leaders focus on the “how” and not the “what” when confronted with the potential for toxicity.  His suggested questions are:

How are we connecting?
How do we support each other?
How does the team feel?
How is respect expressed?

These are excellent questions that are aligned well with the shared values of our community.  A positive academic learning environment and work environment depend on how we answer these questions.  This is the time of year when we need to connect more deeply to support each other’s success.  Respect and empathy are our top shared values.  As a reminder, here is what we developed together:

Respect and Empathy

  • Seek to understand before being understood
  • Listening to each other
  • Share what is most important
  • Share our challenges as well as our successes
  • Trust
  • Open-mindedness, acceptance of perspectives
  • Embrace diversity of opinions

Focusing on the values of respect and empathy provide good insurance against toxic dumping in the workplace and academic learning environment.  One of the ways we can define success over the next two weeks is if we are able to honor this work together in our community.   

Bonus: “The hopes and dreams of youth are in our hands; their goals and aspirations are shaped through their encounters with us.  Positive memories of teachers are reserved for particular and special people: the teacher who touched your heart, the teacher who understood you or who cared about you as a person, the teacher whose passion for something…was infectious and energizing” (Ayers, p. 17). 

References

Ayers, W. (2010). To teach: the journey of a teacher (2nd ed). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Rockwell, D. (2013, May 3). Confronting toxicity: Toxic environments are the result of tolerating toxicity.  Retrieved from  http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/confronting-toxicity/

Wheatley, M. (2011, June 7). Authority on Leadership in Chaotic Times. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgabFLvMB5I 

Image (2012). Retrieved May 5, 2013 from: https://www.canwestpropane.com/images/default-album/community-cropped.jpg

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