Exploring the Ideas of Empathy and Stewardship

Late last week our fifth grade boys designed a fundraiser to help support the efforts of the Water for South Sudan foundation. After reading A Long Walk to Water in reading class, the boys felt moved by the story of villagers in Sudan having to walk miles every day to get clean drinking water. In science class the boys are exploring the water crisis the world will face if not careful with this scarce resource. Filled with empathy for the plight of so many in the world, the fifth grade boys made posters and announcements about a dress-down day to help fund a well. They raised over $400. and felt proud of their accomplishment.

Our Prep-one boys presented “The Great Kapok Tree” play in class this week. Parents and boys in grades K-2 were treated to a story about the rainforest. This tale presents the idea that we must protect our environment for future generations. During a Morning Meeting, this theme was continued with a reading of the book Seeds of Change by Jen Cullerton Johnson. The story tells of Wangari Maathai who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her environmental work in Kenya. We discussed what is meant by the term stewardship (our value of the month at Gilman lower school), and the boys made the connection with their own stewardship efforts last week.

Teaching the boys to think and care for others is a priority here in the lower school. We use “teachable moments” on the playground and weave the idea of empathy for others and stewardship for the world into lessons on a daily basis. One example of many this week was the lesson being shared in a second grade assembly on Friday. The boys had read books about the hardships of being an immigrant to America and this was made even more relevant when a second grade parent spoke to the boys about her family’s move from Egypt to America when she was a girl. She shared about her culture but also discussed the sacrifices of moving from one country to another and having to start over. The boys had great questions and seemed to really understand the significance of the lesson.


Design based thinking, which I have written about recently, uses empathy as a tool to generate ideas for innovation. What needs do others have, what can be made more useful or more pleasing for others? The Prep-one boys explored this idea recently in our makerspace class. They selected superheros or imaginary individuals from a kit design called “Extraordinaires” I purchased from Europe. They then selected a card that told them what their character needed- a protection device, a communication tool, a shelter, etc. The boys had to remove “themselves” from the project and consider the needs of others. After careful construction, they shared their ideas and prototypes with the class. There were some “extraordinary” ideas!


I have written about teaching empathy on several blog posts in recent years. Years ago, when I began my teaching career, I don’t remember the term being so front and center. Now it is discussed in educational books and articles with frequency. I have some articles linked to my blog post on empathy from last year if you are interested. As you read about the many happenings here in the lower school from Dr. Webster’s newsletter posts, to homeroom blogs, to Gilman tweets and website articles, no doubt many will reflect our desire to teach the boys the joy of putting others first and making service to others a priority.



I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire conversation with your son or sons. Here are some “talking points” based on recent school events.



  • If you are in Kindergarten- How are your songs coming for the Mother’s Day Tea? What did you enjoy about the fourth grade play this week- “Substitute Creature”?
  • If you are in Prep-One- What do you feel went well in the play this week? What did you do with the “rainforest”? What is a savannah?
  • If you are in First Grade- What happened to classmates’ wagons while attempting to cross the river in science class this week? What are some of the stop-action movies you and your classmates are making in class and during free time?
Exploring the wagon water crossing with Mr. James and first grade!
  • If you are in Second Grade- What did you learn about Egypt from Mrs. Tadros this Friday? What sacrifices did her family make to come to America from Egypt?
  • If you are in Third Grade- What did you enjoy about the trip to Harper’s Ferry on Friday? What types of things did Meriwether Lewis need to pack for the trip across the Louisiana Purchase?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- How are you wiring your art project trees in science class? What lessons did you learn from the 4B play this week?
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Singing the “Gilman Five” at the end of the class play!
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What does “stewardship” mean? How does that relate to your fundraiser last week? How did you prepare for the Pi Day competition? Who won and how did they study and remember so many digits of Pi? What did you create during your Makerspace morning time last week?

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