Learning about Kindness and Empathy

One of our teachers mentioned during a panel discussion last year that the more important lessons we teach in lower school happen “in between” the curriculum. As a faculty, we have been coming together over the past few weeks to discuss recent events tied to Gilman School and ways that we can foster an environment that is inclusive, empathetic, and kind. Those are some of the lessons that can happen in between the curriculum. “Where do we actively teach those important character traits during the school day?” was one subject of this week’s faculty meeting. Teachers brainstormed on post-it notes about the many ways we infuse character lessons into daily activities as well as lessons that might be added into our curriculum moving forward. There was overwhelming consensus that in order to have good moral citizens as graduates of our upper school, we must begin the lessons right here in our lower school. Teachers noted things currently being done such as: read-alouds that highlight diversity, using news stories from Newsela articles to promote good discussion, using French folktales to demonstrate morality, tolerance, and forgiveness, discussions in music class around the origins of Jazz, Blues, Spirituals that were shaped by slavery and segregation, teaching accountable talk (“I respectfully disagree”, “Can you explain more?”), and general celebrations of kind acts (Team Greyhound and Kindness Week). In addition, on blue post-its teachers brainstormed ideas for extending these activities including: building in more hands-on community outreach opportunities, researching and writing about cultures different from the student’s, spending more time on team building activities, involving other schools and (girls specifically) into class activities, and explicitly teaching empathy.


I have written in this blog about our desire to build design based thinking into areas of the curriculum. The first aspect of DBT is to use empathy to decide what people around us may need to be happy, feel safe, or enjoy a better life. As we look at empathy lessons, design thinking may play a role. The other week in Makerspace Class the boys in Prep One chose a small plastic character and gave it feelings and needs. They created a “home” for their character based on what each boy felt was necessary for a happy, safe life. As they shared their creations with each other, it was evident that they realized that basic comfort must come first; soft beds, food, toys took precedence over luxury. It was lovely to hear them discuss their thinking. One young man asked me for glow sticks for his house because his character often was scared at night and a nightlight was a necessary item. What an awesome example of empathy driving design! I recently heard a TED talk about how to solve the world’s most difficult problems, not with high tech, but with simple, basic ideas. I have included a link below for your entertainment.

Ted Talk

I hope everyone is able to enjoy a happy and safe Thanksgiving. The holiday season will be a busy one in Lower School. When we return, our focus for 2108 will be to continue finding ways to infuse kindness and empathy into the curriculum.



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- What did you enjoy about your Friendship Feast?


  • If you are in Prep-One- How did you construct a strong tower in Makerspace class this week?
  • If you are in First Grade- Did you make it to the morning drop in to Makerspace this week? What do you enjoy making the most when you create? Have you made anything recently on the Lego Wall?
  • If you are in Second Grade- How did you enjoy the third grade wax museum? What character would you like to research and perform next year?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Did you enjoy performing at the Wax Museum this week? What classmate had a character speech or background that you admired?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- What book are you choosing to read for your book club event with Bryn Mawr coming up?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- What was the experience of the Holocaust like for Mrs. Baitch who spoke with you this week?
Working together to explore ideas in the novel Number the Stars.



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