Teaching Tolerance

Stack of young students' hands with colourful background

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Positive messaging leaves people with the action we want them to remember to undertake, instead of what we want them to avoid. For example, we ask students to "please work silently" instead of saying, "no talking." Taking that approach to bullying, we can help students to understand one another and teach tolerance, laying a foundation for respect. 

One way to help students make room for compassion is to help them see the world from new perspectives. By sharing stories from other cultures, we help students open their minds to the understanding that ours is not the only way to view the world. Encourage students to read and listen to stories about characters who are different from themselves. Allow them space to ask their questions and discuss their reactions. 

Keep Kindness In Mind

As your conversation grows, encourage students to make empathy part of their daily habits and routines. This will help ensure that kindness continues to be second nature, thereby eliminating possibility for the negativity that leads to bullying. 

  • Practice Random Acts of Kindness: On Monday, begin with a class brainstorm of ways you can provide random acts of kindness as a group. Flesh out a few ideas over the next couple days. Implement your idea(s) on Friday. Ask students to reflect on the process and their own emotions and reactions over the weekend. The following week, repeat the process by creating a list of acts students can undertake individually. This is a great project for the beginning of the school year because you can revisit throughout the year.
  • Caught Being Kind: Set up a station where students can "report" observations of others' showing kindness. Create some Kindness Report slips and allow students to anonymously share. You can choose a time to share, anonymously or by recognizing students' compassion. 
  • Listen to a Story: Curate a list of titles that provide a variety of perspectives or assign all your students to listen to the same title. Create discussion groups and encourage students to share the ways in which they relate to (or do not relate to) the events and characters in the story.

Fresh Perspectives

Social Empathy by Elizabeth Segal

Our ability to understand others and help others understand us is essential to our individual and collective well-being. Yet there are many barriers that keep us from walking in the shoes of others: fear, skepticism, and power structures that separate us from those outside our narrow groups. In Social Empathy, Elizabeth A. Segal explains how we can develop our ability to understand one another and have compassion toward different social groups. When we are socially empathic, we not only imagine what it is like to be another person, but we consider their social, economic, and political circumstances and what shaped them. Segal explains the evolutionary and learned components of interpersonal and social empathy, including neurobiological factors and the role of social structures. Ultimately, empathy is not only a part of interpersonal relations: it is fundamental to interactions between different social groups and can be a way to bridge diverse people and communities.

It Ain't All For Nothing by Walter Dean Myers

Life in Harlem isn't easy, but Tippy and his grandmother are doing okay. Then Grandma Carrie gets sick, and Tippy goes to live with Lonnie, his father. Lonnie's got his own thing going on, and he doesn't have much room in his life for a son he barely knows -- unless, that is, Tippy is willing to walk the far side of the fine line between right and wrong. Grandma Carrie always said if he had Jesus in his heart there wasn't anything to worry about, but sometimes it's not that simple. When the chips are down, will Tippy be able to call for help -- and is there anyone out there who will listen?

The Serendipity of Flightless Things by Fiadhnait Moser

Amidst the 1971 Troubles between the Irish Republican Army and Northern Ireland, twelve-year-old Finn lives in a world of her own of fairy tales. Raised by her grandmother, Nuala, who is the village storyteller, Finn spends her days playing make-believe in the forest, weaving tall tales to tell her friend Darcy, longing to go to the island of Inis Eala to meet the swans there, and waiting for her father to return from the war. When Darcy becomes lost at sea and Nuala suddenly passes away, Finn is shipped off to Starlight Valley, Virginia, to live with her long-lost mother, Aoife, and half-sister, Posy-Kate. Finn is initially excited to get to know her newfound family, but she can't help but notice that things are a bit unusual. The town is encircled by thorn trees, and even stranger is Aoife's house, where the walls are covered with swan feathers and decorated with swan heads--and Aoife's shoes appear to be made out of swan bills. Finn tries to ignore the sinking feeling that something isn't right, but she starts to believe that what's happening isn't random. Instead, it's taken directly from one of her grandmother's famous folktales, The Children of Lir, where a scorned mother turns all of her children into swans. But Finn stopped believing in those stories a long time ago . . . could they actually be true?

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