Regarding empathy specifically, a very clear example of this was while in the process of building our playground (part of exploring sustainability through PBL). I was thinking of how to bring up the topic of ableism naturally and organically. It turns out that one of my students has a sister who uses a wheelchair. The kids learned a lot from her descriptions of what a big deal having accessible swings and other playground equipment was for her and her family. The kids “redesigned” their playground to be accessible. They were horrified, while researching, to learn that pieces of accessible playground equipment run for tens of thousands of dollars!
Each aspect of my teaching philosophy is equally important. As teachers, we are “on” at all times. We model behavior for our students: how to treat colleagues and superiors, how to deal with problems or a bad day. This past summer I remember one of my sixth-graders telling a fellow student who had grabbed something of hers, “You’re not being helpful!” She was reflecting what I always tell them when they are misbehaving, instead of saying “you’re being ‘bad’” or some other value judgment. I laughed, but it struck me how much the old adage about kids being sponges applies even to the stuff you’re not explicitly out to teach them.