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Global Cooperation Starts with our Students –An Empatico Teacher’s Work Teaching Empathy and Understanding

By Geoff Wood
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Human connection is our best hope for peace and wellness. Understanding others helps us better understand ourselves while seeking balance and future-oriented solutions.

There are significant issues facing humanity and we must work together to find solutions; collaboration is more powerful than just connecting or cooperating. As teachers, we have the opportunity to inculcate this way of thought in our students. 

Exposing Children to Peers from Different Cultures and Backgrounds

I am a senior teacher who has the privilege of welcoming over 400 different students through his classroom each week. My students range from 11 to 18 years of age, and they visit my classroom for a dose of what the curriculum calls health education. In reality this class focuses on expanding knowledge, skills and attitudes to build and maintain wellness across their lifespan. An important part of my day is building ‘global competence’ which includes the understanding of oneself and appreciation of others.

Fostering human to human connection is not only critical for world peace and stability, but it also improves students’ overall wellness. For example, over the past 19 years we have engaged our senior students as teachers of the elementary/primary school through a program called Over the Back Fence (OtBF). First, we connected to younger classrooms within New Zealand teaching weekly health and safety messages. Then, we quickly extended to classrooms in Australia, Fiji, Cook Islands, India, Bangladesh, Japan and Indonesia. In a short span of time, we had connected to over 100 classrooms around the world!

I am privileged to work on empathy skills with my students as I observe a group of young teens engaging and encouraging, with care and empathy, another group of youngsters, some are disabled and separated from mainstream education and community. Watching my students work with students in places like rural South Africa on a weekly basis provides such a wonderful ‘state-of-mind’. 

The Ocean that Connects Us Project

My colleagues and I use Empatico principles to socialize and grow ‘human’ understanding and skills, so that our students’ working groups can collaborate and better use the support of academics to build their projects.

I am excited about a new project called TOTCUS (The Ocean that Connects US), which involves a colleague in Chile and I forming a cohort consisting of twenty-one of my students in Auckland with eighteen students in Southern Chile. These students engage in a multiyear inquiry exploring opportunities to mitigate climate change. This project is now being replicated on a larger scale across the Pacific.

How Older Students Can Mentor Younger Students

As an advocate for students, I believe these resources are opportunities for my students. Students grow from these experiences and empathize with others.

By exposing students different cultures, they learn about others which in turn increases their understanding and appreciation of their own culture.