At Empatico, we know how powerful sharing human stories can be. This year, we are featuring some of the amazing and inspiring stories of our community members each month. Our first spotlight is on 3rd-grade educator Syndie White of Palm Beach Florida. Our team fell in love with her personality and passion for teaching a few months ago, and now we’re thrilled to introduce her to the broader Empatico community.
1. Tell us about yourself!
My name is Syndie White, I am a 3rd-grade teacher at The Conservatory School @ North Palm Beach in Palm Beach County, Florida. I teach math, science, social studies, and humanities. I am going into my 10th year of teaching and love that our school is grounded in STEM and Project-Based Learning principles. I am a mom of two amazing little ones, Alana (8) and Aaron (5). My parents were both born in Haiti, and I am a first-generation American and proud Haitian-American.
2. What is your favorite morning circle activity to do with your class?
I love incorporating games and activities that engage our learning community while providing a space for students to connect and explore our core competencies. These include activities that target self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. We play games that allow us to move around the room, create songs, dances, artwork, etc. that connect to our competencies.
3. What sparked your interest in the education sector?
When I was in elementary school, my mother passed away on her birthday. I was in a state of solitude, unable to imagine how I would cope without her. However, educators played a critical role and gave me hope and I started to view life from a positive perspective. My teachers filled the void of the love and affection I desperately longed for. I can recall Mrs. Whitaker from James S. Hunt Elementary, who cared about me, celebrated my achievements, encouraged me, and reminded me that I was loved. Her words continue to fuel my passion for education and desire to be Mrs. Whitaker one day.
4. How have you been able to stay grounded in your work during the highs and lows of the pandemic?
The pandemic certainly added a level of stress and anxiety to educators, students, and families unlike any we have experienced. Even with this, I have to admit that my classes during the midst of school closures and virtual teaching are those I feel connected with on a deeper level. I came to know their families, and was able to visit each of my students’ homes as I dropped off art supplies prizes and more.
“When I look into my classroom alone, I see so many cultures represented and fully understand all my students can learn from lessons on cultures from around the world. An understanding of other cultures not only builds empathy, but it allows students to understand that differences make us all so special. The exposure to others also sheds light on the many misconceptions many students have about different cultures.“
5. We’re at a turning point in education right now. What is exciting you most about the education landscape right now? How would you like to see education change in the next few years?
The fact that we are focusing on the whole child as opposed to strictly focusing on standards is exciting. The idea that we are now looking at educating children through a multifaceted lens is exciting. I would like to see education evolve into an arena where a child’s needs are met emotionally and academically with the same degree of care. Some students carry so much into school and should enter school and classrooms knowing they are in a safe place, where they will be fully seen and valued for who they are and all they bring to the table.
6. Why is empathy important to you? When do you find yourself using empathy skills in your daily life?
Empathy is important because it forces us to fully see others and understand how our words, action, and/or inaction impacts them. Empathy allows us to build safe learning environments where learners know that having a bad day is a part of everyone’s reality and so our reaction to bad days can mirror how we would like to be treated. Empathy also allows us to extend our care outside of our own learning space and think of the needs and challenges being faced by people outside of our classroom.
7. Why is it important to expose children to peers from different cultures and backgrounds?
Our school remains a treasure trove of culture and identity. When I look into my classroom alone, I see so many cultures represented and fully understand all my students can learn from lessons on cultures from around the world. An understanding of other cultures not only builds empathy, but it allows students to understand that differences make us all so special. The exposure to others also sheds light on the many misconceptions many students have about different cultures.
8. Since it’s Women’s History Month, can you share your experience as a woman in the education space? How can we continue to uplift women educators?
Education is one profession where women are well represented. Throughout my career as an educator, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by women who have served as mentors and role models. There is something so very special about sitting in a room with a woman who you look up to, knowing that she wants you to succeed just as much as you want it for yourself. Many of my school leaders, and professors have been women and in each of them, I am able to see a piece of the educator I want to become. Their strength, determination, leadership skills, and the ability to manage it all allows me to see myself in them daily. That is the power of representation!
Syndie White served as the 2021 Palm Beach County Teacher of the Year and was a top-five finalist for Florida’s 2021 Teacher of the Year. Her professional achievements include being named the 2021 William T. Dwyer awardee for STEM education, Math Teacher of the Year in 2019, STEM Innovation awardee from the South Florida Science Center in 2019, and a Life Changer of the Year nominee. White, a Nationally STEM Certified educator at The Conservatory School, teaches math, science, social studies, and humanities. Syndie White is currently a doctoral candidate at Lynn University, where her research centers on project-based learning and literacy. She extends her reach beyond the classroom by presenting at professional conferences, collaborating with international organizations, and serving on statewide committees to improve access and equity in education for students.