My year as a Roots of Empathy Instructor – Rebecca Leslie


Roots of Empathy volunteer instructor plays with baby on the green blanket with students and mom watching
Roots of Empathy Instructor Rebecca Leslie with Baby Kinsley, Mom Sarah and Grade 3 students at Gateway Elementary School in Toronto

I had the incredible privilege of volunteering with Roots of Empathy the very first year my family and I moved to Ontario. What a strong, timeless message that we send to kids, parents, and the community: tucked safely within relationships which are secure and nurturing, empathy blossoms and, from that, the world becomes a little bit kinder, one child at a time.

As luck would have it, I got to teach the Roots of Empathy program in a Grade 3 class hosting a mother who is also a valued teacher at the same school! On maternity leave with our teaching baby, our Roots of Empathy mom still maintained strong connections with many of the children and facilitated my bonding with the students.

We watched our baby Kinsley for communication signs to indicate hunger, fatigue, excitement, and over stimulation. We focused on the unique bond and attunement between mother and child, fascinated by how baby Kinsley’s unique character and independence developed over the 10 months with her. We learned about the realities and responsibilities that come hand-in-hand with parenting: changing diapers, feeding, and safety, to name a few. We greeted our baby with songs, celebrated first teeth as well as first steps, and engaged with her in stimulating activities. We became familiar with temperament and what that means for our tiny teacher as well as for ourselves. Finally, we addressed issues that are common to both babies and humans of all ages: we all have unique needs, crave safety and security, and can learn to better interpret our own and others’ emotions. Most importantly, we learned that by understanding our baby’s, our own, and our classmates’ commonalities and differences, we can also strive to develop empathy for everyone.

One of my favorite moments in our classroom was reading storybooks after baby Kinsley’s visits which flawlessly linked universal concepts to what we had just learned about her. The dedicated classroom teacher and I would then engage in challenging conversations with these young thinkers and help them link these concepts to similar, familiar experiences. Another valuable and unexpected take-away for me that first year with Roots of Empathy was that my then 5-year-old son learned about babies, attunement and empathy in such a unique way as I prepared my material at home. Without ever meeting our baby, my own son learned so much just by hearing about my experiences and seeing pictures of Kinsley as she grew.

At the year-end baby celebration for Toronto, one of my students from Syria was asked to speak. Nervous speaking in a second language he was so committed to learning, he was able to convey the essential message that our class took away that year: everyone wants to feel safe, heard, appreciated, and understood, regardless of age, background, or life experience.

I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that teaching Roots of Empathy in that classroom made a world of difference for those kids who have now brought empathy and understanding into their own unique contexts. Empathy and kindness have a contagion effect and I am overjoyed to be part of this social change!


Rebecca Leslie, Roots of Empathy Instructor


To hear Rebecca Leslie and mom Sarah Walker talk about their experience in the classroom, you can listen to their radio interview with Gill Deacon on CBC’s Hear and Now.



September 4th, 2018

10-year-olds open up about Roots of Empathy


Sometimes – well, a lot of times – kids get it. Really get it. They’re learning sponges and when the learning is experiential, it goes deep. And changes them.

You can see a remarkable example of that in a recent CNN report from London, UK, where 10-year-olds in a Roots of Empathy class room explain what has happened to them and their classmates with the help of ‘their’ baby Evelyn – powerful Baby Evelyn.


cnn baby holding clear glass orb children and adults in background


From Mohammad: “Before it was rough and … no one listened but once Evelyn came we started to get calm.”

From Abrahim: “Before I’d be like, to be honest, I was a bit mean to some people, but now I’ve changed a lot and I’m kind to my friends.”

Eighteen years of research shows that with Roots of Empathy bullying goes down and prosocial behaviours such as helping, caring, sharing and including go up, but it’s comments like these that bring that research to life. It’s very real.

It works for many reasons, one of which is the Roots of Empathy instructor who guides the children through their experience by asking questions, not telling.  “When you’re feeling upset or a bit frustrated, how do you regulate yourself?  What do you do to make sure you feel a bit calmer?” The children reflect and find their own answers. That’s learning that lasts.

Watch the 3-minute CNN video, Babies fighting bullying.  You’ll see what we mean.


August 17th, 2018

Mary Gordon receives the Governor General’s Innovation Award

News Release
Monday May 14, 2018


We are very pleased to announce that Roots of Empathy Founder and President Mary Gordon has received the Governor General’s Innovation Award. Ms. Gordon will receive the award May 23, 2018 at Rideau Hall, Ottawa.

The awards “recognize and celebrate outstanding Canadian individuals, teams and organizations – trailblazers and creators who contribute to our country’s success, who help share our future and who inspire the next generation…building an inclusive, compassionate society will be the keys to Canada’s success as a caring, efficient and prosperous nation.”

Social entrepreneur Mary Gordon is undoubtedly a trailblazer whose mission has been to build caring, civil and peaceful societies. Her first innovation was creating Canada’s first school based parenting programs, Ontario’s Parenting and Family Literacy Centres, which have been replicated around the world.

“Early on I witnessed families suffering through domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect. The common denominator was the absence of empathy. I wanted to prove that birth is not destiny. I started Roots of Empathy to give children the opportunity to spend a whole year with a deep connection to a neighbourhood parent and infant who naturally demonstrate secure attachment and attunement, and are the best model of empathy in the world.”

Ms. Gordon envisioned empathy as a peace pill that could go beyond the classroom to the boardroom and the war room, and thus created Roots of Empathy in 1996. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood parent and baby who visit a classroom over the course of a school year. A Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s development and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “teacher” and a catalyst to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others – empathy. The Instructor, using an accredited curriculum, also teaches a class the week before and after each family visit. Independent research confirms the impact of this unprecedented program and its success in reducing aggression and bullying and increasing empathy, fostering greater kindness, co-operation and sharing among students. The program has been replicated in schools across Canada and in ten other countries.

Mary Gordon is recognized internationally as an award-winning social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert who has created programs informed by the power of empathy. She is a Member of the Order of Canada, the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador, the recipient of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and Diamond Jubilee Medals, has an Honourary Doctorate from Memorial University and is Canada’s first Ashoka Fellow.


For more information or to interview Mary Gordon, please contact: Cheryl Jackson, Roots of Empathy Director, Communications and Marketing:

To learn more about Roots of Empathy, please visit

To read more about the Governor General’s Innovation Awards, please visit



May 15th, 2018

The Trans Experience in Education

What happens when you hear the people you love say things like “And to think his mother wanted a boy” or “It would be easier if you transitioned in the south”? How do you navigate a world where you can’t be who you know you are without feeling shame and fear? And what happens when you finally do let the world know who you really are? These are the questions Claire Birkenshaw answered for us at our Speaker Series about the trans experience in education.

Claire was the first person to transition while working as a school principal in the UK. She now consults, advocates and speaks about her experience.  Claire wants education, and society, to learn and adapt.  She wants children to see her as a role model who lives her life with truth and integrity, so that they can too.  Since her talk, Claire has been nominated for Positive Role Model of the Year by the National Diversity Awards in the UK. We’re thrilled and we think she deserves the award.



While in Toronto, Claire also visited a TDSB Grade 8 Roots of Empathy classroom where she told students the story of her transition. The students called her ‘inspirational’ and said it takes kindness and empathy to include those who are different in any way.




Claire’s talk was deeply moving – she took us with her on her personal journey. Here it is.



– Cheryl Jackson



February 23rd, 2018