In society, we generally measure what we treasure. Traditionally, schools have measured children's competence in subject areas. Roots of Empathy measures the affective side of children's knowledge, understanding, and attitudes.”
- Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy
Why should society be interested in a program that focuses on children's social/emotional competence?
The incidence of bullying and aggression experienced by school children is problematic. Beyond the fact that no child should ever be made to feel vulnerable, insecure, threatened or victimized by violence, aggression in the school environment can inhibit learning and create interpersonal problems for children. Moreover, a high level of childhood aggression is problematic in the long term as it is a significant predictor of adult criminal behaviour and other anti-social behaviours (Broidy et al., 2003; Nagin & Tremblay, 1999).
It is often overlooked that in 85 per cent of school bullying episodes there are onlookers and bystanders (Pepler & Craig, 1995). These witnesses, our children, are being adversely affected. Unlike other programs that address bullying by targeting the victim or bully, Roots of Empathy works universally with the whole class. The program teaches perspective taking skills that enable all students to gain insight into how others feel and develop a sense of social responsibility for each other. In the ROE classroom, children are empowered to challenge cruelty whether it is in the form of bullying or meanness.
Research on Roots of Empathy
Since 2000, there have been nine independent evaluations of the effectiveness of Roots of Empathy, as well as two reviews of the program as a whole. For a summary click here.
Consistently Positive Results
Results showed that compared to comparison groups, Roots of Empathy children demonstrated:
- Increase in social and emotional knowledge
- Decrease in aggression
- Increase in prosocial behaviour (e.g. sharing, helping and including)
- Increase in perceptions among ROE students of the classroom as a caring environment
- Increased understanding of infants and parenting
- Lasting results
In 2001, the Government of Manitoba commissioned a three-year follow-up study of Roots of Empathy, measuring prosocial behaviour, physical aggression, and indirect aggression. Results show a significant improvement in all three behaviours in Roots of Empathy children immediately after the program, with improvements in behaviours maintained three years later, and some behaviours continuing to show improvement.
Other Program Evaluations
A University of Missouri report by Dr. Marvin Berkowitz titled What Works in Character Education: A Report for Policy Makers and Opinion Leaders reviewed character education programs and concluded that there was scientific evidence of the effectiveness of Roots of Empathy, and particularly strong evidence for its potential to reduce aggression and violence.
"Roots of Empathy is an effective school-based curriculum for fostering the development of student character." (Berkowitz and Bier, 2005)
Researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto evaluated the degree to which the methods and approaches support character education. They concluded that Roots of Empathy is an effective program for developing social and emotional learning, based on scientific research on child development and personal and professional experience of leading educators and health practitioners.
"By providing many opportunities to see skills modeled, to apply these same skills in real-life situations, and to reflect on their learning, the program increases the chances that students will develop competencies that will guide their future behaviours and shape their dispositions." (Rolheiser and Wallace, 2005)
Berkowitz, M., and Bier, M. (2005) What Works in Character Education: A Report for Policy Makers and Opinion Leaders. Character Education Partnership.
Broidy, L.M., Tremblay, R.E., Brame, B., Fergusson, D., Horwood, J.L., Laird, R., Moffitt, T.E., Nagin, D.S., Bates, J.E., Dodge, K.A., Loeber, R., Lynam, D.R., Pettit, G. S., and Vitaro, F. (2003) Developmental Trajectories of Childhood Disruptive Behaviours and Adolescent Delinquency: A Six-Site, Cross-National Study. Developmental Psychology, 39 (2), 222-245.
Nagin, D., and Tremblay, R.E. (1999) Trajectories of Boys? Physical Aggression, Opposition, and Hyperactivity on the Path to Physically Violent and Nonviolent Juvenile Delinquency. Child Development, 70 (5), 1181-1196.
Pepler, D.J., and Craig, W. (1995) A Peek Behind the Fence: Naturalistic Observations of Aggressive Children with Remote Audiovisual Recording. Developmental Psychology, 31 (4), 548-553.
Rolheiser, C., and Wallace, D. (2005) The Roots of Empathy Program as a Strategy for Increasing Social and Emotional Learning.
Santos R. G., Chartier M. J., Whalen, J. C., Chateau D., & Boyd L. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based violence prevention for children and youth: Cluster randomized controlled field trial of the Roots of Empathy program with replication and three-year follow-up. Healthcare Quarterly, 14, 80-91.
Schonert-Reichl, K.A., Smith, V., and Zaidman-Zait, A. Effectiveness of the Roots of Empathy Program in Fostering the Social-emotional Development in Primary Grade Children. (under review)
Schonert-Reichl, K.A., Smith, V., Zaidman-Zait, A and Hertzman, C. Impact of the Roots of Empathy Program on Emotional and Social Competence Among Elementary School-aged Children: Theoretical Developmental and Contextual Considerations. (under review)