Roots of Empathy’s International Speaker Series is based in Ontario and brings together policy-makers, academics, social service providers, educational practitioners and community citizens. Our goals are to mobilize new knowledge around relevant themes and create space for enhancing connections between researchers and research users and beneficiaries. Each evening includes a keynote presentation followed by a question and answer session with the audience to round out the discussion, incorporating perspectives from those in attendance.


Perspectives on Family

June 22, 2017

The Canadian Family: Redefining Inclusion – June 22nd, 7pm, Aga Khan Museum, Toronto

Join us for an enlightening, fascinating, and timely panel discussion about the Canadian family.  Our organizational goal is to foster inclusion and this panel will explore what that means for families. What does inclusion mean? What is the role of families? How can families be included and not only maintain, but share their strengths? What are the challenges and opportunities? And what do families need to thrive? We’ll get perspective from our speakers who come from the oldest family traditions in Canada and from the newest families who call Canada home.





You can watch the full panel discussion here.


Our speakers:

Nora Spinks, CEO, The Vanier Institute of the Family –

Nora will bring the big-picture perspective on family life in Canada right now.

Zeena Al Hamdan, Programs Manager, Arab Community Centre of Toronto –

Everyday, Zeena hears about the challenges faced by refugee families when they come to Canada. She’ll talk about the complex issues they and their children face in schools and in their communities as they adjust to new cultures, new family dynamics and new ways of being in the world.

Tesa Fiddler, Indigenous Education Resource Teacher, Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board –

Tesa brings her perspective as a resource teacher in Thunder Bay, as a member of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, and as a mom to two daughters. She says there is a huge opportunity now to make things better for First Nation families, and that in the wake of residential schools, support for families should include parent mentors to help parents learn to be parents.

Paul Cormier, Assistant Professor, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay –

Paul is a status Indian registered with Lake Helen First Nations, Red Rock Indian Band. Paul studies peace and conflict with the lens of the Aboriginal world view. He will describe the strengths of Aboriginal family structures and identities and how they are being challenged today.




Perspectives on Empathy and the Arts

January 25, 2017


This panel discussion focuses on the deep and profound relationship between art and empathy. Art can delight and art can annoy. It can enlighten us. It can mirror all of us. And it can mirror the whole range of us. The artist creates it, but until the audience experiences it, it’s not complete. We discuss the connection between art and empathy, what we know about it, why it’s so important to our hearts, minds and spirits, and why it may be more important now than ever.


Cameron Bailey is the Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival. He is responsible for the overall vision and execution of Festival programming, as well as maintaining relationships with the Canadian and international film industries. Toronto Life has named him one of Toronto’s 50 Most Influential People four years in a row. Before taking up his current position at TIFF, he was a Festival programmer for 11 years, and a writer and broadcaster on film. Born in London, Bailey grew up in England and Barbados before migrating to Canada. He currently sits on the Advisory Council for Western University’s School for Arts and Humanities and for Haiti’s Cine Institute film school. He is also a board member of Tourism Toronto, and he currently teaches a course in programming and curation at the University of Toronto.


Martha Durdin is Chair of the Board of Trustees at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). She is currently the President and Chief Executive Officer at Canadian Credit Union Association and was the Managing Principal of Navigator Ltd., a leading national strategic public affairs firm. She spent 13 years as an executive at a large Canadian bank and early in her career, Martha worked on Parliament Hill. Durdin volunteers her time with several community organizations and served for 12 years as the Chair of the Ontario Arts Council. She is the recipient of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal and holds a BA (Hon) from Western University, an MSC from the London School of Economics; and ICD.D designation from the Institute of Corporate Directors at the Rotman School of Management.


Raymond Mar is an Associate Professor of Psychology at York University in Toronto. He employs the methods of personality psychology, social psychology, and neuroscience to research the real-world influence of imaginative experiences, including engagement with fictional narratives in various media (e.g., novels, films, and videogames). Dr. Mar is a co-editor of, an on-line magazine on the psychology of fiction.



Until recently, moderator Mary Ito was the host of Fresh Air, a weekly program broadcast on CBC Radio One. Before that, she was host of several programs – CBC’s “Living in Toronto”, TVO’s “More to Life” and “Second Opinion” and Global TV’s daily health report. Ito is active in the community and has volunteered her services for many organizations, including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Healthy Minds Canada, the MS Society of Ontario, the Hospital for Sick Children, the Toronto Public Library and the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. Mary Ito is a member of the Roots of Empathy Board of Directors.



You can watch the full panel discussion here.


We had an art display at the Bata Shoe Museum during our Empathy and the Arts discussion. All the art was done by children in our program and was their expression of pride – we asked them to finish this sentence with a drawing: “I felt proud when…” As usual they showed wisdom, generosity and kindness. You can see it here.



Perspectives on Learning – Dr. Michael Fullan

April 28, 2016


Michael Fullan is the former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. Recognized as a world authority on educational reform, he advises policy-makers and local leaders in helping to achieve the moral purpose of all children learning. He received the Order of Canada in 2012 and holds honorary doctorates from several universities in Canada and abroad. Dr. Fullan is a prolific, award-winning author whose books have been published in many languages. He currently serves as an Advisor to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario.

Students as Change Agents: With our new work on deep learning, we are finding that students are functioning as change agents in relations to pedagogy (how learning can be best pursued), and how the learning environment is best organized. As we focus on the 6Cs of learning outcomes – character education, citizenship, collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking – we are finding that ‘helping humanity’ is becoming a natural goal of learning.

You can watch the full lecture here.


Perspectives on Parenting – Dr. Alison Gopnik

March 24, 2016


Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She is an internationally-recognized leader in the study of children’s learning and development and was the first to argue that children’s minds could help us understand deep philosophical questions. She is the author of over 100 journal articles and several books including the bestselling and critically-acclaimed “The Scientist in the Crib” (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl) and The Philosophical Baby“.

In this talk, Prof. Gopnik talks about how caring deeply about our children is part of what makes us human. Yet the thing we call “parenting” is a surprisingly new invention, she says. In the past 30 years, the concept of parenting and the multibillion-dollar industry surrounding it have transformed child care into obsessive, controlling, and goal-oriented labour intended to create a particular kind of child and therefore a particular kind of adult. She argues the familiar 21st-century picture of parents and children is profoundly wrong–it’s not just based on bad science, it’s bad for kids and parents, too.

Drawing on the study of human evolution and her own scientific research into how children learn, Prof. Gopnik argues that although caring for children is profoundly important, it is not a matter of shaping them to turn out a particular way. Children are designed to be messy and unpredictable, playful and imaginative, and to be very different both from their parents and from each other. The variability and flexibility of childhood lets them innovate, create, and survive in an unpredictable world.

You can watch the full lecture here.


Perspectives on Fatherhood – Dr. Gary Barker and Dr. Jay Belsky

October 1, 2015

Dr. Gary Barker

Dr. Gary Barker is International Director/Founder of Promundo, which works globally in engaging men and boys for gender equality. He is co-chair/co-founder of MenEngage, a global alliance of more than 600 NGOs and UN agencies and co-founder of MenCare, a global campaign in 35 countries to promote men’s involvement as equitable, non-violent caregivers.




Dr. Jay Belsky is the Robert M. and Natalie Reid Dorn Professor of Human Development at the University of California, Davis. He is an internationally recognized expert in the field of child development and family studies. His areas of expertise include the effects of day care,  parent-child relations during infancy and early childhood (with a focus on fathers as well as mothers), and the transition to parenthood.


Fathers play an important role in the development of their children and there is much to learn about what their involvement means for children. Dr. Gary Barker speaks about the positive impact and global challenges for the full engagement of men in caregiving. Dr. Jay Belsky discusses how some children are more susceptible than others to parenting influences.

You can watch videos of Dr. Gary Barker’s presentations here.

You can watch videos of Dr. Jay Belsky’s presentations here.


Perspectives on Indigenous Children – Dr. Cindy Kiro

March 26, 2015


Dr. Cindy Kiro is Fourth Children’s Commissioner of New Zealand, director of the Starpath Project and ‘Te Tumu’, and head of Indigenous Education in the Faculty of Education at the University of Auckland.

In her talk Empathy, Culture and Future: How the Past Informs the Future, Dr. Kiro shares her expertise and recent work on the long-term health and social well-being of Māori children and youth in New Zealand, as well as the right of Indigenous children to education.

Dr. Kiro is also joined by Chief Ian Campbell of the Squamish First Nation in British Columbia and Cat Criger, Aboriginal Elder, Traditional Teacher and Traditional Elder for faculties at the University of Toronto and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The panel is moderated by Connie Walker, CBC Aboriginal.

You can watch videos of Dr. Kiro’s presentation here.


The Story of Pink and Blue – Dr. Lise Eliot

March 31, 2014

Lise Eliot

Dr. Lise Eliot is Associate Professor of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine & Science.

Boys and girls are different, but not nearly as much as adults believe. In her presentation, Dr. Eliot uses real data on gender similarities and differences in children’s brains to explain how gender traits emerge through the constant interaction of nature and nurture, otherwise known as genes, hormones, and cultural learning. She also talks about how parents and teachers can help all children broaden their interests and abilities by better understanding this developmental interplay and, especially, the limits that traditional gender roles have placed on both girls and boys.

You can watch videos of Dr. Eliot’s presentation here.


Self-Regulation – Dr. Stuart Shanker

March 17, 2014

Dr. Stuart Shanker

Dr. Stuart Shanker is Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy and Psychology at York University and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The MEHRIT Centre, Ltd.

Dr. Shanker discusses early stages in the development of self-regulation, the experiences that promote this process, the factors that can impede its development and what parents or educators can do to enhance the self-regulation of each and every child.

You can watch videos of Dr. Shanker’s presentation here.



For any inquiries about the Speaker Series, please contact:

 (416) 944-3001

Toll-free: 1-866-766-8763


Roots of Empathy would like to thank the Government of Ontario for funding the Roots of Empathy Speaker Series.


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