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BACKGROUND

While working as educators trying to prevent waves of aggression with young people, we found the same old anti-bullying message was ineffective and overdone.  With a mountain of research to support experiential learning and the powerful message of a preventative pro-social movement, we saturated ourselves in this idea of putting oneself in another’s shoes. Could we impact students by challenging them to do hands on activities that would cause them to pause and ask, “How would another person feel, if I said/did this?”  Could we teach about others locally and globally by having students think, “How does another person live?”  

With the discovery of the mirror neuron in the 1990s by Italian scientists as evidence we are hardwired to practice the skill of empathy, we took up the challenge of writing a program that didn’t tell students what they shouldn’t do, but gave them meaningful experiences to practice the virtue of empathy.  To support our efforts toward building and sustaining empathy we found that respect for self and others is foundational (or our starting point) and a regular practice of gratitude would move students toward positive habits (fuel for the journey).  

The framework of empathy easily correlates to reducing aggression; if a student can relate to another’s experience he/she would be less likely to show aggressive behavior.  But could we teach this skill and cause change? And how would we measure it?  Some said,  “...measuring something concrete like math is easy, measuring a virtue like empathy is near impossible.”  But the way we treat each other is the basis for everything else;  it can affect learning, politics, and societal norms for entire generations.  We felt empathy so essential to being human,  we set out to prove that we can teach a virtue and cause change.


WHY IS EMPATHY IMPORTANT?

Our conviction is that the best education provides youth not only with the academic skills they need to be successful, but also the social tools needed to navigate this world. An education in empathy shows students that seeing the world through another's eyes is essential to personal growth. To practice and experience walking in another’s shoes demonstrates the importance of shedding at-risk behaviors in order to help others. When empowered to find empathy opportunities students will build self-worth by contributing to a cause greater than themselves.


MEASUREMENT TOOL

 

TEST SCHOOL DEMOGRAPHICS

 

METHOD (WHAT WE DID)

 

QUANTITATIVE DATA: RESULTS BY NUMBERS

 

CONCLUSION

 

TRENDS

 

QUALITATIVE DATA

We felt it important to find a measurement tool that had been been develped and proven by an organization other than Path2Empathy.  It can be misleading to come up with favorable results when an organization develops their own measurement tool. The tool used in our study:

  • Consisted of 4 questions on the Likert scale

  • Measures empathy identification in adolescents

  • Was developed by Child Trends for the Flourishing Children Project, funded by the Templeton Foundation. For more information see www. Childtrends.org


School Location: Rocky Mountain Region

Student enrollment: 1,155 in 2016-2017

Low-income families: 33%

Students per teacher 31:1

Students per counselor 385:1

Free & Reduced Lunch: 26.8%

Race

Male/Female


In the 2016-2017 school year, the Path2Empathy Program (P2E) was tested in a middle school that is set up in the middle school model with 3 academic teams of 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  These students ranged from the age of 11-14 years old. Path2Empathy used the natural separation of academic teams at the middle school: 2 test groups and 1 control group first semester  and 1 test group and 2 control groups second semester.

The tool used as our measure was administered school wide four different times throughout the test (Survey 1, 2, 3, 4). Survey 1 was administered prior to the P2E implementation, Survey 2 and 3 during implementation, and Survey 4 after implementation was complete (twice each semester). Path2Empathy did not choose which students were placed on teams A,B,C.  This process is done at random by the test school before the school year started.  Each team has a variety of learners: regular education students, gifted students, special education students, english language learners, free/reduced lunch students, and racial diversity. None of the students at the test school had been exposed to the Path2Empathy program prior to the 2016-2017 school year.  

The first semester of the 2016-2017 school year the A and C (A/C) teams were chosen randomly to be the test groups while the B team was the control group.  The classroom teachers of the A/C teams, 6th, 7th, and 8th, delivered the Path2Empathy lessons while the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade B teams were not given the lessons.

The second semester of the 2016-2017 school year the B teams were chosen randomly to be the test groups while the A/C teams were the control group.  The classroom teachers of the B teams, 6th, 7th, and 8th, delivered the Path2Empathy lessons while the 6th, 7th, and 8th grade A/C teams were not given the lessons.

The survey was available to every student but every student did not take all four surveys.  Some students were unable to take the test due to absences, teacher error, they opted not to,  or they were identified incapable to give a valid response resulting in elimination of their surveys.


3,313 total number of surveys submitted to P2E = 13,252 responses

903- Total number of Surveys from September ‘16 (Survey 1)

807- Total number of Surveys from December ‘16 (Survey 2)

754- Total number of Surveys from January ’17 (Survey 3)

849- Total number of Surveys from May ‘17 (Surveys 4)


10- Eliminated from Survey 1 – due to incomplete/duplicate data

22- Eliminated from Survey 2 – due to incomplete/duplicate data

12- Eliminated from Surveys 3 and 4 – due to incomplete/duplicate data


82 Students (SID) who only took Survey 1

35 Students (SID) who only took Survey 2

32 Students (SID) who only took Survey 3

60 Students (SID) who only took Survey 4


TOTAL # of usable unique Student ID #’s (SID): 1,155

413 took all 4 surveys

209 students took only 1 survey

82 Took only survey 1

35 Took only survey 2

32 Took only survey 3

60 Took only survey 4

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Survey Comparison Groups

650 TOTAL 1 and 2 pairs

609 TOTAL 1 and 3 pairs

662 TOTAL 1 and 4 pairs

558 TOTAL 2 and 3 pairs

611 TOTAL 2 and 4 pairs

607 TOTAL 3 and 4 pairs  

343 students took 3 out of 4 surveys

69 Took only surveys 1, 2, and 3

115 Took only surveys 1, 2, and 4

100 Took only surveys 1, 3, and 4

_______________________________________________

190 students took 2 out of 4 surveys

53 Took only surveys 1 and 2

27 Took only surveys 1 and 3

34 Took only surveys 1 and 4

17 Took only surveys 2 and 3

24 Took only surveys 2 and 4

35 Took only surveys 3 and 4

 


  • All numbers were run by a company independent ananalysis group

  • Using a Difference in Differences (DID) statistical model all survey pairs were analyzed for the effect of the P2E curriculum on student identification with empathy.  

  • During the spring semester, (comparing surveys 3 and 4) the B team (test group) increased their scores on the empathy survey compared to the A/C teams (control group). p<0.028 (98.2 % likelihood that the effect is due to the P2E curriculum and NOT due to randomness.)

  • Differential -1.091 (~28% of 1 standard deviation)

  • Mean 14.02554    

  • Std. Dev. 3.861601          

  • Min 4         

  • Max 20


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We infer from survey 3 to survey 4 results that the Path2Empathy Program was causal in producing a significant shift in the way Team B students identified with empathy compared to Team A/C (as illustrated above).  Teams A/C did make growth in identification with empathy but it was not statistically significant. We recognize the delay in response from teams A/C may be due to a variety of factors.  

The implementation of Path2Empathy was new to the A/C team teachers in the fall of 2016, while the B team teachers were able to watch the A/C teachers implement and ask questions before they taught the lessons in their classrooms.  We conclude that the Team B kids had second-hand exposure during the fall and direct exposure during the spring term which allowed for reinforcement. A/C however, had no second-hand exposure prior to direct exposure in the 1st semester.  Also, factors such as the fall 2016 presidential election may have had some effect on students’ responses.  


When looking at the behavioral trends of the school from the year before Path2Empathy was implemented to the year Path2Empathy was being taught in the classroom both harassment/discrimination and defiant/disobedient behavior went down.

*Incidents of Defiance/Disobedience state reported and non-reported

*Disclaimer: Path2Empathy did not seek to measure Defiance/Discrimination. These are trends that were noticed in separate behavioral data collected by the research school independent of the Path2Empathy study of empathy.

*Incidents of Harassment/Discrimination state reported and non-reported

*Disclaimer: Path2Empathy did not seek to measure harassment/discrimination. These are trends that were noticed in separate behavioral data collected by the research school independent of the Path2Empathy study of empathy.

We felt it important not just to reference the statistical numbers but also the qualitative data, or what students and teachers have reported about Path2Empathy from a variety of P2E schools.

  • “I feel that Path2Empathy covered more of understanding a bully, but traditional bullying groups only covered what to do if you are dealing with a bully.”

  • “...it was not a speech but hands on. I love how we get to hear about people’s stories.”

  • “I liked that Path2Empathy was about more than just “bullies are bad.”

  • “We got to do something besides just listening to a presentation.”

  • “...we found how easy it is to be nice.”

  • I recently  became familiar with Path2Empathy through my granddaughter. We had two family meals together during her week of P2E and she chose to eat rice and beans for both meals. She has told us so much about P2E. I am so impressed! The impact this program is making while the students are practicing empathy is great to see. Thank you for developing and promoting this worthwhile activity. I have read your blogs and am so inspired by your words. The kids and families of our district are lucky to have an opportunity to participate in P2E.”  -Becky, Retired Educator

  • "This program has made an impact on one of my students who struggles with showing empathy for others.  I shared this information with parents and it made their day. Thank you for helping me give him some other skills that will make him be successful now, and in the future."-Ann, P2E Teacher

  • I read an actual book which was enjoyable because I like the feel of the pages and being able to actually hold it.”- Sarah, P2E student

  • "One of my students took the time to write letters and it was a great experience for her. One was to a friend she has grown apart from and the other one was a childhood penpal!"-Carrie, P2E Teacher