Welcome to our new ”the Mighty Teachers” interview series! In the upcoming blog posts, one teacher at the time will discuss one Mightifier strength and the reasons why her/his chosen strength is meaningful. Our first interviewee is lovely Mrs. Kati Särmö from Finland. She’s a 1st-grade teacher, a member of the Municipal Council, and a social activist teaching compassion with the help of music to prevent bullying in Finnish schools.
Name: Kati Särmö
Who: A mom and a wife, a teacher since 1995, the Founder of ”Kukaan ei ole nolla” campaign, a new member of the Municipal Council of Seinäjoki
School: 1st-grade teacher at Hyllykallio Elementary School, Seinäjoki, Finland
Attacking bullying with music
Mrs. Särmö describes herself as a unifier of the crowds, and her dream is that people would get along with each other. From that dream also stems Mrs. Särmö’s motivation to carry out compassion education and the valuable work against bullying in schools. ”Kukaan ei ole nolla,” freely translated as ”Everyone is meaningful,” is an anti-bullying campaign which originates from a poem that Mrs. Särmö once wrote after being frustrated and sad because of a bullying case. The poem transformed into a rap song, and Mrs. Särmö started a tour with her colleagues to teach compassion to students with the help of music. Today, they have 80 lessons behind, and a whopping 20 000 students have seen their interactive performance. The topic raises so many thoughts and feelings that even young children can sit and listen quietly for the whole 45-minute show.
Mrs. Särmö has heard some encouraging stories how students have performed acts of empathy after watching the show. In one school, a student left alone during a recess was telling the teacher that she doesn’t have anyone to play with. Some students heard that and asked the girl to join them: ”Please come play with us, everyone is meaningful!”. With this act of kindness, Mrs. Särmö reminds that we’re all different and unique but still equal.
Compassion and kindness as strengths
Mrs. Särmö notes that being sensitive and kind is allowed and even favored. However, she has noticed how kind people are the ones getting hurt. The solution offered way too often is that the sensitive and kind people should grow stronger and build a protecting shield to cope. Why don’t we ever say that tough and strong people should learn how to be softer and more sensitive instead?
According to Mrs. Särmö, compassion is a supporting force, and it is often lost:
”It may take loads of time and effort, but you absolutely can teach compassion.
Children are often incapable of recognizing situations and feelings. It’s important to observe, get involved and help children to word their feelings and emotions. It’s not enough to keep just eyes open – we have to see with the heart, too. A teacher provides one, important example how to talk and behave in a friendly way, to identify the not so nice behavior, and to act as a role model for showing compassion towards other people.”
The call for an empathy leap
In Finland, there has been an active conversation about the digital leap and expressing the implementation of digital tools in a daily school life.
In addition to digital leap, Mrs. Särmö calls for the need of another leap, an empathy leap. Instead of teaching just new technologies, we have to take care of teaching how to be a human.
It’s vital to develop concrete solutions to tackle the bullying issue: ”Even minor bullying leaves a mark on a person. Once you crumple a piece of paper, it will never become smooth again”, says Mrs. Särmö. The city of Seinäjoki in central Finland is now starting a trans-professional collaboration project aiming at preventing bullying and conflicts in schools. She thinks that every municipality should take a responsibility and consider the tools and procedures to secure the well-being and safe learning environment for their students.
Mrs. Särmö worries if teachers have enough resources to really face and listen to their students in everyday, hectic school environment:
”Our most important task as adults is to give a safe boost to our children for their future. Do teachers have enough tools to do that?”
What do you think?
Mrs. Särmö’s practical tips to practice compassion and improve team spirit in the classroom:
The All Club: There is only one rule in the All Club: no one should be left alone. The teacher will ask daily if everyone has been following the rule. If the answer is a yes, the class earns one sticker to the poster on the wall. When the class has earned 20 stars, they’re going to have “The All Club Party”.
Chatter Circle: Chatter circle is a communication exercise helping the children to learn how to be a considerate communication partner. Every student will get a turn to hold the Chat Dog. The student, who is holding the Chat Dog, will share something she/he likes. The task of other students is to listen quietly and pay attention to the person talking. When switching the turns, the others will greet the speaker by looking into the eyes and saying his/hers name out loud.