By teaching our students to think, care, and act, we empower them to build a peaceful future.

Welcome to Think, Care, Act, where teachers and students can find rationales and resources to infuse required curricula with peace, character, global, and multicultural concepts throughout the year.

To act in a world whose problems seem overwhelming requires being able to use the powers of critical and creative thinking and compassionate and inclusive care. Employing these tools, adults and youth alike can work effectively and conscientiously to solve problems big and small, global and local.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

TEACHING EMPATHY: Book Review of UNSELFIE: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, by Michele Borba

As we prepare for classroom activities with children and conferences with families, we will find many helpful rationales and resources in Michele Borba's book, Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me-World.  Along with this summary, find links to empathy-building activities.  I recommend this book to teachers and families of students of all ages.

“But why should we want our kids to empathize?  For starters, the ability to empathize affects our kids’ future health, wealth, authentic happiness, relationship satisfaction, and ability to bounce back from adversity.  It promotes kindness, prosocial behaviors, and moral courage, and it is an effective antidote to bullying, aggression, prejudice, and racism.  Empathy is also a positive predictor of children’s reading and math test scores and critical thinking skills, prepares kids for the global world, and gives them a job market boost….

“Empathy is core to everything that makes a society civilized, but above all it makes our children better people, and that’s why I’m concerned.  In the past decades, our kids’ capacity to care has plummeted while self-absorption has skyrocketed, and it puts humanity at stake.  Today’s culture values ‘Me’ more than ‘We.’”
(Michele Borba, from the introduction, p. xiv)

Summary:  Readable, anecdotal, and practical, Michele Borba asks families, teachers, and coaches who work with children to counter “selfie society” and help children develop empathy and become “Unselfies.”  Connecting empathy to quality of life, personal achievement, and humanity’s future, Borba organizes her book in three sections, asking us to help children develop empathy, practice empathy, and live empathy by becoming upstanders and changemakers.  This is a good book to recommend to parents and guardians to read, and from which teachers and administrators can share excerpts for discussion or in school newsletters.  As well, teachers will find the book chock full of games, discussion prompts, and classroom fundamentals to lay a foundation of empathy building.

Borba cites numerous and varied studies throughout the book, always pointing to the importance of empathy in children’s achievement and success as well as in their development as compassionate and courageous human beings.  Using the phrase “Empathy Advantage,” she is clearly aiming to make believers out of achievement-oriented parents/guardians and teachers.  She reminds us that empathy can (and must) be cultivated, practiced, taught, and encouraged.

Borba starts by citing studies that identify dropping levels of empathy, increased cruelty to peers, more cheating, and higher incidences of mental health issues in today’s youth.  (See Introduction pages xv-xvi for details.)

In Part One: Developing Empathy, Borba suggests numerous ways to teach emotional literacy, encouraging us to tune in to each other and tune out the distractions of digital devices.   With age-by-age strategies in Chapter 1, she suggests such steps as creating “sacred family times” without digital media use, eating together, reading and discussing books about feelings, and taking time to discuss feelings with both boys and girls.  (See pages 21-24 for details.)  In Chapter 2, Borba discusses ways to help children develop moral identities and ethical codes.  Countering the “self-esteem” building trends, she asks us to avoid nurturing narcissism and instead nurture altruism in our children.  She shares such practical strategies as holding family meetings, identifying family values, creating moral mottos, acting as role models for ethical and caring behavior, and sharing strategies to help children monitor their own behavior: “Grandma Test: Would I do it if my grandma heard about it?” or “3Rs Test: Could it damage my relationships or reputation, or might I regret it later?” (See pages 34-45 for details.)  In Chapter 3, Borba describes practical ways to help children understand the perspectives (and feelings) of others.   Calling this ability to “gateway to empathy,” she invites parents and teachers to ask children to “Do it over,” Role play from the other side, “ and “Freeze and think,” about how their actions have affected others.  Rather than spanking, yelling, shaming, or rewarding children, Borba asks adults to plainly explain why an action is hurtful, to express disappointment in selfish behavior, or help the child/teen recognize how their actions impact others.  This type of “inductive discipline” activates empathy.  (See pages 50-70 for details.)  Finally, in Chapter 4, Borba discusses using literature and movies to develop empathy.  Citing research that suggest digital reading is less conducive to promoting reading enjoyment, she urges children (and families) to share REAL books (especially fiction) to learn about other cultures, others’ feelings, and new perspectives.  Further, she invites us to pose “What if?” and “How Would You Feel?” questions as we read or discuss literature with children and students.  A list of age-by-age strategies to promote moral imagination concludes the chapter and the section.  (See pages 76-92 for details.)

Part Two: Practicing Empathy begins with Chapter 5 and examples of techniques to promote children’s ability to self-regulate their emotions.  The ability to self-regulate allows children to both calm themselves as well as recognize others’ needs.  Yet, in our high-stress society, Borba worries (and research acknowledges) that stress promotes violent and selfish behavior and inhibits compassion.  Thus, she suggests ways parents, teachers, and coaches can model calmness and teach self-control, using mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, identifying our bodies’ signals, and using positive message “self talk.”  (See pages 98-116 for details.)  In Chapter 6, after citing scientific studies asserting that kindness is catching (and leads to personal happiness), Borba cites many examples of school children practicing daily acts of kindness.  Harvard University’s “Making Caring Common” Initiative has publicized disturbing evidence that students perceive that their parents value achievement over kindness.  To counter this trend, Borba asks us to actively teach kindness and show children how important it is.  Again she asks us to model kindness, and she gives examples of family and classroom kindness “rituals” that go beyond monetary rewards.  Kindness pledges, kindness jars, kindness walls all help children to build kindness into daily actions.  (See pages 125-140 for details.)  Chapter 7 invites us to boost “us” and “we” thinking.  She wants us to build recess into our school schedules and free-play time into our children’s lives to allow children to build collaborative and problem solving skills.  Citing Elliot Aronson’s psychological research, she promotes cooperative learning groups in school as a way to allow children to get to know each other by working together on structured tasks.  She also encourages us to use such activities as Mix It Up Day, family meetings, cooperative games, and youth service groups to enable kids (and families) to work with a variety of people on meaningful tasks.  See pages 152-164 for details.) 

So how to bring empathy into action?  This is the topic of Part Three: Living Empathy.  In Chapter 8, Borba shines a spotlight on kids who stick their necks out and demonstrate moral courage.  She discusses factors that encourage children and adults to be bystanders rather than upstanders: “Powerlessness,” “Vague expectations,” “Peer pressure,” “The diffusion of responsibility,” “Empathy arousal (feeling too bad to help),” and “Weak adult support.”  How can we encourage children to help?  We can expect them to help, set examples ourselves, show them examples of heroic people, stop solving their problems for them, and using baby steps to larger acts of heroism and helpfulness. With pneumonic devices, Michele Borba offers parents, teachers, coaches, and kids steps for such empathetic actions as intervening to stop bullying.  “STANDUP,” for example, reminds kids to Seek Support, Tell a Trusted Adult, Assist the Victim, Negate (rumors, insults) with a Positive View, Design a Detour, Use a Distraction, and Pause and Rethink (See pages 178-182 for details.)  Finally, in Chapter 9, Borba asks us to empower children to become “changemakers.”  Using steps very congenial with our “Think-Care-Act Project” model, Borba suggests we help children see themselves through a “growth Mindset” lens, able to develop empathy and exercise it increasingly effectively.  Next we emphasize effort over results, and suggest practice and evaluation.  (See pages 201-213 for details.)

Classroom/School Applications:

1.    Share articles with families to invite them to be part of the process of teaching empathy.
a.   Harvard’s Making Caring Common Initiative offers a concise four-page list of suggestions for families to use with children to build empathy:
b.    Share The Atlantic’s article on Denmark’s program to teach empathy in schools:
2.    The book is chock full of practical mini-lessons as well as larger projects.  Try some of the breathing exercises on page 113, for example:
a.    “Buddy Breathing:” Sit back-to-back and try to match breaths while deeply breathing.
b.    “Belly Buddies:” Children recline with stuffed animal or pretty stone on tummy, and feel it go up and down with deep breathing.
c.     “Candles and Flowers:” Child imagines breathing in a flower and blowing out candles. 
3.    Consider undertaking Think-Care-Act Projects in your school by grade level or in your own class.  Detailed rationales, resources, handouts, and directions can be found on my blog:
4.    Try some of these classroom activities, described by

 “Mobilizing children’s moral courage to be Upstanders may be our best hope to stop peer cruelty,” says Michele Borba (p. 181).  It also may be key to the quality of our children’s lives and our development as true human beings.

Susan Gelber Cannon
August 2016

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Changing the World…. One Project at a Time: Fighting Hunger
 EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership.

Dr. Elizabeth O. Crawford, an education professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Susan Gelber Cannon, a middle school teacher, author, and developer of Think-Care-Act Projects, are pleased to present our second collaborative year of sharing Think-Care-Act-Projects [TCAP].  Our EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership allows Episcopal Academy sixth graders and Dr. Crawford’s senior UNCW pre-service education majors to consider personal qualities and talents, identify passions for social change, and act to change the world for the better.  Through video sessions, my students and those of Dr. Crawford have inspired and encouraged each other to make a difference. 

Below, and for previous four blog posts, you will read future teachers’ guest blogs about their TCAPs, with links for research and teaching suggestions.  Happy reading and thinking, caring, and acting!—Sue Cannon

Fighting Hunger: A Look Into The Problem Of World Hunger
Think-Care-Act Project by Chelsea Anderson and Jenna DeHart
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, May 2016

Food is one of the major necessities needed for life. Without food, individuals do not have the nutrition needed to concentrate and focus, or the energy needed for survival. Without food, there is no living. For our Think-Care-Act Project we researched why there are so many people hungry across the globe and how educators can teach about this world issue to their students and get them to become young solutionaries to this pressing problem.

Causes of Hunger

The primary cause of hunger is poverty. Individuals living in poverty often cannot afford healthy foods or have access to transportation to get to the food. Lacking empowerment and resources to escape it, individuals find it hard to escape poverty (World Food Programme, 2016). In developing farming countries, for example, farmers cannot afford seeds to plant crops to feed their families (World Food Programme, 2016). The hungry usually do not have access to other components of life such as education, water, and land, and therefore the cycle of hunger is not broken easily.

The world has stores of 2.9 trillion pounds of food, enough to feed every individual in all nations twice.  However, there is no explanation of where all of this food is going, considering how many people are hungry (Royte, 2016). In developing countries, much food is lost because there are no sturdy roads, adequate refrigeration, or steady climates to keep the food fresh. In developed nations, however, there is a different story. Restaurants serve too much food, individuals forget about leftovers in the refrigerator, and food is being thrown out before the expiration date (Royte, 2016).  Food is wasted in spite of the fact that hunger exists.

Teaching about World Hunger

The first action step that should be taken when it comes to addressing world hunger is education. Students, especially, do not realize how big of an issue hunger is unless it impacts them directly or they are told about it. Students will develop a personal interest in the problem if they become passionate about becoming solutionaries toward the issue. It is important to show students the issue at hand either through personal narratives, children’s literature, web resources, or videos. It is also necessary to show students other children who are taking action on the same problem and becoming a solutionary. This will inspire students to see that age has nothing to do with being able to take a stand on an issue. A lesson on this issue should include having students come up with solutions on what they and their families can do to reduce the number of hungry people, starting in their own communities.

Our Action Plans

Working as a pair, we focused our actions differently. Jenna placed more of an emphasis on education. She taught a lesson to third grade students to show them that hunger is a prominent issue affecting individuals and families around the world and locally. Jenna and the class then came up with solutions that they can do individually or with their families to help with the problem. 

The solutions varied from hosting a food drive, to donating canned food, to donating money, or to volunteering with their families at a soup kitchen, food bank, or Salvation Army. For example, a student and his family volunteered at a soup kitchen to serve meals to families in need.  Jenna also collected canned food from friends and family to deliver to the Second Harvest Bank and donated money to the World Food Programme to help with funding education and various programs locally and globally so hungry individuals can escape poverty and have a better life.

Chelsea’s approach was geared towards supporting global organizations that focus on finding innovative solutions to the problem of world hunger. She directed a youth group with middle and high school youth in Morganton, North Carolina in their participation in World Vision’s “30-Hour Famine.” Chelsea helped organize and promote the youth group’s participation in the program and help them receive sponsors as they fasted for thirty hours and worked together by participating in team-building games and simulations of how people must survive when they must support themselves when they are hungry and living in impoverished areas. She was able to Skype in with the youth group throughout the thirty hours to support and encourage them for their participation. 

Chelsea noted how many of the students shared how excited they were to be able to make an impact on the world through their participation.  They now had a greater outlook on what some people have to deal with and do to survive in the world. She shared that the youth group raised over $400 to support World Vision and also donated over 100 pounds of food to their local soup kitchen.

Teaching Resources and References

Information on Think-Care-Act Projects:

Seven great lessons to teach kids about hunger and food insecurity. (2013, September 10). Retrieved from

Milway, K. S., & Fernandes, E. (2008). one hen: how one small loan made a big
         difference. Toronto: Kids Can Press.

Suggested Books. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Top 10 books to help kids understand hunger - Lasso the Moon. (2012, September 13).
Retrieved from Royte, E. (2016, March 01).

How 'ugly' fruits and vegetables can help solve world hunger.

10 ways to stop world hunger. (2013, October 02). Retrieved from

What causes hunger? | WFP | United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting Hunger Worldwide. (2016). Retrieved from



Changing the World…. One Project at a Time: Helping Youth
 EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership.

Dr. Elizabeth O. Crawford, an education professor at University of North Carolina Wilmington, and Susan Gelber Cannon, a middle school teacher, author, and developer of Think-Care-Act Projects, are pleased to present our second collaborative year of sharing Think-Care-Act-Projects [TCAP].  Our EA/UNCW Think-Care-Act Project Partnership allows Episcopal Academy sixth graders and Dr. Crawford’s senior UNCW pre-service education majors to consider personal qualities and talents, identify passions for social change, and act to change the world for the better.  Through video sessions, my students and those of Dr. Crawford have inspired and encouraged each other to make a difference. 

Below, and for the next blog post, you will read future teachers’ guest blogs about their TCAPs, with links for research and teaching suggestions.  Happy reading and thinking, caring, and acting!—Sue Cannon

HELPING YOUTH: Think-Care-Act Project by Meghan Lane, Eleni Carros, Kristin Skeen, and Zach Gerstenberger
University of North Carolina at Wilmington, May 2016

All around the world, children go without a quality education, proper nutrition, and adequate supervision on a daily basis. There are many ways in which children suffer, and it is our duty as global citizens to help shape a more positive future for our youth. Learning how to help children has been the capstone of our research throughout the semester. We have found that through educational resources, after school programs, and child labor watch groups, we can assist children in having a brighter future. It is critical that we find ways to support our children both inside and outside of the classroom. To do this, we need to find ways to connect both their school life with their outside life. As teachers, we have a responsibility to take action and ensure that our children do not fall through the cracks of the education system. This can be made possible by emphasizing the importance of working towards goals and letting our students know that they are capable of making a difference.

How To Take Action, by Zach Gerstenberger

Recognizing that children need help is the first step to building a bridge of support for our students. As we teach, we become more familiar with our students everyday and we can see the walls that are built up around them. These barriers can come from a variety of sources such as issues with their families and problems that may arise in school.  However, while children are at school their basic needs are met with proper supervision, healthy nutrition and educational support. When students leave they may not receive all of these basic needs.

To help aid teachers and families we put together a document of resources for local after school programs, national after school resources and lesson plans that can be shared via email. This will help teachers and families find resources to help students when they are outside of the classroom. Similarly we realized that sometimes students don’t feel as though they are part of their classroom community and this feeling can have detrimental effects.  Accordingly, we found a list of books that can be used for bibliotherapy lessons so that students feel as though they are part of their classroom community. The students can journal and discuss these books with the class and their peers to find continuity within their world.

Moreover we found that children want to be challenged.  For example, there are increasingly large numbers of jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields [STEM].  We can challenge our students through quality STEM lessons and instruction.  Additionally, we as educators must give children a choice when it comes to their education, and they need to be fully immersed. With over 10,000 students dropping out of school in North Carolina alone in a year, we have to find ways to help children in school and keep them motivated.

Supporting Youth In and Out of School: by Eleni Carros

“Today’s youth are exposed to a variety of negative factors making them more at-risk to injury, academic failure, and poor health. Youth who are likely to be more at-risk are usually those that lack a strong support system at home, as well as teens who are not coping well with the different challenges that they are facing” (“Information on At Risk Youth Statistics,” para. 1).

One organization that has made a big difference in helping underprivileged youth in the local community and in many other places around the state is The Boys and Girls Club. The mission statement of The Boys and Girls Club is “To enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens” (Boys and Girls Club of America, “Our Mission,” para.1). The Boys and Girls Club has positively impacted youth by providing a safe place for children to go that allows them to build relationships with caring professionals, while receiving assistance in various areas to help them become successful.

Nationwide, there are more than 4,200 Club locations, which are governed locally and serve youth and communities.  In 2014, Boys & Girls Club youth development programs impacted nearly 4 million children and teens. (Boys and Girls Clubs of America, “Our Facts and Figures,” 2016) While at the club, youth are assisted with daily homework, given a snack and a hot meal, and have the opportunity to participate in recreational activities that help them feel like part of a family. The club is a place for them to go to stay safe and out of trouble, while also being productive and having fun (Personal Interview, April 29, 2016).

         To help raise money and spread awareness for The Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington, I held a bake sale fundraiser at Defy Gravity, a trampoline park in Wilmington, NC.  Chocolate chip cookies, “Rice Krispy” treats, and brownies were sold for $1, and all of the proceeds went to the Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington. I raised $70 and was able to spread awareness by sharing information about The Boys and Girls Club with the customers. Additionally, when the children at Defy Gravity purchased desserts they were able to help other children in the local community.

Be Part of the CHANGE: by Kristin Skeen

 Education is a fundamental human right required for global survival and sustainability. Children of all ages, races, genders, and backgrounds deserve to have a safe place where they can receive a quality education; the children are the future and should be treated as such. We all need to be advocates for change. This does not mean that one person is responsible for changing the world; we just need to impact those around us. As teachers, one of the best ways that we can advocate for quality education on a global scale is bringing it into the classroom. Educating students about these issues and promoting global citizenship can have a significant impact on the future of our world.

Communities Helping to Affect a New Generation of Education (CHANGE) is a project that I have been working on to develop partnerships between schools and their communities. I created fliers for this campaign to highlight the benefits of reaching out for help. These fliers identify ways in which schools and businesses can benefit from helping each other in the fight for quality education. Using fliers, instead of a website, I created a situation in which people must be intentional about their actions. Anytime I visit a school or business, I hand out fliers to encourage this process and remind people that their actions can make a difference.

Letters for Change: by Meg Lane

         Children may have their needs met at school, but for many that is not the case at home. Some of these children work while not in school to help put food on the table.  This underage labor occurs all across the globe, even in our own backyards.  Among many other things, North Carolina is ranked number one in the nation for tobacco production.  North Carolina’s labor laws regarding age restriction are applied to all industries with the exception of agriculture.  Thus, children as young as ten years old are legally able to work on farms with parental consent, though there have been cases reported with children as young as six working in the fields. 

         As an intern in a fifth grade classroom, it broke my heart to think that any of my kids could potentially go home and have to go straight to work in tobacco fields.  The health risks alone are concerning, not to mention the stress such labor may put on children and their academics.  This needs to end now. 

Through personal and professional connections, I started a letter-writing campaign to inform and persuade legislators to create more regulated age restrictions in the agriculture industry.  Everyone from the local mayor, to state governors, to presidential candidates will receive a letter.  Writing a letter is so simple, and anyone can do it.  A letter alone will not change legislation, but it will get the ball rolling.  In time, the suggestions you proposed in your letter could become law.  If you have an issue that needs to be addressed, send a letter to your local governor!  Let them know what’s going on, why it’s important, and how they can help.

Cox, J. (n.d.). How to motivate students by letting them choose books. Retrieved March 27, 2016, from
-       This website offers insight into how allowing children to pick their books can have a positive impact on them academically.

Stump, S. L., Bryan, J. A., & McConnell, T. J. (2016). Making STEM Connections. The Mathematics Teacher, 109(8), 576-583. Retrieved April 9, 2016, from
-       This website shows the importance of teaching children science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  (NOTE: available by LOG IN only.)

Williams, D. C. (n.d.). Dropout prevention and intervention. Retrieved March 27, 2016, from
-       The website has statistics from North Carolina about dropout numbers and why students are dropping out of school.

-       This document has resources for after school programs, bibliotherapy books and lesson plans.

Child Labor Fact Sheet. (2012). Retrieved May 02, 2016, from
-        This is a quick fact sheet on Child Labor in North Carolina.  Statistics and solutions are described with detail. 

Writing to Your Legislators. (2015). Retrieved May 03, 2016, from
-       This is a helpful guide with tips and tricks on making the most out of your letter to government officials.  It also has addresses for Congress members.
-       This is the flier created for Communities Helping to Affect a New Generation of Education (CHANGE).


At Risk Youth Programs. (n.d.). Information on At Risk Youth Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2016, from
Boys and Girls Clubs of America. (2016). Retrieved May 1, 2016, from
Community Boys and Girls Club of Wilmington. (2016, April 29). Personal Interview.