Western Isles’ Tiny Teachers

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Primary three pupils from Sgoil an Rubha gathered to say a big ‘thank you’ to the area’s tiniest teachers at a ‘Baby Celebration’ held by Action for Children Scotland and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The event marked the end of the school year for Roots of Empathy­, an innovative programme that encourages children to interact in a nurturing manner by bringing a baby – known as a ‘Tiny Teacher’ - and parent into the classroom over the course of the school year.

The programme was introduced to Sgoil an Rubha, Sgoil nan Loch, Sgoil an Taobh Siar and Balinvanich Primary School by leading charity, Action for Children Scotland.

Pupils from Sgoil an Rubha thanked their Tiny Teachers by writing wishes for their future and hanging them on a special wish tree.

Wishes for baby Matthew included: “I wish that baby Matthew could sing”, “I hope that baby Matthew will be funny, kind and helpful” and “I hope that baby Matthew is kind, funny, helpful and competitive. I also hope that he is good and likes singing.”

Paul Carberry, Director of Service Development at Action for Children Scotland, said: “The celebration gives pupils and teachers the perfect opportunity to say goodbye to Matthew and thank him for his hard work this year. Visits by the baby and parent are at the heart of Roots of Empathy, helping schoolchildren to better understand their own feelings and the feelings of others – and I’m sure the pupils from Sgoil an Rubha have all learned a lot from Matthew.

“Roots of Empathy is an incredibly successful programme that has made a real difference in Scottish classrooms since its launch in 2010. But we just couldn’t do it without our Tiny Teachers - and their parents.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the babies, mums and dads involved for making Roots of Empathy such a huge success.”

Hannah Stewart, mother of Matthew, added: “It is really touching to see the hopes and wishes pupils from Sgoil an Rubha have for Matthew’s future. We have both loved the experience - Matthew enjoyed being star of the show and I was pleased to have the opportunity to celebrate all of his little milestones with the class. It has been a very rewarding experience that I would strongly recommend to any new mums!”

A separate Baby Celebration will be held at Sgoil nan Loch, Sgoil an Taobh Siar and Balinvanich Primary School to thank Tiny Teachers Joseph, Summer and Peter.

As part of the Roots of Empathy curriculum, a baby and parent visit the class nine times throughout the school year. A trained Roots of Empathy instructor guides pupils in labeling the baby’s emotions, raising levels of empathy amongst classmates and resulting in a dramatic reduction in levels of aggression among school children.

Recent independent research into the programme found that 55.5% of pupils displayed an increase in prosocial behavior (voluntary behavior intended to benefit others, such as helping, sharing, co-operating, and volunteering). This is 33.4% more than in pupils in a control group, who did not receive Roots of Empathy i.

Cllr Catriona Stewart, Chair of Education and Children’s Services, said: “Roots of Empathy is a very rewarding programme that helps children to express their own emotions, helping them to understand the effect of their behaviour on others. It helps to lay a foundation for more safe and caring classrooms; building on work already taking place in schools around promoting emotional health and well-being.”

Earlier this year, Scottish Government announced funding of £1.2 million to take the internationally-acclaimed programme into classrooms in every council area across the country.

Roots of Empathy was developed by internationally-recognised social entrepreneur, educator, author, child advocate and parenting expert, Mary Gordon, in 1996.

Over 450,000 children have taken part in the programme worldwide. The programme was piloted in North Lanarkshire by Action for Children Scotland in 2010 - the first time it was delivered anywhere in Britain.