Speaker Series

An Empathy Enterprise TM Initiative   © Roots of Empathy TM

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.

Parenting through Children’s Mental Health Issues

Perspectives on raising resilient, mentally healthy children

June 2, 2018

What exactly does it mean to be mentally healthy, and why are childhood rates of mental illness soaring? How is a parent to prevent, detect, and deal with mental health issues when they arise? Renowned parenting expert Alyson Schafer has some answers from her own lived experience as well as professionally that give parents a new perspective on understanding children’s mental health as well as pragmatic tips for parenting resilient, mentally healthy children.

Alyson Schafer is Canada’s leading parenting expert. She is a family counsellor, runs parenting workshops, and has appeared on media. She is the international best-selling author of three parenting books published by Harper Collins Canada: Breaking the Good Mom Myth (2007), Honey, I Wrecked The Kids (2009), and her latest Ain’t Misbehavin’ (2011). Her books have been translated into Russian, Korean, Spanish and Bulgarian. She also contributed a chapter about resilience in families with children with special needs in the US textbook, Handbook of Family Resilience.

The Child in the City – Urban Perspectives

May 9, 2018

Dr. Jean Clinton spoke on the impact of cities on children’s mental, physical and emotional well-being. Her talk was on the evening of the first day of the 7th Annual Roots of Empathy Research Symposium. The two day symposium, May 9 and 10, addressed the neuroscience of stress and childhood, the primacy of the attachment relationship in childhood development and learning, and the impact of adversity in childhood – so Dr. Clinton’s take on how the urban environment is affecting our children’s lives was unique.

Jean Clinton is a Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University, division of Child Psychiatry. She is on staff at McMaster Children’s Hospital with cross appointments in Pediatrics and Family Medicine, and an Associate in the Department of Child Psychiatry, University of Toronto and Sick Children’s Hospital. She is a senior scientist at the INCH (INfant and Child Health) Lab at McMaster University. In addition she is a Zero-to-Three Fellow and a Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy. She has been a consultant to children and youth mental health programs, child welfare and primary care for almost 30 years. Dr Clinton was recently appointed as an education advisor to the Premier of Ontario and the Minister of Education.

Dr Clinton is renowned locally, provincially, nationally, and more recently internationally as an advocate for children’s issues. Her special interest lies in brain development, and the crucial role of relationships and connectedness. Jean champions the development of a national, comprehensive child well-being strategy including a system of early learning and care for all young children and their families. She is equally committed to ensuring that children’s and youths’ needs and voices are heard and respected.

The Trans Experience in Education – Personal Perspectives

February 8, 2018

Claire Birkenshaw was the first person to transition while working as a principal in Hull, England. Her journey started as a child when at four years old she felt she was faking being a boy. She grew up worried people would discover her secret. She felt shame. She felt guilt. And now after transitioning, she wants no child to suffer the same way. As she told a newspaper in Hull, “I also know that if I did nothing, then as an educationalist that believes in helping all children to feel that their life has meaning and purpose, I would be letting those transgendered children down that share those thoughts, feelings and fears that I had when I was growing up. After living so long feeling invisible, I wanted to make myself visible.”

As a teacher she thought carefully about her decision to transition. And while she considered moving and starting over, she knew she wanted to “take everyone on this journey with me”…and that meant staying put and helping everyone adjust to the change. The support overwhelmed her.

Now, she has taken on the challenge of breaking down the myths, stereotypes and stigma that children and young people feel when they discover they’re “in the wrong body”. She describes herself as Educationalist, Equality&Diversity Advocate, CEOP Ambassador, Former HT, Senior Advisor #LGBTEd, LGBTQ+ Leeds Beckett University.

Our evening started with Claire’s story and was followed by a panel discussion (see below). Each guest shared their personal experiences of what it’s like transitioning while working in the school system, dealing with identity issues as a student, or being a parent or person who supports trans individuals. Inclusion and belonging are central themes to Roots of Empathy – as is empathy of course. Hopefully this discussion can lead to insights on the school system, what works, and how things can improve.
You can watch Claire’s full speech.

The Trans Experience in Education – A Panel Discussion

A parent, a trans student, and a social worker come together to discuss the issues children face in school when they come out as trans to their families, friends, teachers, and peers. Hosted by Mary Ito of CBC Radio and Board member of Roots of Empathy. Claire Birkenshaw joins this panel at the end for a short Q&A – Claire transitioned while working as a principal in a school in England. She told her story earlier in the evening (see above) and it is compelling, touching and inspiring.

Our speakers:

Michelle Sparrow is the mother of two boys. When her son Noah came out as transgender, Michelle wanted to connect him to other LGBTQ youth his own age, but found there were no programs for tweens in Toronto. Michelle and her husband became fundraisers and organizers, approaching Skylark Youth Services to create a program. It has been running now for a year.

Cecilio Escobar is a trans individual who works at Centennial College and runs workshops for faculty on creating a trans inclusive environment.

Gaela Mintz is a social worker with the Toronto District School Board. She provides school support in gender diverse issues, runs gender independent groups for students and parents, and works toward a more gender inclusive environment through staff training.

You can watch the full panel discussion here.

The End of Failure: Relational learning in action

October 5, 2017

Russell Bishop is a descendant of the Ngāti Awa and Tainui tribes of Aotearoa New Zealand. He is Emeritus Professor at the University of Waikato, in New Zealand. Prior to this appointment he was Professor of Māori Education in the School of Education at the University of Waikato.  In this presentation, Professor Bishop speaks about relationship-based learning and success in implementing a well-researched strategy to connect with, support and increase success for Maori students. Dr. Bishop has also worked with communities in Canada and elsewhere on addressing educational inequalities because as he says in this talk, it’s time for a theory “that resonates with marginalized peoples.”

You can watch the full presentation here.

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.

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.

Moderator is Cheryl Jackson, Roots of Empathy’s Director of Communications

You can watch the full panel discussion here.

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 OnFiction.ca, 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 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

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 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

An initiative of Empathy Enterprise™
© Roots of Empathy™

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