School of Belonging - Teaching Empathy Institute
We advocate for a shift in K-12 education from standardized testing as the sole metric for measuring effective instruction to a more holistic approach that takes into account the social, emotional and leadership skills necessary for student success in the 21st Century.
Teaching Empathy Institute, SEL, David Levine, Diversity, Mindfulness, Social and emotional learning, kingston, new york, kingston city schools, School of Belonging, culture building, Hudson Valley , Tides Center, resilience, Building classroom communities, Teaching Empathy, compassion, teaching,
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School of Belonging Initiative Mission & Vision

The School of Belonging Initiative (SBI) creates a school culture that fosters empathic relationships, emotional safety, and real-world learning.  

We advocate for a shift in K-12 education from standardized testing as the sole metric for measuring effective instruction to a more holistic approach that takes into account the social, emotional and leadership skills necessary for student success in the 21st Century. 

You are moving us from spreadsheets to heartbeats.

–Tim Hoss, Principal, Northport Middle School 

Informed by the research and literature on resilience, emotional intelligence, and neuroscience, SBI focuses on social culture building with teachers, mental health professionals, support staff, specialists, and leadership. SBI achieves this mission through the creation of cultural norms that promote high quality listening, feedback processes, community-building techniques and reflective practice. 

The ultimate goal of SBI is to build capacity in the areas of social skills development and culture building so that the students will achieve to their fullest potential socially, emotionally, and academically in a safe and honorable learning environment while the teachers feel inspired and supported in their work as significant adults in the lives of their students.

Our work is based on over 32 years of practice as teachers, facilitators, presenters, and curriculum developers, with students, teachers, support staff,  leadership, and parents.  We establish rapport with each of these constituents while providing engaging learning experiences for students. 

SBI professional development uses three books by creator and TEI Director David Levine: Building Classroom Communities, Teaching Empathy and The School of Belonging Plan Book. Each of these resources highlights David’s specialized approach to creating emotionally safe classrooms and schools in which each student’s unique expression to the world is nurtured. A critical component of SBI culture work is the use of David’s Music Dialogue Process (MDP), which engages students and staff members through song, conversation and self-reflection, inspiring them to make a difference in the world. 

SBI trains teachers and mental health professionals to facilitate Facing the Future, Leaving a Legacy: Lessons for a School of Belonging. This set of lessons utilizes MDP to create real-life, emotionally charged, inspiring and life-changing pro-social learning experiences.

School of Belonging Initiative core practices focus upon:

TEiconwhEmpathy Education:

Empathy as a guiding light of consciousness is the primary focus for A School of Belonging as it is infused into all aspects of the SBI experience.

TEiconwhEmotional Intelligence:

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is defined as having the skills to manage one’s emotions while under pressure.  A person with high EQ has a greater chance for healthy and productive relationships both personally and professionally. 


SBI emphasizes that each adult plays a role in helping students achieve happiness, success, and a sense of purpose in their lives.  Resilient children have the pro-social skills necessary to manage the potentially difficult life situations they will face and it is each staff member’s responsibility to model and teach those skills.


SBI utilizes neuroscience research in creating lessons and practices that support students and staff  in regulating their responses during daily social interactions and challenges, including conflict situations. 

Guiding Ideas of A School of Belonging:

  • A school environment in which acceptance, understanding and non-judgment are present, facilitates emotional safety and a sense of belonging.

  • When empathy is practiced by all members of the learning community, a healthy school with healthy students will be the norm.

  • A social and emotional learning focus positively affects students’ academic achievement. 

  • Teachers are most effective when they have opportunities for reflective practice to enhance their collaboration skills, classroom practices and relationship-building skills.

  • In order to facilitate a school culture of emotional safety, para-professionals and parents must receive parallel training experiences that focus on the social and emotional well-being of the children.