Roots of Empathy (ROE) was created in 1996 by teacher Mary Gordon and became a registered, non-profit organization in 2000. It is an evidence-based classroom program that has shown dramatic effects in reducing levels of aggression and violence among school children while raising social/emotional competence and elevating empathy.

What is ROE?

The heart of the program is a neighbourhood infant and parent who visit the classroom 9 times over the school year. With a certified ROE Instructor, students are coached to observe the baby's development, celebrate milestones, interact with the baby and learn about an infant's needs and unique temperament. Working in partnership with communities, the ROE program reaches school children from Kindergarten to Grade 8 in English and French, in rural, urban, remote, and Aboriginal communities both on and off reserve, and is also now international in scope. The ROE Instructor also works with the class the week before and the week after each family visit to prepare and reinforce teachings using a specialized curriculum that is appropriate for our students.

The ROE Mission

ROE’s mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. The focus of ROE in the long term is to build capacity of the next generation for caring and compassionate citizenship and parenting.

In the short term, the program focuses on raising levels of empathy, resulting in more respectful and caring relationships and reduced levels of bullying and aggression. Part of the success is the universal nature of the program including the positive engagement of all the children in the class.


Roots of Empathy has been a part of SMCDSB institutions for over 10 years in which our trained Roots of Empathy instructors (including our School Counsellors and many community partners) have delivered 214 programs in schools across the county.  More than 5,000 SMCDSB elementary students have participated in a Roots of Empathy program in the past decade.  We consider Roots of Empathy to be one of our key mental health initiatives at the elementary panel.


Implementing the ROE Program helps students to:

  • Build social/emotional competency
  • Build emotional literacy
  • Promote knowledge of infant development and safety
  • Reduce bullying and levels of aggression
  • Promote social inclusion
  • Promote empathy development


For more information about the ROE program, please visit