The Road To Oxford & Back

I recently returned from a humane education conference at the Oxford Centre on Animal Ethics with our colleagues from the Institute for Human-Animal Connection (IHAC), who crafted a humane education curriculum specifically for our campaign.  We presented to an international audience of educators and scholars about Soft Side’s efforts to stop animal cruelty and IHAC’s efforts to design a curriculum that makes a difference.

Did that just really happen?

Show Your Soft Side™ remains an all-volunteer non-profit, whose ultimate goal is to change the mindset of kids who may be inclined to hurt animals.  As our backgrounds are in law, advertising, and promotions, we’re the first to admit that we’re not humane educators.  Instead, we have always partnered with professionals who have extensive knowledge, training, and experience in the field.  These experts have taken our materials into classrooms, where they have ignited animated discussions about the humane treatment of animals.

On countless occasions, we have witnessed just how effective our Softies can be in conveying the message that compassion is strength.  Yes, we’re biased, but we have always believed that our Softies were the best ambassadors for delivering our message and preliminary testing may show we were right.

Perhaps the stars were aligned.  As we reflect over the past 18 months, we are humbled by the organizations, foundations, and individuals who made this growth possible.  We initially reached out to renowned expert, Dr. Sarah Bexell, Director of Humane Education at IHAC, which is housed at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work.  Bexell shared our materials at IHAC’s biannual conference, Animals on the Mind 3.0, and then began crafting lesson plans for us with help from her graduate students.  But as humane education programs have come under increasing scrutiny, a burning question lingered. Was the curriculum effective? 

The Latham Foundation gave us the opportunity to find out by awarding us a grant to test the efficacy of IHAC’s Cool to be Kind lesson plan for upper elementary students.  Thanks to this funding, graduate students Brynn Wiessner and Julia Senecal piloted the curriculum at Academy 360, a public charter school with a diverse population within the Denver Public Schools.

Their quantitative and qualitative testing reaffirmed that short term interventions may not be effective for changing behavior, but other results showed promise. Specifically, the curriculum was effective in promoting critical thinking skills, as well as developing an understanding and capacity for empathy. Moreover, one student disclosed that animal abuse was occurring in the home, demonstrating the value of humane education as a violence prevention tool, and a teacher noted that celebrities truly opened the eyes of the students in seeing that cruelty is never acceptable.  The important takeaway is that Softies, who are athletes and celebrities, may increase the efficacy of a humane education program, particularly when presented by a multi-disciplinary team.

Much more research remains to be done, but we are excited to share this curriculum in Baltimore.  Thanks to a recent grant from Constellation, humane educators who are also school psychologists, will be sharing the Cool to be Kind curriculum in the coming months.  Wherever you reside, we’re happy to share our materials with you.

Our hope is that you’ll join us in creating a better world for animals and, in the process, create better adults.  

To access our latest humane education video (along with sample discussion questions), as well as the Cool to be Kind curriculum for upper elementary students, visit our website. And if you’re a teacher, humane educator or work with children in any capacity, we’ll send you our posters free-of-charge. Just send us at email at gro.edistfosruoywohsnull@ofni.