As a teacher, we usually encounter multiple forms of students’ behaviour in the classroom. One of the behaviours which I believe every teacher should relate where students support each other. When asking ‘why you are not participating in the classroom or what puzzling you, buddy?’ was answered by someone else, ‘Sir, she is not feeling well.’ It is interesting to see how students make themselves aware of the situation that might have shaken their classmates’ spirits. The term that relates to such behaviour can be ‘Empathy’ which means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings.’ But how can someone genuinely understand how someone else is feeling? Are some people born with this innate ability, or is it a skill that should be learned in the classroom?
Why teach Empathy as a skill in Classroom?
According to Bob Sornson, Ph. D., an award-winning teacher and school administrator for over 30 years, “Empathy is the heart of a great classroom culture.” Through empathy, students learn to understand each other, which helps them to build friendships based on positive relationships of trust.” Similarly, empathy can also develop student-teacher relationships.
Empathy also prepares students to be leaders in their community. According to a study conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership, “empathy is positively related to the job performance.” Students must be able to empathize with those whom they lead to make them feel valued. This skill will strengthen trust between the leader and followers.
But what if the educators around the world are tirelessly teaching the skills of empathy in their classroom. But still, students and young adults find it increasingly difficult to feel compassion toward each other.
Where Does Empathy Discourage?
According to Tim Elmore, founder and president of Growing Leaders, the following are some of the potential realities of today’s time.
- As screen time goes up, empathy goes down. You will find that the more a student is in front of a video, computer, or phone screen, their level of compassion for people drops. Although in today’s pandemic era, computers are all through which we all are connected. But try to balance screen time with face-to-face time, and there comes the role of parents. Sit with them and spend some time with them. Try to enquire about their daily routine and their social circles.
- Between commercial messages, texts, emails, Facebook posts, Instagrams, YouTube videos, etc., a student today receives about 1,000 messages every day. It’s too much information. Talk about this reality with your students and let them “own” how they must filter out unnecessary information so they can digest what really matters.
- Kids have grown up in a world where mistakes or tragedy they witness often does not carry consequences. They see a friend commit a crime or cheat on a test but get off easy. They see people get shot on TV or a violent video game, but it doesn’t mean anything. The next time a student fails, be sure they feel the consequences. It’s a reality check.
- Sometimes, students fail to develop empathy because they see a generation of adults lead with a worn-out, pessimistic attitude. We all are cautious of being taken advantage of or being tricked, so we keep our guard up. Because we don’t want to be “victims”, we prevent ourselves from feeling what actual victims feel. Be intentional to talk over current events, like school shootings or victims of natural disasters and share your feelings about them. Model empathy.
Resources to Teach Empathy in Classrooms as a Skill
So do you teach empathy in the classroom? Or from now onwards, thinking to tweak your lesson plan? The following are some of the resources shared openly by educators around the world, which might help you guys incorporate empathy in your lesson plans.
- Miranda McKearney and Sarah Mears suggest incorporating reading in their article “Lost for words? How reading can teach children empathy.”
- org offers lesson plans centred around empathy.
- Ashokalists different strategies to incorporate empathy across different educational contexts and a toolkit for increasing empathy within schools (PDF).
- Dr Karyn Gordon provides some practical tips in TEACH Magazine‘s article “Dr Karyn Gordon: Creating Empathy and Gratitude in the Classroom.”
- Teaching Tolerance describes a variety of strategies for helping to build a positive classroom culture that can include empathy.