Empathy at School

Empathy in the Classroom: Why Should I Care?

When I was getting ready to start my second year of teaching, I distinctly remember sitting in my classroom with my teaching coach. I was very excited. We were formulating a plan to realise my goals for the classroom and for the students I teach. The school where I worked had become increasingly obsessed with test scores over the course of the previous year, but the more I thought about my students and the things they required, the less the test scores motivated me.

My coach questioned me by asking, “Lauren, what do your students require?”

I paused. Before I voiced my opinion, the thought that crossed my mind was that they require empathy. In a short amount of time after that, I had based the entirety of my classroom on the idea.

During that academic year, I made developing empathy a primary focus in my classroom instruction. The fact that I was a history teacher made it natural for me to engage students in conversations about the myriad perspectives and motivations of history’s most significant players. However, as we went deeper into our topics of discussion, I became more and more convinced that empathy needed to be a central component in every type of educational environment.

3 Benefits of Empathy in Education

Empathy is defined by Tyler Colasante, according to the website Empathyed.org “as “the intrapersonal realisation of another’s plight that illuminates the potential consequences of one’s own actions on the lives of others,” empathy can be defined as “the realisation that one’s own actions can have an effect on the lives of others” (as cited in Hollingsworth, 2003, p.146).
“If you are a teacher, incorporating empathy into the learning process can have beneficial effects not only for the students in your immediate classroom but also for the larger community outside of the school building. This is why:

1. Empathy contributes to a more positive atmosphere in the classroom.
It is more important than ever before for teachers to actively construct a positive classroom culture. This is because of the diverse student population that is entering classrooms on a daily basis, which is occurring concurrently with an increase in globalisation. According to what Bob Sornson writes in his article titled “Developing Empathy in the Classroom,” empathy is “the heart of a great classroom culture.” As he explains, students learn to understand each other through the cultivation of empathy, which in turn enables them to cultivate friendships that are founded on positive relationships of trust. As Ernest Mendes explains in his article titled “What Empathy Can Do,” cultivating student-teacher relationships is another benefit that can come from taking the time to demonstrate empathy. According to what was written by John Converse Townsend in Forbes Magazine, educational programmes that purposefully incorporate empathy into curriculum have also seen better results on standardised tests. This is a more academic point of view.

2. A sense of empathy helps to strengthen communities.
Given that one of the defining characteristics of empathy is the ability to understand the emotions of another person even when one oneself has not had those experiences, developing empathy in students paves the way for them to develop deeper relationships not only with their current classmates but also with people they know outside of school. As the world continues to become more interconnected, the people you interact with may come from very different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds than in the past. As a result, your capacity for empathy will need to be significantly improved. In her article titled “Reflections From Teachers of Culturally Diverse Children” (PDF), Michaela W. Colombo states that “approximately 40 percent of children in public schools in the United States are from culturally diverse backgrounds (NCES 2003).”

Children will be able to apply the skills they acquire by communicating with their classmates from a variety of cultural backgrounds to their lives in their community as they progress in their development of empathy. Strong empathy skills have the potential to result in deeper relationships, which in turn have the potential to strengthen communities and build trust in those communities. The benefits of having a sense of community in the classroom extend well beyond the confines of the building.

3. Teaching your students to have empathy prepares them to be leaders in their community.
Leaders are required to have an understanding of the people they lead as well as the ability to demonstrate that they care. Many articles on leadership focus on the importance of human development as a necessary leadership quality. According to the findings of a research project that was carried out by the Center for Creative Leadership (PDF), “empathy is positively related to job performance” (Gentry, Weber, & Sadri, p.3). In the most recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, Jon Kolko explains how empathy is the most important factor in developing a profitable product. In order to instil a sense of worth in the people they are responsible for, our students need to be able to empathise with them. The leader and the followers’ trust in each other will grow as a result of this validation. As educators, it is our responsibility to prepare our students to assume leadership roles in our communities and beyond.

Resources for Teaching Empathy

And what should we do next? You have come to the conclusion that teaching empathy should be an integral part of your curriculum, but you are unsure where to begin.

We should count ourselves fortunate that other teachers have pondered the same question, and a number of them already offer lesson plans and ideas on how to incorporate and foster empathy in the classroom. Here are some examples: