Empathy – An Emotional Essential

empathyEmpathy may seem a bit “touchy feely” for many educators, but the facts are clear: a lack of empathy leads students to a host of negative issues, including narcissism, aggression, bullying, self-centeredness, sadness, and stress.  None of these behaviors help increase student achievement.

Schools that incorporate empathy as a curricular component find tremendous benefits for the culture and for achievement.  In the article Nine Competencies for Teaching Empathy author Michele Borba shares the following regarding components of empathy:

  1. Emotional Literacy – Students need the ability to read emotions in others.  Teaching students the language of emotions and giving them the opportunity to express how they are feeling helps them to recognize that others have emotions.  Creating opportunities for face-to-face conversation and collaboration is important in developing emotional literacy. 
  2. Moral Identity – Students need to understand and articulate their values, and they need to understand that others have values.  Adults need to model values and demonstrate positive interactions with others while respecting differing value systems.
  3. Perspective Taking – Students need the opportunity to recognize that not everyone is like them.  They need the opportunity to assume the role of someone else in order to see things differently on occasion.  Asking, “How would you feel if it were you?” can spark a conversation that enables students to take a different point of view on a matter. 
  4. Moral Imagination – Students can use fictional characters to help explore feelings and perspectives.  Songs, poetry, artwork, and other forms of expression can be shared and explored for their emotional content.
  5. Self-Regulation – Maintaining emotional well being, recognizing the feelings of others, and practicing empathy are predictors of academic achievement (See Lehrer, 2009).  Teachers can create calming spaces within their classrooms and provide quiet time to help students relax and refocus when their emotions begin to escalate. 
  6. Practicing Kindness – Modeling kindness and encouraging students to undertake kindness reaps tremendous benefits for all involved.  Kindness breeds kindness, and remember what Aesop said: No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted. 
  7. Collaboration – Working with others helps students gain a greater awareness of the feelings of others.  It further emphasizes the importance of others over self alone. 
  8. Moral Courage – Standing up for others and doing what is right is something that can be taught.  It can be studied in the lives of others, such as Gandhi and Mandela. Teaching students to stand up for themselves and others can also reduce incidence of bullying.
  9. Growing Changemakers – As students express empathy and undertake acts of kindness, they can observe the real difference they are making in the world around them.  Once students see the positive impact they can make, they are likely to continue to act in meaningful ways.  

As you plan for next week, think of how these nine competencies are playing out in your room.  Plan for them and encourage empathy. You and your students will be glad you did!

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