Helping Students Learn to Listen with Empathy and Understanding

Fred Rogers, the mild-mannered host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” knew the importance of empathy and understanding with young children.  He would often spend hours talking with children to help them get answers to the questions they had.  In one interview he stressed the importance of listening and connecting with others.  He said, “In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.”  How very true this is for all of us!

In the book Learning and Leading With Habits of Mind: 16 Characteristics for Success, author, researcher, and educator A. L. Costa, identified and addressed a rather substantial list of habits beneficial for students, teachers, and schools.  Listening with empathy and understanding made the list of characteristics.  Students must learn to empathize with and understand others if they are going to accomplish their academic and lifetime goals.    

How can teachers help the students in their classrooms learn to listen with empathy and understanding?  Aryn Lietzke, Editor of Training Programs and Product with the Crisis Prevention Institute, suggests the following seven tips for empathetic listening on the CPI blog (

  1. Be nonjudgmental.  Listen to understand, not to evaluate and adjudicate.  
  2. Give the person your undivided attention.  Put down the phone and close the laptop.  Look at the person speaking.  Lean in a bit to invite further sharing.  
  3. Listen carefully to both feelings and facts.  Feelings are highly individualized and valid.  They need to be expressed in order to be effectively managed.  
  4. Show that you are listening carefully.  Make eye contact.  Nod in affirmation.  Respond appropriately.  
  5. Don’t be afraid of silence.  Sometimes we need a little silence to ensure everyone has time to fully process what is being said.  
  6. Restate and paraphrase.  Let others know they have been heard by restating and/or paraphrasing content back to them.  Such an activity will give them the opportunity to help clarify anything unclear. 
  7. Follow up.  Everything cannot always be addressed in a single conversation.  Take time to circle back with others to ensure that their needs are being met. 

As you prepare for next week, think about how you can incorporate these into your practice.  You and your students will be glad you did.

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