Good teachers change the way their students think. Great teachers change the way their students live. But, how do you make this leap from good to great? How do you teach not just from the neck up, but thoughtfully contribute to students’ comprehensive development needs? It starts by making sure empathy gets a promotion.
Changing the Way Your Students Think
Empathy is more than a “nice quality”. Empathy is a subject we need to be explicitly teaching in our classrooms. An empathetic student is a conscientious student. A conscientious student is a contributor to your classroom’s success. When you develop your students’ ability to empathize, you’ll create your own little league to advocate for one another.
Here are just a few ideas you can use to teach empathy in your classroom:
- Model Empathy: Use phrases like, “I can see that __ concerns you” or “I noticed you liked __” to give students the language to express how others feel.
- Diversify: Make sure the images and texts you’re your students are exposed to represent the larger world, not just in terms of race, gender, and body types, but also in terms of styles, interests, and values. Make them not just comfortable with images of people who are unlike them; make them genuinely interested in people who are different from them.
- Show Them Another Side: Use project-based learning to show students that there are often more sides to a story than they realize. Introduce them to a senior friend who will explain how things were different when they were a child. You can also teach them about individuals who might not have the same opportunities that we do.
- Make it Personal: This one is trickier, but if you really want to teach empathy, students need to see themselves in the plight of another. Have them imagine a future 20 years from now where they are homeless. Have them develop a narrative explaining how they got there.
A Place to Belong
You can’t control what they watch on YouTube or how their parents interact with them, but you can make your classroom a safe haven which accepts, honors, and celebrates one another. The lessons you teach on empathy provide immediate returns in your classroom and lasting returns in society.