Teachers, parents, and students alike are discovering the importance of learning more than just academic knowledge in school. Real-life education is becoming increasingly important so that students can succeed and function well outside of their school walls. Since it’s not enough for students to just learn math, reading, writing, and study skills, teachers are shifting their focus to teaching resilience, perseverance, self-control, teamwork, and more. Another big focus is empathy. In the classroom, students as young as 5 can learn empathy and how to apply to their daily interactions with others. These lessons are key in helping students develop into kind and caring individuals who will eventually become responsible and productive members of society.
What Is Empathy?
Some adults struggle to fully understand empathy, especially when it’s compared to sympathy, which is similar. Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Empathy can be broken down into three categories that, while may be too much for young students to understand, can help teachers to determine the type of empathy they need to focus on at a given time. Cognitive empathy is like a mental awareness of another person’s circumstance or mindset. It’s putting yourself in their shoes and showing them that you can see their perspective. Social empathy is the ability to sense another person’s feelings. It’s the ability to understand what it might be like to be another person while considering the experiences and circumstances that have shaped them. Empathetic concern is the third type of empathy. It’s about taking action. It’s about combining cognitive and social empathy into a concern that moves you to do something for another person.
Why Do Students Need to Learn Empathy?
Empathy in the classroom is a key to building students into compassionate and kind adults. It’s impacting the current generation to create a better future for everyone. The sooner we begin teaching young kids about empathy, the better off they will be during their schooling years and when they are adults. The world is changing and there are often large differences amongst students in the classroom, and kids need to learn early on how to put themselves in others’ shoes and have understanding for others’ differences. Studies prove that the lessons kids learn in early childhood are more likely to impact their personality and their lives later one. This makes it incredibly important to give kids instruction on good characteristics like empathy when they are young.
Why Should Teachers Teach Empathy?
Just as mentioned above, the earlier children learn empathy, the better the impact and the result. The classroom is a perfect place to instruct students on what empathy is and how important it is. Students can begin learning how to imagine being in someone else’s position and situation, and they can begin introducing the benefits of being empathetic towards others. Teaching empathy in the classroom will bring about a positive classroom culture of acceptance, understanding, and positivity. It helps students learn to understand one another and allows them to build friendships with their classmates based on mutual understanding and trust. In addition to the social benefits, teachers that intentionally instruct students on the value and application of empathy see academic benefits as well.
Teaching empathy in the classroom will also bring about positive change in the community, both in the present and the future. The world we live in is diverse and constantly changing, which increases the need for more empathy within our communities. Not only will the communities benefit immediately from an increased empathy in children, but those children will become the leaders of tomorrow, and they will take those empathy lessons with them into their leadership roles.
Empathy is an important part of understanding and managing emotions, which is a key skill for students to grasp at an early age. It is key to building relationships, and it is a vital part of an individual’s ability to achieve success in academics, careers, and life in general. Emotional control and awareness are important factors in the mental health and wellness of adults and children alike, and a lot of that starts with empathy. In the classroom, teachers can instruct children on the value of introspection, proper emotional expression, and understanding differences in others.
How Can Teachers Impart Empathy in the Classroom?
Many schools are implementing character development into their curriculum nowadays, which is a great way to introduce empathy and other important qualities to young students. In addition to utilizing pointed lessons on empathy, teachers can impart empathy in the classroom by following the tips below.
Be an Example – Adults often struggle with empathy too, but being intentional about showing empathy in your classroom can go a long way. Even if you don’t talk about how you were empathetic and even if a student doesn’t notice that you’re being empathetic, your example goes much farther than you realize in the eyes and minds of impressionable students. Show patience, compassion, and understanding, both with your students and with other staff members at your school. Be careful how you talk about family members or friends in front of your students, and be sure to be intentional about your interactions with your students’ family members as well.
Identify Similarities – Students are often quick to point out the differences between them, but give them opportunities to identify similarities as well. These can be as simple as “we all have two hands” or “we all are in the first grade.” You can then have students find similarities with just a handful of other students, such as those who have brothers or those who love baseball. Let them discover that they have something significant in common with each and every student in their class, which should show them that they have something in common with everyone else they interact with too. Help them realize the importance of these shared interests and characteristics, and let them use those similarities as a stepping stone towards seeing the others’ perspectives and understanding their circumstances.
Utilize Story-Telling – Kids respond positively to stories more than almost any other teaching tool. Even if you’re making up a story to demonstrate empathy to your class, use a real name and realistic circumstances to help them see empathy in the story. While young children may not see a problem with a behavior in real life, when they hear a story about other kids, they often have an easier time understanding the correct response and an appropriate use of empathy.
Provide Opportunities to Practice – Give kids specific examples of a difficult situation and ask them how they would respond. Then allow them to act out some of those situations. The more they practice empathy and think intentionally about utilizing it in difficult circumstances, the more likely they are to remember the empathy lessons when they are faced with a challenging situation in real life.