8 Practices to Foster Empathy

8 practices to foster empathy:

Choose empathy. Empathy is not a feeling or a predetermined character trait; it is a choice to change your perspective. Discuss this choice with your students. Actively engage your class in an assignment like “Developing Empathy” that helps them put themselves in someone else’s shoes. Engaging students in experiences and circumstances different from their own helps them build bridges between misconception and understanding.

Understand that respect is subjective. Have a conversation with your students about what respect means to them. Stanford researchers found that teachers often view respect in terms of cooperation and compliance, while for students, respect often means “basic recognition of your humanity.” This includes the teacher knowing the student’s name (and pronouncing it correctly), not embarrassing them in front of their peers and expressing interest in their perspective.

Recognize barriers to empathy. The children who need the most love often show it in the most unloving ways. Studies by Russell A. Barkley show that students who have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, for example, have underdeveloped emotional regulation, which is a barrier to social, emotional and academic success.

Explain why you are there. Show passion. Explicitly explain to students that you are there to prepare them for their future. Don’t be afraid to tell them about your own life. Letting students in will help build their empathy as well as a mutual, caring relationship.

Give an “I Wish My Teacher Knew” assignment. Giving students an outlet to tell you about themselves can yield remarkable results. Students may not be comfortable sharing their thoughts in front of the class or out loud, but they might be willing to write them down. Take time to reflect on what your students want you to know and how that can inform your practice.

Model empathy. Dealing with students all day can be frustrating, especially when you are repeating the same set of directions or reviewing rules on a daily basis.

Reverse the Golden Rule. Every teacher has used some version of the saying “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Rephrasing this as a question can help evoke empathy from your students (i.e., “How would you feel if she did that to you?”)

Incorporate immersion, problem solving, group play and collaboration. Students who work, solve problems and play together are more likely to empathize with their classmates. Build these activities into a daily routine to allow students optimal time to practice empathy skills