Empathy is a fundamental ability students need to thrive in the classroom and in their future careers. Profiles of career-ready students, like North Carolina’s Portrait of a Graduate and Participate Learning’s ten real-life competencies, include empathy as a vital skill. As an educator, you play an important role in nurturing this essential competency in your students. Here are six simple approaches to help you foster empathy in your classroom:
1. Start with Yourself: Be a Role Model
Students look up to their teachers. They also excel at parroting their peers, parents, and other adults whom they respect and admire. Demonstrate empathy in your interactions with students and colleagues. Share experiences in which you’ve shown empathy, and talk about how those experiences made you feel. Your actions and words set a powerful example.
2. Encourage Active Listening
Teach students the art of active listening. Because kids tend to get excited about what they can contribute to conversations, it can be difficult to truly focus on and listen to the speaker. Create activities where they practice listening without interrupting, and then reflect on what they’ve heard. Teach them strategies for holding on to the thoughts they want to share for a more appropriate time. This skill helps them understand and connect with the perspectives and feelings of others.
3. Embrace Diverse Perspectives
Introduce books, stories, and lessons from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Discuss different viewpoints and encourage open conversations. Affirm to your students that your classroom is a safe space for their curiosity about different people, places, and experiences. This will broaden students’ understanding and appreciation of different ways of life.
Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts that focus on real-life competencies. We would love to hear how you are developing changemakers in your classroom. Share your lessons and activities on social media using #UnitingOurWorld.
4. Build Self-Awareness
Self-awareness, another of Participate Learning’s real-life competencies, is key to nurturing empathy. Helping students understand themselves and their relationships with others will allow them to better understand each other. Try introducing the broader concept of culture before having students reflect on their own culture for a sense of perspective.
5. Take Action Locally
Tackle a challenge with your students that is relevant to them and connects to their local community. Whether it’s a local food drive, a campaign to make local sidewalks accessible, or writing letters to residents at a local retirement facility, these activities can foster empathy and a sense of connection in their immediate community.
6. Promote Expressive Arts
Use art, music, and drama as tools for expression. Encourage students to create and share pieces that express feelings and tell stories. This not only nurtures empathy but also provides a creative outlet for their emotions. Additionally, it provides students with an opportunity to practice interpreting and responding appropriately to their peers’ feelings and communicating about their own.
With these strategies, you are giving your students an opportunity to draw from their strengths and interests and to engage with different modalities to immerse themselves in empathy. Keep in mind that nurturing empathy in students is a journey, not a destination. It requires patience, consistency, and a lot of heart. The seeds of empathy you plant today can grow into a more compassionate and understanding tomorrow.