Empathy. It is such a difficult concept to teach because it deals with the emotions of others. Students often struggle with this because they are accustomed to focusing on themselves and their own needs/desires. As students get older, it becomes more and more essential that they have this quality. Empathy builds strong character and underscores the values of being culturally sensitive.
Families, communities, and educators all strive to produce confident, compassionate, and capable members of our youth. Yet, students often have a hard time putting into practice the abstract concept of empathy. How can teachers and schools encourage these characteristics of strength in students? Below are a few tips for developing and supporting empathy in the classroom:
- Have a “value of the month” at your school. Make the value for September: RESPECT, January: KINDNESS, May: GENEROSITY, and so on. Hold team-building activities that support each of the values, like having a food can drive for generosity month. Or, recognize random acts of kindness with acknowledging and rewarding students caught doing something kind..
- Implement community outreach activities. Have students participate in visiting senior citizens, helping out with charities, cleaning up the neighborhood, planting or tending community gardens, highway clean-up, etc..
- Provide a class activity that recognizes the emotions of others. Students gather in two large circles in the classroom, one circle inside the other. Like musical chairs, have the two circle move in opposite directions until STOP is called. Once stopped, students face the person in the opposite circle. The teacher calls out an emotion and the students must find a non-verbal way to show that emotion. Go through several emotions, and then discuss. Emotions were likely shown in several different ways – for example, HAPPY might be displayed with a smile or a fist pump or through a dance..
- Support anti-bullying practices..
- Perform role-playing scenarios of empathy – how would they react if…..? Give several scenarios, and allow students to actually perform what they would do in certain situation. Let them voice how the other person might be feeling..
- Advise a debate team. Let students see how others think, and how they express those opinions..
- Allow students to have opinions, and to recognize that other people have opinions too..
- Study different cultures, customs, and behaviors.