September 23, 2016
Why Empathy Matters in School
image credit: toddhayentherapy.com
Empathy - A little word, with a ton of meaning and certainly worth taking a closer look at since we somehow hear it a lot. The simplified interpretation tells us that empathy describes an ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Sounds good, right?
If it sounds like common sense to you, then chances are high that your moral compass is intact and finely tuned to the emotions of others and what they may be going through. We need empathy in order to forge genuine and mutually rewarding connections. Sometimes it may be overlooked but that's exactly why an education system should foster it in tandem with academia. So is empathy an innate capability (you've always, somehow, had it), or did you learn it somewhere along the way because someone taught you? Well, by now most studies point in the same direction. Students expressing care for one another is not an innate ability present more naturally in some people than others, but rather a skill that can be taught and nurtured through a supportive educational environment (McLennan, 2008).
Accordingly, we cannot realistically remove the emotional aspect from education, simply because we are humans and our emotions form the defining metric of our existence. A student's emotions affect the way, and how much they're able to learn. As teachers, a big part of our line of work is picking up on these 'little' things and being proactive to such dynamics in a classroom. But it's not only us who have to have empathy for our students, our biggest gig is getting our students to develop this skill for themselves.
It's up to us as teachers and parents to set guidelines and rules about how we would like our students and kids to interact with others. In the classrooms, we know that real learning can only happen when we've got an emotionally safe space and positive relationships. These vaunted positive, and mutually beneficial relationships require listening skills, picking up non-verbal cues, and developing an understanding and appreciation of whatever differences there may be between us.
And while it's neither our role nor place as teachers to take over for parents, an educator's job does entail not simply assuming that tolerance and empathy are skills which are adequately addressed at home.
Students don't check their feelings, personal problems and private lives at the door of the classroom and when classmates do not have the skills to understand that, problems can and will arise faster than anyone would like. We have to be aware of that and constantly have those skills as the backdrop to our students' learning journey and pursuit of academic qualification. This would be a necessity in even the most homogenous of classrooms, nevermind the kinds of diversity we have in every single classroom all over the world now. Aspects as simple as a different diet for religious reason, for example or as complex as an entirely different worldview are in play every day and the one skill which will make all this harmonious and possibly is, of course, empathy. In essence, empathy is not only an aspect of a great education and school system it is the essence and a benchmark for both.
Please have a look here for a quick reference about how fostering empathy is an everyday kind of thing and drop us a comment or get in touch if you'd like to find out more about how empathy is encouraged in our schools.