Many a person who teaches for a living finds themselves, at one time or another, searching for ways to become a more empathetic teacher. It mostly comes from a strong desire to educate children by way of genuine connection and understanding. Arguably, this is perhaps the most effective pathway through which one could expect to impart meaningful lifelong learning.
A classic explanation of empathy is the ability to walk in another’s shoes and understand that person’s experience. Empathy is universally significant across environments, contexts, and relationships and everyone can benefit from practicing it. Certainly, it can do no wrong having a regular place in our classrooms.
Why We Need Empathetic Teachers
Empathy is integral to overcoming and respecting differences, building a stronger world view, forging new relationships, and communicating successfully. Researchers often describe two distinct types of empathy: affective empathy and cognitive empathy.
- Affective empathy relates to an individual’s capacity to share in another’s feelings. This may include mirroring what the other is feeling or having your own unique physical or emotional reaction.
- Cognitive empathy involves being able to understand another’s perspective and comprehend why a person might be feeling a certain way.
Both types of empathy—feeling for another person and recognizing why others feel—are essential in the classroom. Apart from simply practicing empathy, empathetic teachers also have the ability to foster it within their learners. In fact, when teachers are caring, supportive, and responsive to their students the learning environment is significantly enriched.
How Empathy Affects Learning
Our learners are at their highest capacity to learn and excel when surrounded by positive relationships, and modelling empathy in the classroom promotes such relationships. Initially, our youth enter the educational environment with all sorts of concerns and problems. When an empathetic teacher encourages nurturing and support and sets appropriate guidelines for how students engage with one another, everyone has a safe place to work through and overcome cultural, racial, socioeconomic, and even personal issues.
In essence, an empathetic teacher gives each student a framework to build on in which all thoughts, opinions, feelings, and differences are uplifted.
Teachers cannot expect to have an impact on intellectual development without becoming involved in their students’ emotional development as well. An empathetic teacher can make a conscious effort to develop a caring relationship with their students. That’s how dramatic positive changes can take place in behaviour, effort, and performance in class.
How to Effectively Practice Empathy in the Classroom
How can you foster this mindset in the classroom and become a more empathetic teacher? Below are just a few examples of ways you can introduce empathy into your classes.
- Model it. Your students are watching you, even when you think they are not. Portray an attitude of empathy in the classroom by showing compassion, positive regard, and understanding for all with whom you interact. Continue this behaviour in the halls, the cafeteria, and even with how you interact with other teachers.
- Try to communicate empathy. An empathetic teacher uses teachable moments in class to explain how one student or even a character in a story might be feeling during a certain situation. This will get your students thinking about things from the perspectives of others.
- Emphasize shared values and common interests. Rather than highlighting how your learners are different, help them to recognize things they may have in common with one another. This includes things like hobbies and interests, or even just a shared desire to do good in class.
- Offer a safe environment to discuss differences. Give your students ample opportunity to respectfully discuss their differences within the context of classroom discussions. This allows students to recognize that having differences is not bad, but it leads them toward a healthy respect for the opinions and perspectives of others.
- Use self-disclosure. When appropriate, share stories or examples about your own life to connect to students on a more personal level. An empathetic teacher is, after all, a human one.
- Create opportunities for collaboration. Whether through group projects or teams during games, allow students to work together and forge bonds through their motivation to win or lose in an activity.
Empathy is an important tool for both teachers and students to learn and grow socially, intellectually, and emotionally. Fortunately, that teacher who is an empathetic teacher can cultivate such a mindset in even young students. Make use of these strategies to create an environment of empathy in the classroom every day.