In the classic novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” protagonist Atticus Finch teaches his children that, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” As a teacher, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this topic, and want to focus this week on strategies that I have been putting into place to help guide children’s moral compass in the right direction. To do so, we need to start by building empathy.
So where do we start? Empathy—the power to understand perspectives other than your own—is an essential skill for all children to master, and it’s one of an important strategies teacher should focus on. Empathy is foundational for building bridges between individuals, understanding each other’s complex emotions, gaining a diverse perspective, and leveraging relationships for collaboration and progress. Despite its importance, empathy is a still a skill. And like all skills, interpersonal or not, it can be thoroughly developed … or ignored. You could argue that alongside our responsibility to equip our students with the academic skills to ace tests, utilize technology, and comprehend curriculum, we likewise need to consider how we can formulate teaching strategies to undergird their character to become the most well-rounded and complete individual as they progress through their educational career.
Lead by example. Children watch you. Closely. They are observing you all the time. They are learning from you character and behaviors. Be a consistent example of empathy, and exude a caring, compassionate, understanding attitude. They’ll follow your lead.
Create a loving and nurturing environment. It’s important that your students trust you and one another. If an understanding, trustworthy environment is established, then they’re more likely to open up and display positive characteristics towards one another.
Include and share stories. Stories are probably the closest thing we have to walking in someone else’s skin. The make us more human, and they develop kids understanding ability to sympathize.
Identify shared values and differences. Discussion and activities go a long way. Facilitate and guide opportunities for students to be open with one another and discover others’ perspectives.
Make time for play in school. Allow for structured and free play. Life is all about having fun too, so why would it be different for kids?
Can’t wait to hear your thoughts and ideas to share with us!