Superficial associations via social media are gradually replacing deep personalised connections between human beings. As a result, we see children growing up rich in knowledge, but lacking in the ability to understand the emotions and the feelings of others, otherwise known as empathy.
Until insight into the suffering of our fellow men is understood, there is little that can be done to bring about a positive change in society. We can begin by helping our students to understand the importance of being empathetic. Inculcating empathy into daily teaching can build lifelong skills crucial for personal growth and success.
Below are a few ideas that I hope will help.
Familiarise children with the names of different emotions
It’s surprising to see that many children are not able to articulate their feelings clearly. When students are not able to communicate their feelings clearly, it can lead to them becoming frustrated. As teachers we can equip them with a healthy vocabulary that allows them to communicate their emotions. The more they are in sync and in command of their own feelings, the more they will be able to feel empathy for others and offer help.
Teach ‘point of view’
The easiest way is to show kids that everything can be seen from a different perspective. Take the 9 and 6 numbers, for instance. Place a card with the number 9 on it in between two groups of students and ask them what they see. They will come to respect that although they may see something differently, the other perspective may not be wrong. Continue to have discussions modelling ‘point of view’ into lessons wherever possible.
Teach empathy through literature
When selecting text to improve reading and comprehension, bringing out the emotions of the characters (especially the bad guy) and discussing the actions they take in response to certain situations can really help children understand and relate to real life circumstances. Making that connection to real life is important, so that the matter becomes relevant to pupils. When something is relatable, it tends to stick.
Skype in the classroom
Using Skype in the classroom provides valuable insight into diversity and differences in lifestyles. It is also a good way for students to engage in direct live chat with others across the globe, thus gaining real life experience on how differently others may live.
Developing listening skills
Stephen Covey states in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, and then be understood.” This line effectively sums up the key to developing empathy. Kids need to be taught how to listen with patience and understanding. Establish a safe environment in your classroom, and have children share personal experiences where everyone just listens. There doesn’t need to be any comment. Bring in guests to your classroom who have overcome some adversity. Make them really listen to connect.
Inculcate empathy as a theme for the entire curriculum
The ability to identify and understand another person’s situation, their feelings, and motivations can be embedded across the curriculum by encouraging a growth mindset, kindness, sense of purpose, optimism, a sense of giving and compassion. Soft boards, student guided presentations, modelling by the teacher and entire staff – all these things will get imbibed into the physiological makeup of the pupils.
When teachers integrate empathy into schooling, it opens the door for positive changes in the way young people will connect with each other in future.
By Rahima Jabeen
Rahima conducts teacher training and uses her blog, Young Islamic Minds, to assist parents with their children’s education. Her Facebook page, Unleashing The Teacher Within, is aimed at motivating educators. Rahima also has a makeup review blog, Yet More Makeup.