Cultivation of Empathy in the Classroom

How well can you relate to another person? Empathy is the understanding of another person and their situation. Within the classroom environment, there are a variety of learners each with individual learning abilities who come from different social classes. Students are at a disadvantage when they are seen as not meeting the ‘status quo’ of the class and are not accepted. A certain amount of empathy needs to come from teachers, parents, and classmates toward one another to unify the class and make it a positive learning environment.

There are several different categories for learning styles unique to each student. A student may be a kinesthetic learner, learning best working with their hands, while others might learn faster by listening, visually, or by reading. A teacher wanting her students to be successful, can be empathetic to the needs of the students by finding out which is easiest for them. By assessing the students at the beginning of the school year, and referring a student’s history from the previous year, the teacher can identify these needs. The teacher can then prepare lesson plans for diversified instruction to meet the needs of multiple learning styles. The teacher can consider what works best for each class and plan lesson plans accordingly. Additionally, students might learn best working individually, or they might be more social and enjoy group interaction. They might learn best depending on how the classroom is arranged such as having the desks in a circular setting, or several desks pushed together in groups, rather than in stark rows. Teachers can plan activities working in environments best suited to the class.

Teachers who notice frustrations and provide empathy to struggling students can make a difference in the life of the student. Learning is not just about achieving the highest grades, but learning how to stay motivated, having a good attitude, and working past hurdles. As a source of encouragements, teachers can make an impact on the life of the student on a personal level. Stepping out of the role of instruction-to grade book, teachers can extend a human heart to students who may not see past the next exam. In situations like this, teachers can leave a lasting impression to student, by offering additional assistance, reassurance, and encouragement—showing that he or she truly cares about them as an individual wanting them to be successful, beyond the grade book. Teachers can find the student a tutor, they can spend time explaining the material, or if it is a distraction which is affecting learning, a good teacher can dive in to get involved to find out more about the issue which is bothering the student.

Parents can also practice empathy toward teachers. While teachers need to meet expectations to teach, parents can also keep in mind that teachers have a classroom full of students and may be overwhelmed. This does not mean that parents should lower the bar in their expectation, but it may help with their communication as they speak their concerns to teachers. They can soften their demands by stating that they understand the teacher has large class sizes and even offer to see how they can assist the teacher.

Empathy can be taught by schools within classrooms for empathy between students. Students often face bullying in schools. Whether it is that “their hair looks funny”, “they can’t play ball” or “they are the slowest one in the class”, students need to learn to be more accepting of one another. These are life skills which are useful at any age and will help a student learn to work with people who may not be exactly like them.

By identifying cases where students might not fit in, teachers can proactively plan for ways to create a comfort level and safe environment for everyone in the classroom. Students in classes might need to adapt to classmates who are different from them. Empathy and welcomeness needs to be encouraged to help classes identify with students with physical disabilities, the special education student, an English language learner, a quick learner who is gifted, or maybe a student just transferred from another class, or one who is new to the school. Often times, addressing these students with a warm welcome from the teacher demonstrates acceptance. The teacher can also help answer questions which prevents gossip and isolation based on assumptions. By creating this sense of empathy and understanding, the class can accept the student with greater ease. For the student, the ability to be welcomed as an equal within the class and not stand out as an oddity is expedited, eliminating unnecessary attention drawn to them and subjecting them to a hostile environment.

Empathy is not necessarily acceptance. It is providing an understanding to a situation or finding a common ground in the case of differences. This understanding helps create community rather than create division. It is a positive way to build energy from which education and having healthy life-long skills of human relationships are cultivated.


Shop these books…

Teaching with Compassion
by Peter Kaufman, Janine Schipper

Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Empathy and Responsibility Using Restorative Justice (Hack Learning Series)
by Nathan Maynard and Brad Weinstein


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