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Teaching Empathy

'Tis the season to teach empathy. From elections to holidays, empathy (IMO) is one of the most under taught/reinforced life habits. As we approach the holiday season, I've overheard my students discussing all the things they are going to get, which is great! However, I have so many students who don't share that experience. They are nervous and afraid of the holiday break. They don't want to participate in the "I'm getting" conversation, and are likely counting down until it's over. By emphasizing the important of empathy, teachers can build understanding and awareness of different perspectives and experiences. I cooked up some resources to get my students thinking about the perspectives of others by talking about, reflecting on, and celebrating empathy.
Students start by discussing what empathy is/isn't and why it's important. Empathy is one of my school's core values so it's not a new concept. We then walk through different scenarios (example) and engage in a few role plays. When referencing empathy, I usually refer back to the phrase "walk a mile in someone else's shoes." The scenarios help students think about this concept. Students read the role plays together, take on a role, and then play it out with empathy. After role playing, student have a chance to reflect on how it felt and what they did to show empathy. We also use quotes as anchors to connect to what empathy means. Check out one of the quotes here.

Journaling is a fantastic way for students to capture their thinking about empathy by creating a comic, writing about a character who practices empathy, or sharing personal experiences. These are great during morning meetings, or as an end of the day reflection.
Last, but not least, celebrate when someone was empathetic. I put post it notes on student desks when I notice students displaying empathy, we write shout outs to each other, and we have an empathy award every couple of weeks.

Empathy is a habit that I am working on practicing more, and a habit students need to develop in an ever changing and complex world. I believe empathy provides the foundation for a strong classroom community. It is how we build trusting relationships and better understand one another.
Let me know how you teach character habits in the comments! The first two people to comment get the unit for free :-)
Tanesha Forman
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  1. Our district had an old but effective program called Second Step that teaches students to be aware of their feelings and how to communicate by discussing scenarios and role playing. I agree that teaching empathy is so important (and the dangers of apathy)!

    1. Yes! I wish more schools would value character education programs in general. I see so much growth and reflection in my students. Thanks for sharing and send me your email address so that I share this unit!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thank you! I can't wait to use it with my students.

  2. Our school uses Character Counts! but we also have implemented a Morning Meeting time and a daily wrap-up time that we use. Our writing and reading curriculum has a social-emotional component to it as well, so we try and weave it in throughout the entire day.

  3. That's amazing! Teaching character should be something that happens throughout the day! Please send me your email address, and thank you for engaging.