Eight Ways to Teach Empathy

Jon Konen
District Superintendent

Back to the main Bully Prevention Guide.

Teaching empathy may be the most effective strategy that we can use to raise socially conscious students. Empathy crosses all curriculum areas and can be used to empower students to think, be responsible, and advocate for themselves and others. In fact, devising curricular experiences that support a student's development of empathy can not only change a student, but also a school. Here are eight ways we can support the teaching of empathy in our schools.

PU#114 - Socio-Emotional Learning Programs

Programs that promote the well-being of student's mental health are becoming more and more popular in schools. Teaching students to understand themselves and their emotions supports their development in relationship building, handling anxiety and stress, and understanding others emotions. Teaching empathy is a big part of these programs. CASEL.org (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) published a review over 10 years ago on SEL programs and has since reviewed many more. Here is a guide they created of the effective SEL programs currently in our schools: https://casel.org/guide/.

PU#115 - Peaceful Playground or Play Programs

Teaching students how to play on the playground may seem like a waste of time, but teaching students how to play games, how to invite others to play, and how to use their words when they are frustrated can be powerful. Peaceful Playground promotes choice in several games they can play on the playground. There are specific rules for these games, and adults work with students on positive social interactions on the playground. Teaching empathy while learning and playing these games is vital to the implementation success. Read more about it here: http://peacefulplaygrounds.com/.

PU#116 - Multi-Cultural Education

Learning about other cultures brings us closer together, as well as teaching us that our differences are not so different. Not many states have actually placed multicultural education into their required teaching curriculum. In Montana, 15% of our required curriculum is Indian Education for All (IEFA) standards. Lessons on IEFA and cultural experiences are in the required Montana Code Annotated (law) for students. The more we learn about each other, the more empathy we have! Montana's Office of Public Instruction has made this a priority. Read more about Montana's multi-cultural curriculum here: http://opi.mt.gov/Educators/Teaching-Learning/Indian-Education.

PU#117 - Kindness Recognition Program

We can teach students what kindness looks like and even sounds like, but starting a program that supports continual kindness recognition can change a school. Students look for kindness in the school as exhibited by other students and even staff members. Staff members can also recognize students. Recently, we created a Kindness Tree in our school (bulletin board with a bare tree). For each act of kindness (a leaf), we stapled them on our tree. We read these every morning on the announcements and kids loved the recognition. Notice you can hardly see our tree or branches. This can be adapted and changed in an infinite amount of ways.

Sponsored Content

PU#118 - Global Learning

Social media has opened doors to students around the world. These doors open us to different cultures, customs, and thinking. Fighting ignorance is not only a teacher's job, but it also should be ALL of our responsibility. The more we learn about each other's lives, the more we understand. When we understand, we increase our empathy. The December 2016/January 2017 edition of ASCD's Ed Leadership magazine had several great articles on the "Global Ready Student." My favorite article from this issue was "The Antidote to Extremism," by Anthony Jackson. Jackson talks about education being the "antidote to intolerance and conflict." Read the full article by clicking on the title.

PU#119 - Service Projects

Whether a service project helps your school, your community, your country, or another nation, we can show students how much we care by doing great deeds for others. It may be raising money, collecting shoes, starting a food drive, or sending letters to others; service projects have a goal that supports students understanding that there is more than just them in this world. Empathy can always be the ultimate goal of a service project. Here is the proposal form we use at our school. We chose one project a month to support and promote.

Student Service Project Proposals

Name(s) _____________________________________ Grade _______

Title of Project: ___________________________________________________________________

Describe the Project and Who It Supports:

Is there money involved? Is there an address to send money? Who is supporting you with this project from home? How will the organization or group get the money?

What information will go on your flyer? Will this go in Wednesday envelopes?

What is your time line to start and finish this project?

All photocopying and poster paper is to be supplied by students. Do you have a parent supporting you with this project and the costs of any photocopying?

_____________ ______________ ______________________

Parent Signature Student Signature Sponsor Signature (Teacher?) and Date

***All work on the project is done during recess and non-academic time.

PU#120 - Restorative Practices

A school that puts more effort into fixing relationships than handing out punitive punishments illustrates that empathy can change a student. When a student hurts another student, with words or aggressive behaviors, we must spend more time with them understanding the situation. We find the motivation for the behavior; create a plan to fix the relationships, and decide on how we will handle ourselves the next time we encounter a similar situation in the future. To learn more about restorative practices read about it by clicking here.

PU#121 - An Empty Chair Program

I first heard about the use of an empty chair from a colleague at a Principal's Conference in Butte, Montana years ago. Then I read about it more when Yiddish families celebrate the Seder Meal. The concept behind the idea is having one empty chair in our classrooms, our assemblies, our office, or even our school board meetings. We can then place a name, and possibly demographics depending on the audience, on the empty chair. As we make decisions or hold important events, we can refer to this empty chair in order to create empathy towards the missing person/student. For example, the empty chair at our school-wide assembly could be for a student that was unable to attend because they are homebound, sick, or simply unable to be there. At a school board meeting, the empty chair could represent a homeless student who is fighting for their education. This powerful symbolism can increase empathy in the decisions we make!

(Adapted from the article, "The Empty Chair Program: A Peaceful Solution to Terrorism" written by a GrantNews, Press staff writer with contributions from Yitzchok and Tehilla Friedman of the Navah Organization)

Sponsored Content


Jon Konen