Empathy is an important aspect of schools. The classroom feels more like a place any person wants to be when empathy is a strong characteristic. Empathy means that we can understand someone else’s feelings, even though we may not have had the same experiences. When students and teachers can reach out to one another with a kind attitude, and a mutual understanding—a sincere caring for one another, great things happen.

Schools where empathy flourishes have fewer discipline problems, much lower incidents of bullying and distractive behavior. When empathetic students read, they understand the characters and their situations more realistically. As a result, their academic success is greater. This holds true for all aspects of reading—history, science, literature and more, 

In schools where levels of empathy are high, the work environment for both students and teachers is more cooperative and definitely more productive. Instead of spending time bossing one another around or trying to force obedience to lists of rules, the atmosphere is positive and rewarding for everyone. Yes, there are still rules. But the approach to gaining cooperation does not involve  angry, raised voices  shouting for control. Even the student who is an expert at “pushing teachers’ buttons” may earn less fame and teacher attention for inappropriate behavior with fewer and calmer teacher responses. Reason and kindness prove to be more effective over time.

A key factor in developing empathy in schools involves teachers taking the time and putting in the effort to getting to know their students, as well as providing time for students to get to know one another—and their teachers.   With teachers having so many things to do at the beginning of any school year, setting the classroom scene to help students learn compassion and caring may seem like too much to expect of themselves. Having an empathetic classroom does not happen easily or automatically. It takes preparation. Many teachers practice staying calm and planning for heated moments, knowing what situations could arise—and finding potential responses that add calmness—not chaos.

Teachers can prepare for this by setting some goals to have an empathetic school year.  Instead of having a rapid response to a student’s poor decision, find out why—see what may have caused the student to make that poor decision. Immediate judgmental actions/comments interfere with taking the opportunity to investigate why the student made the poor choice. A teacher who asks, “Are you feeling okay?” as a first comment shows nonjudgmental investigation. Throwing out anger and orders won’t help the student, but finding out why the student acted out may help the teacher understand why it happened and then work with student to keep it from being repeated.

Teachers can also help students get to know one another, and at the same time, learn something about every student. Starting a class with nonacademic questions—“What’s a hobby you like—or would like to know more about?” or “Do you have a pet?” can open a simple dialogue. Teachers need to let students know them as well by sharing simple details about themselves. Teachers’ brief comments at times about their interests, pets, or families shows a willingness to provide two-way conversational dialogue with students. Teachers who set up ways to communicate with their student’s families also open opportunities for teachers to get to know their students, and parents or guardians feel more connected to the school.

Unfortunately, there are situations that empathy will not resolve. When behavior becomes escalated to a violent level, or is so disruptive that it cannot be tolerated due to a student’s personal safety or the safety of other students or staff, more directive actions need to happen. This may include immediate administration support and parental involvement, or separation from school for counseling or even medical assistance.  However, when the day-to-day management of classes has built into them the application of empathy and compassion, teachers and students experience a much less stressful atmosphere where out-of-control actions or extremely rare.

Teachers helping one another with students they have in common reduce negative issues for teachers and students. Bringing about an empathetical school through a committed staff will improve behavior and academic success. With the habits of empathy as part of students’ lives, their future after graduation will be better. They will be more able to deal positively with others as they become part of the work force—and they will be good neighbors and kinder citizens.

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