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A Quick-Guide To Teaching Empathy In The Classroom

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contributed by Lauren Ayer, M.Ed.

Bullying. Zero tolerance policy. Targeting on social media. School violence. Active Shooter.

These are words commonly heard in education today. As teachers, we spend a great deal of time in staff development and training, learning how to combat these issues. We learn how to recognize signs of bullying, teach responsible social media habits, and respond to an active shooter. But what if we took a different approach? What if we started by explicitly teaching empathy in the classroom?

By teaching students these skills in an authentic, applicable way, will they see each other differently? It’s worth finding out. With so many curricular and time restraints on teachers, how can we be expected to explicitly teach empathy in a meaningful way?

A Definition Of Empathy

Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either in the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this.

In How To Teach Empathy, we discussed a definition of empathy:

“University of California at Berkley’s Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life explains empathy. “The term “empathy” is used to describe a wide range of experiences. Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.”

Here are three easy steps to help you immediately implement empathy into your classroom.

3 Tips For Teaching Empathy In The Classroom

1. Use literature or literature-like video/video games

See our list of books to teach empathy

One of the first ways that students begin to experience empathy is through exposure to a variety of literary experiences.

Characters and conflicts in books can expose children to a range of social situations that children may or may not have experienced themselves. By exposing children to these resources, teachers can prompt and guide discussions related to characters’ emotions, as well as children’s personal feelings about characters or conflicts in the story. These discussions, as well as strategic questioning on the part of the teacher, will allow students to engage in empathy practices.

The use of literature is a step that can be taken at any level of education. Elementary school students often interact with literature to understand how to make friends and form early relationships. Middle and high school students build on these early skills and use literature to expand relationship building into their communities and begin to think globally.

There is a wide range of resources available to help you find literature with a strong empathy message. Check out some of these lists of empathy-related books to get you started:

What We Do All Day

Common Sense Media

Goodreads

2. Reflective Journals

Being reflective can be a difficult skill for people of all ages. People do things that they are not proud of, say things they don’t mean, and act in ways they normally wouldn’t when trying to impress someone. This is where reflective journals come in.

Have students write 2-4 times a week for 10- 20 minutes on a prompt related to empathy. Journal responses can further discussions about how students are treating each other. It forces students to think about their actions and how they impact others, and allows teachers to gain insight into how students are responding to one another. When students are forced to be reflective, they may not always like what they see. This is where empathy begins.

Prompts can be as simple as:

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Were you nice to your classmates today? How?

What can you do to help someone at home?

How would you feel if someone called you names or picked on you?

Or, journal entries may become more complex as students age and empathy understanding increases:

How would you feel if you didn’t have a home or safe place to live?

What would you do if you saw your friend harassing someone on social media?

How would you respond if you found out a classmate came to school every day without eating breakfast?

Pushing students to become reflective in regards to empathy may help them build on their understanding of others’ thoughts and feelings, and improve how they respond to one another in difficult situations.

3. Create real-life empathy opportunities

What better way for students to learn empathy than to experience it firsthand? Creating opportunities for students to experience empathy in a way that is authentic can be the best way for them to apply what they have learned through empathy literature and reflective journals. While there is a multitude of experiences available for students, here are a couple of examples to consider:

Option 1: Get to know your classmates: As teachers, we regularly focus on helping children get along despite their differences. But what about students’ similarities? Often empathy breaks down because students do not see how much they are alike. Have students get to know each other! This can be done in a low-risk way by:

Interviewing a classmate that you don’t know well

Eat lunch with someone different

Partner with someone you don’t know for an empathy literature discussion

Option 2: Start a Random Acts of Kindness project: Once a week (month, or day, depending on what time allows) have students show a random act of kindness for another person. This may be a classmate, or someone else in the school or outside community. It may be as simple as writing a letter thanking someone for what they do, helping someone with a project they are working on, or inviting someone new to spend time with you. Use the reflective journal to have students reflect on how it made them feel to show, and how they feel their kindness impacted others.

Option 3: Get involved with a charity: Invite representatives from a charity to come to your classroom and explain what they do. Ask what your students can do to help the cause and organize a volunteer day. Getting students involved in charity work is a great way to build empathy–especially considering what’s going on in the world today.

Educators have a great understanding of the bullying and violence problems plaguing students in school today. As educators, we understand that there is no single solution to these problems, but if we begin to engage students in empathy in the classroom, perhaps we can promote understanding, sensitivity, and awareness of those around us so that students may carry these skills into the world around them.

5 Resources For Teaching Empathy In The Classroom

1. Tolerance.org

According to their site, Teaching Tolerance is “dedicated to reducing prejudice, improving intergroup relations, and supporting equitable school experiences for our nation’s children. We provide free educational materials to teachers and other school practitioners in the U.S. and Canada. Our self-titled magazine is sent to 450,000 educators twice annually, and tens of thousands of educators use our free curricular kits.”

2. StartEmpathy.org

3. RippleKindness.org

4. Teaching With Diverse Perspectives

5. 28 Of The Best Books To Teach Children Empathy

A Quick-Guide To Teaching Empathy In The Classroom

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Teaching

The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

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denisekrebs

The Selflessness Of Pedagogy: What Every Teacher Gives

by Terry Heick

It’s better to give than to receive–something that holds true for gift-giving and education.

In fact, the act of giving isn’t just a matter of ultimately receiving more, or even an act of altruism and selflessness. It has more to do with seeing the big picture itself — a healthy, robust, functioning system of careful human performance — that becomes the goal. It’s in this simple paradigm shift that we, as teachers, can find a new level of performance as professionals, contentment in our craft, and changed lives in the communities we serve.

So how might we focus on that service not as a characteristic of my job, but as the goal itself–the most macro product of all? For teachers, this would obviously be built around the idea of service-oriented teaching, where we gain strength and perspective from serving others. It would lead to ‘other growth,’ including, on a broader level, the formation of a personal and professional ecology than can sustain us through the challenges of teaching.

What would this look like?

Other teachers who need us, and who we need

Parents who need us, and who we need

Students who need us for something other than clarifying instructions, providing credit, and letter grades

The community of our school, including grade levels above and below ours, that needs us for our performance, collaboration, and ideas, just as we need that community.

In a word, this looks like interdependence. So what can I give to begin?

They give themselves.

Teaching is martyrdom. So often, educators feel the need to give themselves up to be feasted upon until there’s nothing left. Giving yourself is a different kind of gift, though. Here, it means truly putting your self aside — your need to be the best, your insecurities, professional goals, need for affirmation, and so on — and instead give in to the act of teaching.

But more crucially, this giving of yourself implies that you give your whole self to the act of teaching — your creativity, affection, background knowledge, contacts, networks, dreams, hopes, and so on — in the whole merging of you and your work.

They give others the benefit of the doubt.

As a teacher, you’ll see a lot moving upstream and down — struggling readers that always seem to come from that school; that family that doesn’t seem to care; that co-worker who seems to challenge you at every chance; that administrator who always seems to find a way to poke holes in your teaching. That assessment. That law. That policy.

Never, ever stop questioning the things happening around you. Be a critical educator, ask tough questions, and ring the bell when you’re concerned. Just do so from a position of positivity — give others the benefit of the doubt. Use positive presuppositions, such as: “We’ve always been strong supporters of literacy here, so I’m confused why. . . ”

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They give themselves the opportunity to learn new things continuously.

Okay, perspective change to first-person: I’m going to give myself the gift of learning. As a teacher, it makes sense to learn endlessly, not just to model it for students, but to keep my own curiosity and tendency for play stirring and alive.

I may learn a new set of literacy strategies. Maybe it’ll be a variation on the Socratic Seminar, or I’ll mash Fish Bowls with Agree/Disagree. I may bring new education technology into my classroom, or reach for new learning models such as project-based learning, sync teaching, or self-directed learning. I may throw out my desk and go paperless, mobile, or completely back to basics.

But I’m never going to stop learning. That is my gift to myself.

They give students a chance.

Maybe that’s a chance to surprise themselves. I want to give the gift of inspiration. Who doesn’t? And what better way can we inspire than by designing learning experiences that let students do things they didn’t think they were capable of? My gift would be giving students opportunities to surprise themselves through their own skills, critical thinking, creativity, and deep understanding of important ideas.

They give parents authentic opportunity to get involved.

It’s tempting to complain about parents that aren’t involved in their child’s schooling. Who on earth wants to be involved in schooling? Learning is a different matter — that’s something with a foothold allowing parents to engage meaningfully. This isn’t grades and homework, but rather understanding and the need to understand.

You may or may not get anything more from parents, but at least you’ve given them more tempting access than they’ve ever had in the past.

They give others chances to create new measures of success.

Teaching — properly done and measured as we do today — is impossible. It can’t be done. You cannot bring every single child to proficiency in every single standard while, at the same time, meeting their needs as human beings and helping them both see and reach their full potential. If this is your goal, you’re only going to disappoint yourself endlessly until you either burn out or realize that you’re lying to yourself.

Teaching, though, with new metrics of success — well, that’s suddenly a whole lot easier.

They give themselves a break.

The preceding represents a lot of giving, and also a lot of complexity, interdependence, opportunity, work, and chances to fail. So above all, I’m going to give myself a break.

I will give all of myself. I will give the benefit of the doubt. I’ll learn new things, promote self-discovery, connect with communities, and establish new measures of success. And when things go wrong, I’ll have a short memory. I’ll give myself a break and push on, excited about what tomorrow might bring.

Image attribution flickr user denisekrebs and cloudboard; What Every Good Teacher Gives

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

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How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

contributed by Vicki Collet

Making teaching a shared and public practice supports improved instruction.

When teachers have opportunities for collaboration, reflection, and inquiry, they “can find better ways to answer the learning needs of students” (Lieberman & Wood, 2002, p. 42). Teacher inquiry makes us question practices that have become stale, generate innovation, and create dynamic learning for ourselves and our students.

Over the past decade, I’ve participated in teacher inquiry using a process called Lesson Study. I’ve seen scores of teachers engage with authentic professional learning through this work. Lesson Study is a structure for teacher inquiry that is as straightforward as it sounds: the study of a lesson. However, Catherine Lewis, who learned about Lesson Study in Japan and has been instrumental in spreading its use in the United States, points out that during Lesson Study,

(Teachers) improve the lessons not as an end in
itself, but as a way to deepen their own content knowledge, their knowledge of
student thinking, their understanding of teaching and learning, and their
commitment to improvement of their own practice and that of colleagues…Lesson
study is not about discovering the one right way to teach a lesson, but about
building knowledge of many teaching strategies and habits of observation,
inquiry, and analysis of practice (Lewis & Hurd, 2011, p. 24).

When participating in Lesson Study, you will collaboratively plan lessons that become the focus of inquiry on effective teaching practices. Then you’ll observe one another teach lessons and collaboratively revise and refine your instructional plans, as shown in the figure below.

How The Lesson Study Approach Can Improve Your Teaching

Inquiry is the essential element of Lesson Study, so the clear focus you identify for a Lesson Study cycle should propel your desire to investigate, to analyze and study together. Pursuing the questions your group has identified provides challenge and authentic purpose, which will increase your team’s motivation and engagement. Because you have identified the problem for yourself, the process will have immediate value. 

The goal of Lesson Study is not to create the ideal lesson that is universally useful. During teacher preparation and professional development, you have doubtless been taught and encouraged to use ‘best practices.’ Although it is true that some practices are more effective than others (and research has much to teach us), it is also true that there is no single, perfect lesson. This is true because you and I, and the students we teach, are diverse in so many ways. Lesson Study focuses on “the why of teaching: why teaching methods work in particular ways in particular settings” (Smagorinsky, as cited in Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 2015, p. 5). 

Grow your school with TeachThought PD Collaborative Lesson Study Workshops.

In our quest for better ways of doing things, Lesson Study can help us identify places where we are frozen in old practices and can help us warm to new ones. Lesson Study uncovers new approaches that are informed by the examination of evidence gained through our professional inquiry. Collaboration with colleagues who share similar contexts and concerns makes the insights gained especially helpful. By being the guides to our own professional learning, teachers resist stagnation and become mobile, active agents of change. With our colleagues, we take a learning stance by asking questions, taking risks, and reflecting on both successes and failures.

Lesson
Study uses knowledge you gain from your own classroom to stimulate professional
conversations about teaching and learning. Shared experiences through joint
planning and observation support the conversation, helping you develop your own
understanding and share it with others.

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If you are eager to investigate and improve instruction and increase your understanding about teaching, I invite you to learn more about Lesson Study. Lesson Study creates continuous learning cycles that put teachers in the driver’s seat of their own professional development.

———————

Book: Collaborative Lesson Study: ReVisioning Teacher Professional
Development

Website: vickicollet.com

Request to join Collaborative Lesson Study Book Club on Facebook est (next book study begins January 13, 2020)

Vicki’s blog: mycoachescouch.blogspot.com

Vicki on Facebook: facebook.com/mycoachescouch/

Vicki on Twitter: @vscollet

References

Garcia,
A., & O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2015). Pose, wobble, flow: A culturally
proactive approach to literacy instruction. Teachers College Press.

Lewis,
C. & Hurd, J. (2011). Lesson study step by step: How teacher learning
communities improve instruction. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lieberman,
A., & Wood, D. R. (2002). From network learning to classroom
teaching. Journal of Educational Change, 3, 315-337.

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

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18 Inconvenient Truths About Assessment Of Learning

by Terry Heick

I. In terms of pedagogy, the primary purpose of an assessment is to provide data to revise planned instruction. It should provide an obvious answer to the question, “So? So what? What now?

II. It’s an extraordinary amount of work to design precise and personalized assessments that illuminate pathways forward for individual students–likely too much for one teacher to do so consistently for every student. This requires rethinking of learning models, or encourages corner-cutting. (Or worse, teacher burnout.)

III. Literacy (reading and writing ability) can obscure content knowledge. Further, language development, lexical knowledge (VL), and listening ability are all related to mathematical and reading ability (Flanagan 2006). This can mean that it’s often easier to assess something other than an academic standard than it is knowledge of the standard itself. It may not tell you what you want it to, but it’s telling you something.

IV. Student self-assessment is tricky but a key matter of understanding. According to Ross & Rolheiser, “Students who are taught self-evaluation skills are more likely to persist on difficult tasks, be more confident about their ability, and take greater responsibility for their work.” (Ross & Rolheiser 2001)

V. Assessments of learning can sometimes obscure more than they reveal. If the assessment is precisely aligned to a given standard, and that standard isn’t properly understood by both the teacher and assessment designer, and there isn’t a common language between students, teacher, assessment designer, and curriculum developers about content and its implications, there is significant “noise” in data that can mislead those wishing to use the data, and disrupt any effort towards data-based instruction.

VI. Teachers often see understanding or achievement or career and college-readiness; students often see grades and performance (e.g., a lack or abundance of failure) (Atkinson 1964).

VII. Self-evaluation and self-grading are different. ‘Self-evaluation’ does not mean that the students determine the grades for their assignments and courses instead of the teacher. Here, self-evaluation refers to the understanding and application of explicit criteria to one’s own work and behavior for the purpose of judging if one has met specified goals (Andrade 2006).

VIII. If the assessment is not married to curriculum and learning models, it’s just another assignment. That is, if the data gleaned from the assessment isn’t used immediately to substantively revise planned instruction, it’s at best practice, and at worst, extra work for the teacher and student. If assessment, curriculum, and learning models don’t ‘talk’ to one another, there is slack in the chain.

IX. As with rigor, ‘high’ is a relative term. High expectations–if personalized and attainable–can promote persistence in students (Brophy 2004). Overly simple assessments to boost ‘confidence’ are temporary. The psychology of assessment is as critical as the pedagogy and content implications.

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X. Designing assessment that has diverse measures of success that ‘speak’ to the student is critical to meaningful assessment. Students are often motivated to avoid failure rather than achieve success (Atkinson 1964).

XI. In a perfect world, we’d ask not “How you do on the test,” but “How’d the test do on you?” That is, we’d ask how accurately the test illuminated exactly what we do and don’t understand rather than smile or frown at our ‘performance.’ Put another way, it can be argued that an equally important function of an assessment is to identify what a student does understand. If it doesn’t, the test failed, not the student.

XII. The classroom isn’t ‘the real world.’ It’s easy to say invoke ‘the real world’ when discussing grading and assessments (e.g., “If a law school student doesn’t study for the Bar and fail, they don’t get to become lawyers. The same applied to you in this classroom, as I am preparing you for the real world.”) Children (in part) practicing to become adults is different than the high-stakes game of actually being an adult. The classroom should be a place where students come to understand the ‘real world’ without feeling its sting.

When students fail at school, the lesson they learn may not be what we hope.

XIII. Most teachers worth their salt can already guess the range of student performance they can expect before they even give the assessment. Therefore, it makes sense to design curriculum and instruction to adjust to student performance on-the-fly without Herculean effort by the teacher. If you don’t have a plan for the assessment data before you give the assessment, you’re already behind.

XIV. Every assessment is flawed. (Nothing is perfect.) That means that the more frequent, student-centered, and ‘non-threatening’ the assessment is (here are some examples of non-threatening assessments) the better. It’s tempting to overvalue each assessment as some kind of measuring stick of human potential. At best, it’s an imperfect snapshot–and that’s okay. We just need to make sure teachers and students and parents are all aware and respond to results accordingly.

XV. As a teacher, it’s tempting to take assessment results personal; it’s not. The less personal you take the assessment, the more analytical you’ll allow yourself to be.

XVI. Confirmation bias within assessment is easy to fall for–looking for data to support what you already suspect. Force yourself to see it the other way. Consider what the data says about what you’re teaching and how students are learning rather than looking too broadly (e.g., saying ‘they’ are ‘doing well’) or looking for data to support ideas you already have.

XVII. Assessment doesn’t have to mean ‘test.’ All student work has a world of ‘data’ to offer. How much you gain depends on what you’re looking for. (Admittedly, this truth isn’t really inconvenient at all.)

XVIII. Technology can help make data collection simpler and more effective but that’s not automatically true. In fact, if not used properly, technology can even make things worse by providing too much data about the wrong things (making it almost unusable to teachers).

The Inconvenient Truth About Assessment

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