Empathy is often considered an innate gift, something difficult to acquire with exercise, when it is actually a concept that includes different definitions, including the ability to identify with others, to take care of those in difficulty and the ability to experience the same emotions of the person we interact with.
Even if some people excel in all these definitions, there are methods for teaching and improving students’ empathy.
Teach different perspectives
Since childhood, subjects such as history are taught to pupils only from the point of view of our culture, through a good and bad dialectic that quite often excludes other perspectives. Using different points of view while teaching (especially humanistic subjects) allows a teacher to help students understanding other cultures and developing the ability to manage dialectical conflicts, avoiding the creation of prejudices.
Teach active listening
Active listening is a very effective teaching method: it consists in helping pupils to free their own mind, allowing them to focus on the words and concepts expressed by others. Furthermore, young students have to focus on their interlocutor’s body language, in order to catch also non-verbal signals and to get better empathically in touch with him.
These are the steps that educators have to teach students to follow to learn active listening:
– Stop doing what you are doing and interrupt your internal thoughts
– Focus on your interlocutor, staring at his eyes
– Think that by listening to others you can learn something useful for you
– Reflect on what your interlocutor said, analyzing it internally
Become an example of empathy for your students
Showing empathy by example is the most effective way to transfer it to others. Demonstrate to students what the power of empathy is.
Be the first one to listen to others and identify with their reasons.
Teach empathy through literature
If history is the way to live the past and learn something about our present, basing on the past generations’ experiences, literature is the subject that students can study to live and feel different emotions. What does a novelist do? A novelist wonders: what would happen if a young woman married an older rich country man and who does not love? Madame Bovary and the other literary masterpieces allow students to live other lives, other emotions, other languages and other feelings, expanding their empathic and dialectical abilities.
Create real opportunities to empathize
Practice is the best way to learn something.
Create games with your students.
Obligate them to interview each other, to have lunch with someone they have never had lunch with, to start a conversation with those who dislike him.
Create contests, invite students to do an act of kindness towards someone else, or engage them in a charity campaign.
Keep a diary of empathy
Keep a diary of empathy in the classroom, stimulating students to write once a week how and what they felt in the previous days. When teachers encourage students to become more empathic, they help them create more opportunities for success in school and other aspects of their lives, becoming better persons in their future.