Empathy is an important skill. Here is how we teach it to our students.

I had to use the bathroom. Badly.

Still, there were 22 students in my class who were completing their independent reading activities.

The timer went off. Twenty-two heads caught attention. One boy raised his hand – the same boy who always reads quietly – to ask, “Ms. Adams, what are we doing today?”

Bathroom! My body reminded me.

“Okay,” I whispered to them. “I’m going to run to the bathroom. I’ll be back in three minutes. ” I knew it would be close to five, but I lied. On the way out, I tapped one of the students on the shoulder, “You are in charge.” He sat up, smiling proudly at the new level of his responsibility.

When I finally found a teacher’s bathroom – the nearest one was two floors below my classroom – I suddenly remembered: a new student had arrived today!

I tried to reassure myself that no new students would appear within minutes of me leaving. I got nervous as I ran to class. During my training as a teacher, I was impressed with the importance of making sure that students started with a strong foothold while walking through the door. I stopped running to class to improve the situation.

There, kneeling next to the new student’s desk, the student I was about to charge. He was pointing to the assignment and quietly explaining the direction to the new student. As I approached, I heard him asking, “Are you confused?” The new student nodded. “Well, you can work with me if you want and don’t forget to put your first and last name at the top.”

He looked up after realizing I was watching and gave what I could only describe as an intensely enthusiastic thumbs up. That simple but important moment reminded me of the innate kindness of my students.

Students often stand against each other in class. They are taught that in order to do well, they must rise above those around them, and that the journey to success is a personal one. But in my time as a teacher, I have learned that students thrive not only when they have the opportunity to grow and learn in society but also when they thrive.

Strength in society

In a small town like Kona, the foundation of everything is community. Taking care of your neighbors, looking after your friends, and even treating strangers with the utmost love and respect. I see this in my students when they show each other every day, just because shared space is enough.

Realizing this fact led me to rethink how to interpret pedagogy that survives culturally. It’s not just about changing content and curriculum, it’s about rethinking the way I teach to reflect my students’ strengths, values, and priorities.

Classroom learning methods and mediums should reflect the culture and community of the students. The skills that I think my students need to get out of the classroom are not necessarily how to identify the eight parts of speech, how to analyze Shakespeare or how to write a seven-paragraph argumentative essay. I want them to leave my class with the ability to work kindly with others and take care of the people around them. I want them to go away with a strong sense of empathy and grace. I think they should give up the feeling of being able to enhance their natural leadership ability.

Rethinking tools

Unfortunately, our country is plagued by individualism, and I believe that this madness has brought our public education system to a standstill, even in communities like Kona, where community is the most valued value of the people. Individualism is not just a part of who we are; That is why it is up to the teachers to reconsider the medium through which we learn.

  • Shift individual assignments into group activities. When I started developing individual worksheets into team tasks, there was a sudden and abrupt change in the attitude and behavior of my students. For example, quoting relevant text evidence can be turned into something as simple as a skill practice worksheet where working together is the only way to be successful. All of a sudden, I got what I was looking for. Students are involved because others depend on them to do so.
  • Allow students to lead. It’s hard to let go of control in your classroom, but students need real and genuine opportunities to lead the class. Create space for students at all readiness levels to take a leadership role at any time. Ask them to check each other’s homework or guide them on how to facilitate group discussion. They will be able to trust you.
  • Focus on care, not on skills. Teachers often spend most of their time worrying about standards, assessments, and grades when we need to focus on how we prepare our students to achieve not only the educational goals we set for them but also their personal goals. Being able to empathize with others and take care of the people around you allows for true cooperation. We put students in groups, demand that they work together and then punish them for not doing it “the right way”. This is a strange glass barrier for students in school and off-school life, but by enhancing the relationship between the two, we can help them learn how to expand the community in the classroom and show them how to build empathy and care for others.

The classroom should be a place where the student feels safe to be fearless. A class focused on individualism will only lend itself to a stressful and stressful environment. In contrast, a classroom centered around a community will provide the child with the space he or she really needs to grow up. When we feel support, love and care we can be our best regardless of context or environment.

After that morning class, I pulled my student aside and thanked him for helping a new member of our class. He smiled, patted me lightly on the shoulder, and said, “Don’t worry, Ms. Adams. I have learned your lesson. ”

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