Bullying has become a major issue within our nation’s culture. Cultivate empathy in education to prevent bullying and create a culture of understanding.

The strange days of 2016 have been fueled by anger resulting from contentious political campaigns, racial tensions, cyber bullying, and severe doubt in the quality of humankind. While many people doubt that one person can shift the current climate, teachers are the best examples of how individuals can make a difference through creating an environment of empathy in education.

Here are 5 ways you can teach empathy to make a difference in the lives of your students.

1. Lead by Example

empathy in educationChildren are likely to repeat behavior that they observe at home or in the classroom. When correcting or reprimanding students, remain mindful of how these actions are being viewed by pupils. When teachers instill respect in their own classrooms, students are more likely to follow suit. The same can be said regarding empathy. Students will be more likely to give the empathy that they observe and receive.

2. Empathy Intelligence

Arrange for STEM professionals to visit with students and discuss their careers. Even the most confident STEM professional must be in touch with his or her empathetic side to gain the respect of colleagues. Following the visit, create an assignment through which students will identify how empathy can benefit the professional in his or her line of work. After students write their own reports, hold an in-class discussion revealing the benefits of empathy in education and in their professional lives.

3. Be an Empathetic Defender

empathy in educationThere will be the handful of students who still do not display empathy toward others and need a bit more attention. These students might be troubled due to abuse at home, a life of poverty, rough childhood, or simply do not have empathy as an innate trait, which leads them to deny feelings of consideration toward others. When initially trying to reach these types of students, one-on-one attention is best. Invite the student to a private meeting during a time when they will be most relaxed–avoid exam days and report-card week. Together, examine the roadblocks that inhibit their feelings of empathy and identify how to cultivate this emotion. If necessary, enlist the assistance of a school guidance counselor.

4. Create Study Buddies

Dedicate time every week to pairing students for study or student-focused project sessions. Before pairing students, be honest and reveal to them that this group work is to encourage teamwork and cultivate empathy among classmates. Identify cliques or groups of friends within the classroom and try to create each pairing by matching two students who don’t interact regularly. If any students are susceptible to bullying, eventually try to pair them with the bully and closely monitor the situation. As noted in the section above regarding troubled students, meet privately with the aggressor to identify the reasons for his or her behavior and determine how the student can begin to heal and start working with the assigned study buddy before creating the pairing.

5. Celebration + Goodwill = Empathy

empathy in educationThere exists a day to celebrate everything! Yes, celebrating STEM-focused days is fun, but there are also observances to promote environmental conscientiousness and simple gestures of goodwill. Prepare activities for in-class observances of occasions such as Zero Discrimination Day (March 1), The International Day of Happiness (March 20), International Day of Peace (September 21), International Day of Non-violence (October 2), World Science Day for Peace and Development (November 10), or International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development (December 5). Make a big deal out of celebrating consideration of others and the world in which students live. Establishing a correlation between empathy-centric days of observance and creating a festive environment will encourage students to continue practicing good deeds and empathy throughout the year.

As teachers begin to promote empathy in education they will not only affect students, but also have the potential to reach everyone with whom their pupils interact, such as parents, siblings, friends, and members of the community. Though the current culture of anger might be discouraging at times, there is hope when a teacher’s influence over a single group of students can spread empathy at an exponential rate.

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