Sunday, March 12, 2017

Building Empathy

Empathy has always been a fascinating topic to me, mostly because the behavior is something that many believe to be exhibited predominantly by humans and (perhaps) other animals as well, most notably primates. As such, the capacity to be empathetic may be in embedded in our very DNA, but our actual display of this trait/behavior is shaped by our environment and our experiences.

The definition of empathy, according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary is, "the feeling that you understand and share another person's experience and emotions," and "the ability to share someone else's feelings."  In the metaphorical sense, empathy is to put yourself in another's shoes.

I recently spoke to our 4th grade girls about empathy, and how it relates to qualities we look for in friends. Much to their surprise, I pointed out how even babies demonstrate empathy.  I posed the question: "What tends to happen when two babies are together and one of them starts to cry?" One of my students called out, "The other one starts to cry!" BINGO! Empathy in infancy at work.

In our school, and in accordance with the PYP, empathy is one of our learner profile words, so we as teachers are trying to embed this concept into instruction. For younger students, the best way (I believe) to have them understand empathy is through storytelling. There are so many great books on the topic as well as wonderful videos from Class Dojo, one of the best web resources out there for teaching social-emotional skills. Check out Part 1 of their three-part video series on empathy!


There are many books and literature that showcase empathetic behavior by its main character(s), and several can be found right in our own ES media center. Here are a few that I noted while browsing in the library:


One of the books, "Have You Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud, describes how we can make one another feel good through words and actions. Furthermore, when we fill eachother's buckets, we end up filling our OWN. Contrarily, when we say or do something unkind, we (knowingly or unknowingly) become bucket "dippers." Student's in grade one and grade 2 at Seisen are familiar with this book and have designed buckets using Pic Collage. Some even took it a step further and used Chatterpix (thanks, Mr Towse!) to give their buckets a voice. Listen to Camille and Shrisha's views on how to fill a bucket:

I was so impressed with how much pride the Grade 2 students took in their buckets. Check out a sampling below of some that were particularly creative:

The grade four girls also had their chance at some "bucket-filling" during an activity titled, "Talking Behind Your Back." The students were asked tape a piece of paper onto their back, and to write one positive thing about each person in their class. The fun part? Not being able to see what others wrote about you until everyone had finished! I actually took part in the same activity in 7th grade and remember feelings of happiness & pride that accompanied it even to this day. If it made just one of my students feel good afterward, then my objective was achieved. What do you think? Do they seem to be having fun?


Parents and teachers: how do you teach your kids about empathy? For more information on this topic, please visit the following link on one of my favorite websites, ahaparenting.com.

~Ms. Carnright

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