As teachers, one of the most confusing things that our students will ask us is ‘Why does Sarah get an easier test?’ or ‘Why does John get a different project?’. Children at a young age don’t understand that some of their classmates might have a harder, more difficult time learning the same things as themselves. They don’t understand that each and every student in their classroom learns at a different pace, and in a different manner.
When children don’t understand WHY their peer is different than themselves, they may start to make fun of them and that leads to bullying. Even as adults, sometimes we criticize what we don’t truly understand. This is such a bad habit and we can correct this behavior in our students through teaching empathy.
Empathy is being able to understand and share the feelings of another individual. There are two kinds of empathy: shared emotional response and perspective taking. Shared emotional response happens when one individual shares the emotions of another individual. You’re happy when something great happens to a friend. Your sad when something bad happens to a friend. You are able to mimic the emotions of another individual. (https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-proven-strategies-teaching-empathy-donna-wilson-marcus-conyers)
The second type of empathy is perspective taking. Perspective taking occurs when one individual is able to put themselves in the situation of another individual. You are able to put yourself in ‘someone else’s shoes’ to fully understand what they are going through, where they have been, and who they truly are. (https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-proven-strategies-teaching-empathy-donna-wilson-marcus-conyers)
So how can we teach our students to be more understanding and tolerant of their classmates who are perceived to be getting easier and different assignments than themselves? How can we teach our students to be more empathic towards others? Below are 5 ways we can help our students develop this essential social behavior:
- Teacher modeling: Students look up to you as a role model. If they see you being understanding towards them, either as a group or as an individual, they may begin to match your behavior. Students will feel more comfortable around you because you can share in their pain and joy along with them. Similarly, they will begin to behave this way around their classmates.
- Strengthen Emotional Literacy: Perhaps our students struggle with empathy because they are unaware and unable to identify and express their own feelings. Teaching students how to handle their own thoughts and feelings about themselves may help them express their feelings in a mature and appropriate manner towards their classmates.
- Educate: Students might not be able to be empathetic towards their classmates who are perceived as ‘different’ because they just are unaware about their situation. Educate students on disabilities; physical, mental, educational. Teach them that everybody is different and everybody is born the way they are. They can’t help their disability and bullying them about it will not make it go away. The more you can educate your students about different disabilities their classmates may have, the higher the chances of acceptance.
- Books: Assign short stories and text to your students that teach empathy. Encourage class discussions about how the characters feel throughout the story. Share stories about personally feeling similar emotions. Discuss how to properly handle and act on those feelings.
- Real Life Situations: Let your students experience what it’s like to be a person with a disability. Arrange a visit to a special education classroom. Partner up students with students from the classroom. Let them talk to each other. Let them share stories of each other’s struggles and how they overcame it. Eat lunch together. Do a project or activity together. The more they can experience ‘first hand’ the more they will come to understand differences.
These are just some easy strategies you can try in your classroom to help your students be more empathetic to their classmates.
What other ideas have you tried that have worked? I would love to hear!
Looking for other back to school ideas for inclusion or special education? Look for me HERE on Teachers Pay Teachers!