Students display the trait of empathy (the disposition and ability to sympathetically understand and personally identify with the emotional states, needs, and feelings of others) by consoling, comforting, calming, supporting, and encouraging others. 

Key Beliefs:

I will be a better student if I act on the following beliefs:

  • I can imagine what it’s like to stand in someone else’s shoes.
  • Being empathetic strengthens the community. 
  • It is important to take someone else’s emotions and experiences into consideration. 
  • Deepens relationships with my classmates and people I know outside of school.
  • Use literature, current events, or video clips to demonstrate empathetic behaviors. 
  • Create a way to teach others how to be more empathetic (e.g., perform a skit, create a comic strip, write a short story, sing or rap original lyrics).
  • Listen to someone rather than try to talk to them.
  • Ask someone how he or she is feeling if you think there is something wrong.
  • Learn about people from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Show concern and care for others.
  • Pay attention to the needs of others.
  • Get to know someone better instead of judging them.
  • Get to know your classmates: 
    • Interviewing a classmate that you don’t know well
    • Eat lunch with someone different
    • Partner with someone you don’t know for an empathy literature discussion
  • Show a random act of kindness to another person. This may be a classmate or someone else in the school or outside the community. It may be as simple as writing a letter thanking someone for what they do, helping someone with a project they are working on, or inviting someone new to spend time with you. Use the reflective journal to have students reflect on how it made them feel to show, and how they feel their kindness impacted others.
  • Get involved with a charity: Invite representatives from a charity to come to your classroom and explain what they do. Ask what your students can do to help the cause and organize a volunteer day. Getting students involved in charity work is a great way to build empathy.
  • “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler
  • “You can only understand people if you feel them in yourself.” – John Steinbeck
  • “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa
  • “We judge what we don’t understand.” – Unknown
  • “If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
  • “If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” – Dolly Parton
  • “Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.” – Jesse Jackson
  • “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.” – Albert Schweitzer
  • “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak”. – Epictetus
  • “Don’t cast shadows on anyone unless you are providing shade.” – Terri Guillemets
  • “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know when it will be too late.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Empathy Busters

What’s the opposite of empathy? In this activity, your students will learn about common “empathy busters” so they can avoid them in the future.

First, introduce your students to these empathy busters using the mnemonic device S.U.D.S.:

Solving the problem – Examples: “I’ll fix it.” “I’ll talk to her.” “I’ll get you a new one.”

Many people make this mistake when trying to comfort a friend. It’s common to think everything would be fine if we could just solve the problem! Problem-solving is a useful skill, but the timing must be right. What is helpful initially when another person is upset is simply expressing empathy, validating the other person’s feelings, and inviting him or her to talk about his or her feelings. Rushing to solve the other person’s problems often makes the person feel as if his or her feelings are being dismissed or invalidated.

Unsolicited advice
Examples: “Well, if I were you. . . .” “I think you should. . . .” “Why don’t you just. . .?”

Again, offering advice right off the bat is not usually helpful or welcomed by a friend who is hurting. Instead, wait for advice to be sought. In the meantime, express empathy and actively listen. Just be there.

Dismissing feelings
Examples: “It’s not that big a deal.” “You shouldn’t feel that way.” “Get over it.” “That’s no reason to be upset.”

This response makes it seem as though the person is wrong for feeling a certain way. Feelings aren’t right or wrong–they just are.

Examples: “That’s just such a tragedy!” “Oh, it’s just the end of the world…” Boo hoo, what a shame.”

Sarcasm will make an upset friend feel put down and/or misunderstood.

Once you’ve introduced the empathy busters, ask each child to write a short story describing a situation or event during which he or she became upset. Then, have students tell their stories while a peer expresses either appropriate empathy or an empathy buster. Encourage the other students to compare the expression of empathy busters versus real empathy. Ask the students who tell their stories to discuss how it felt to receive empathy versus empathy busters.

Someone Else’s Shoes 

https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/someone else’s shoes.pdf

  1. Go to the above link from Tolerance.org. Distribute a character card from Someone Else’s Shoes. You are going to complete the rest of the activity as this character, so take some time to think about how he or she feels in the given situation.
  2. Pair up with a classmate (be sure your partner’s character card is different from yours; if you have the same character, you need to pair up with someone else). As your character, tell your partner about your situation. Your partner should practice being empathetic as he is listening to your story. Then, switch roles: practice being empathetic as your partner, as his character, tells you what he is experiencing.
  3. With your partner, discuss how she showed empathy toward you, how it made you feel, and what you wish she had done differently. Use statements like, “I could tell you were really listening to me because you maintained eye contact with me during the entire conversation, and that made me feel like you care.”
  4. Everyone in the class should now stand. Go around the room, sharing something you learned about practicing empathy, sitting after you share. If someone else shares your thought, sit down. Continue around the room until everyone is sitting.

Be Fearless, Be Kind

Be Fearless, Be Kind is a collaborative campaign between Hasbro and Ashoka that focuses on the social life aspect of empathy. In this document, the publishers discuss a variety of helpful resources and measurements that you can use to help students understand empathy at different points.

One of these resources is a scale represented as a staircase that shows how students can practice and build upon empathy as a skill. Another is a fun chart that lets students pick out how they feel when they’re feeling it. They’ll learn about self-control, responsiveness, relationship-building, and how to become what the publishers call a “changemaker.” Essentially, this collaborative project helps students understand empathy from just about every angle.


Toolkit for Empathy in Schools