Educators know their responsibility is not only to help students grow academically, but also socially and emotionally as well. We want to grow good thinkers, but social and emotional development is clearly more challenging.
So, how can teachers use empathy and cultivate empathy, to promote healthy social and emotional development in their students?
1. Teach them the difference between empathy and sympathy.
- Empathy is understanding and relating to another person’s feelings.
- Sympathy is feeling sorry for the misfortunes of others.
Empathy is more personal; sympathy is more detached and theoretical.
2. Help students demonstrate the 3 different kinds of empathy.
- Cognitive empathy is comprehending another person’s feelings on an intellectual level. Understanding but not feeling it.
- Emotional empathy is feeling what others are feeling. “Walking in someone else’s shoes” can evoke emotional reactions that mirror the other’s feelings. Renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman describes this as “mirror neuron syndrome.”
- Compassionate empathy is guided by both intellect and sentiment. It strikes a balance between cognitive and emotional empathy and is the key to developing deeper connections between people.
3. Let students analyze situations through the lens of empathy.
Analyzing real-life experiences is one of the most powerful forms of learning. Teachers can present case scenarios to provoke meaningful discussions about empathetic behavior.
On the other hand, if you’re teaching literature for instance, fictional scenarios are also quite effective in inspiring deeper thoughts and feelings about what it means to have and to show empathy toward others.
It is only with empathy that we overcome our differences and increase our understanding of each other.