Empathy – a valuable quality in helping us build tomorrow’s leaders.

27 October 2020

Exploring its origins, its value in our education system and how we can practice it in our daily lives.

The English word “empathy” came into being only about a century ago as a translation for the German psychological term Einfühlung, literally meaning “feeling-in.” Its linguistic origins are Greek – em- in and patheia- feelings/ emotions.
In fact, the Ancient Greek Epic Poet, Homer, captured it beautifully in the 8 th century B.C:
“Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe.”

Who is responsible for teaching empathy?
Each and every adult has been bestowed with the honour and responsibility of teaching empathy to young impressionable beings who have entrusted us with their minds and hearts. So, in a nutshell, it’s about to us – the adults- to model it in our everyday interactions- no matter how big or small; it all matters!

Why is empathy vital in our schools?
Empathy is a key component in building connection and subsequently a kinder, more peaceful community and world. If students are part of and contribute actively toward a more empathic community, they are more likely to be engaged in their own learning as well as building positive relationships with their peers and teachers. This will not only create a positive and productive environment at school but will equip students with future skills to take into all areas of their lives.

Let’s take a look at some practical ways we can support a more empathetic culture in our schools and communities.

Community Projects
A great way to build more awareness of another’s experience among students within the school and members of the broader community is to create opportunities for connection. Classes or whole-school communities can look at tackling an issue together and create a fundraiser or a fun event that may help find a solution.

Reading Buddies
Partner with another class and create a book buddy system, where older children can help younger children practise their reading skills. This can be a wonderful way to remind the older kids how challenging reading once was, grant them an opportunity to be a positive role model and a sense of responsibility. For the younger child, it can give them a sense of support and potentially a sibling type figure- particularly for children who are an only child or do not have a sibling of that age.

Bucket Filler or Dipper?
This works wonderfully well in terms of encouraging acts of kindness and discouraging destructive and self-serving behaviours. The children are given the responsibility of helping keep the bucket full: helping others, sharing a toy, book, a game, comforting a friend in need, helping someone with a challenging task, and displaying kindness towards their teacher too. Every act of kindness is recorded by the teacher, and helps fills the bucket. If the bucket is kept full all term, the class is then rewarded with a movie day, an excursion, a treat, or extra playtime.
Outside the Classroom

Reading to Seniors
Head to a local nursing home and have your students practice their reading skills by reading to the residents. A great way to provide some much-needed company as our elderly are often the loneliest demographic. This will also help students understand the importance of companionship and the life experience of someone outside of their inner circle.

A Food Pantry

Build your own food pantry in the local area or outside of the school grounds and each class/year group can be allocated a time throughout the term/semester to collect non-perishable goods to add to the pantry keeping it stocked well throughout the year for the local community.

By putting positive action into play, we can co-create micro and broader communities of empathetic individuals who put compassion into practice every single day- glowing at another’s joy and melting at another’s woe.