Monday, August 3, 2015


I've been thinking a lot lately about empathy and how to consciously teach this in the classroom. I am reading a book right now called:

I don't know if I'm ready to recommend it yet-I honestly didn't even know it was going to be non-fiction when I started reading it. It's been a little slow so far but I'm not even halfway finished yet. The first story she tells is about how resident doctors are rated on empathy with fake patients. They have actors acting out symptoms (yes, just like on Seinfeld! :). Then the actors rate them and one of the sections is empathy-they actually have to voice something empathetic to get a good rating. I can totally relate to this. As I've shared, I've been going through some health issues this summer (I actually start chemo tomorrow-a little nervous actually!). I have dealt with many, many different medical professionals in this process-nurses, doctors, surgeons, radiologists, technicians-- and very few have actually shown any empathy. I don't really expect it anymore, so I don't think it bothers me was much as it should. This is just day-to-day for them-you are no different than the other probably 100 patients they will see this week. Mostly it's just patronizing-"don't worry, there are all kinds of lumps", "you're young, your chance of recovery is very good", "we have made great advancements in treatments". No one says "I can't even imagine what you must be feeling right now" or "how are you doing, this must be upsetting news"-which is what I think is what an empathetic professional would express.

My classes really vary in levels of empathy. I had a class that I looped with the year before last that was full of empathy for others. I would play a video about a homeless person and student would shout out "I just want to cry for them". We would write letters to Santa and they would ask for their mother's back to get better or for homeless pets to find homes. They really had feelings for what others were going through. They came by it naturally, I felt like my job was just to build on that.

Other classes, not so much. :) Being 5 years old you see, the world completely revolves around you. You don't think about how your actions affect others or how others may feel about things.I like to use videos and photographs to show caring for others.

Terri Eichholz over at Engage Their Minds as a list of Inspirational Videos for students and teachers where I have found some good ones for this topic :

I get pictures from around the world on This Week in Pictures:   So I would show them a picture like this one and say "what does that make you feel for them?" I think being able to identify and verbalize those feelings can help develop the process where eventually they look at it and feel something themselves. (not a site I would let kids navigate themselves just FYI-there are violent pics from war or demonstrations sometimes).

And of course there are books you can turn to. I know there are thousands-many children's books are written to make kiddos feel, but I wanted to share a few titles that you may not already know about.

A boy catches a legendary fish and has to decide whether to take it and become famous or let it go and live it's life. Spoiler alert-he chooses the latter. He begins to feel for this fish.

Love this book about the ripples we make with kindness. I absolutely believe this is true.

This book is about a grandfather who is either dealing with senility or maybe Alzheimer's. It's a rare theme I think for kids books.

And speaking of understanding for older people-this is one of my favorites.

Some chapter books for the older kiddos or for read-alouds:

The protagonist is wary of her Japanese cousin and his family coming to stay with them, but eventually sees how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land. Particularly thought-provoking with all the current event stories of immigrants.

I love this book. Tua feels for an elephant who is being mistreated and ends up rescuing it. It surprises me sometimes the lack of empathy young kids even have for animals.

And then of course, there's Ivan! Not only do we feel empathy for him, but I think there's a path of how Ivan develops empathy for some of the other animals he resides with.

It's a big concept! I hear we have a very interesting group of kiddos coming up this year (most of our suspensions last year were Pre-K students! I know!). I think this is something I will really focus on with them this year.

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  1. I have read/shared these books too (except Tua and the Elephant). They are excellent selections for nurturing empathy.

    Concerning your health issues, I can't imagine what you must be feeling. This reader will be thinking of you tomorrow by sending ripples of wellness and kindness.

    1. Thank you so much Debra! I very much appreciate those ripples! :)

  2. Thank you for sharing the link to Terri's inspirational videos. I've been collecting videos, so this resource is perfect. Bless you today as you take this next challenging step in your recovery. You are brave.

    1. Oh good! I'm glad it was useful for you. Thank you for your kind words. I survived the treatment today-wasn't too bad at all. I actually could have fallen asleep! :)

  3. Thank you for your books suggestions. Showing empathy to our students as talking about it and teaching it is so important. Sending healing thoughts your way - to heal your body and restore whatever of your spirit this experience has chipped away at. And may you have a chemo nurse who oozes love from her/his very pores.

    1. Thank you so much Sandi! I was very lucky to get a great caring nurse! :)

  4. I think I have some more reading to do! Thanks for the book suggestions. I just ran across a good empathy vs. sympathy video. It's prob. better for adults even though it's an animation as it mentions some adult topics. But it does a great job boiling it down to the difference between the two. ~ Terri

  5. Love that Terri! Thank you for sharing as always! Have to remember that "at least" part even in my conversations. I tend to be a glass half full kind of person and sometimes people don't need to hear that in their time of need! :)

  6. I have definitely been guilty of saying that before, and I also remember many a time when other people have irritated me by saying that!

  7. Important ideas, good book and video suggestions. I'll pray for you, Elizabeth!