Sunday, March 11, 2018

Encouraging Empathy

Empathy has been a passion of mine for the past few years. If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that about 2 1/2 years ago I underwent treatment for breast cancer. I was truly surprised at the lack of empathy even people in the medical profession showed. I know that they see hundreds of patients every week but for example, after my first chemo treatment my oncologist asked me about the side effects I was dealing with. I told him that it was horrible, that I didn't think I could do that 7 more times-I had to sleep on the bathroom floor for a week. His response literally was "it's chemo-what did you expect?" I had a specialist who asked me about how I was doing and he responded "wow, I can't imagine what you are going through"-I wanted to burst into tears-that to me was a very empathetic response, something I had not heard very often.

I started noticing that a lot of people wait in conversations to bring the topic back to themselves. "How do you feel today?"-well, actually I'm pretty tired, I had a chemo treatment on Friday.  "Oh, I know exactly how you feel, I stayed up last night to watch the whole new season of Game of Thrones". Yeah, not the same thing. Even online, if you read comments to a post-rarely do you see someone say "that must be hard"-they respond with an experience of how that happened to them too and how it wasn't so bad. And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that- just that if you are paying attention and trying to be more empathetic, that's a good place to start.

So I started reading up on it. And the more I read, the more I was convinced to take the time to consciously teach this to my students.What can we say if someone shares something sad with us? Don't you think the custodian has a hard job, what could we do to make that easier for her? They'd find a spider in the classroom-let's just let it be, maybe he's just trying to learn too-think about how he feels.

I read them stories where they can put themselves in someone else's shoes. Here are just a few titles I recommend:

We write from the perspective of a character, compare perspectives. Anything that can put my students in the shoes of others. We view webcams of animals-one of my favorite sites for this (although my district now blocks it) is: . They have web cams watching animals in zoos, service dogs being trained. I used to love to come back at lunch and just watch the kittens playing-very relaxing. But the kids get to think about what life is like for these animals.

I will leave you with my favorite video on empathy that was shared by Terri over at:

And this is one to share with your students:


  1. Your students are so fortunate to be learning about empathy at an early age. I am convinced that a lot of people just don't know what to say in these situations - though that oncologist you mentioned just sounds like a complete jerk. Hopefully the children you teach will never grow up to be like him!

    1. Thank you Terri! I know it's hard for people-I even catch myself all the time and I try to make a conscious effort not to make it all about me. :) And yes, I really do not like my oncologist-I hope my students will grow up to be better than that.