Well, we certainly have been on quite a roller coaster ride in 2020! Now with schools online for the rest of this year and the uncertainty of what the next school season may look like, I wanted to take a minute to return to the power of empathy to help us to connect and reconnect with colleagues, friends, family members, and people we have never met, since online experiences may send us to places all over the country and all over the world.
Merriam-Webster offers this definition of empathy:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner
also : the capacity for this
Empathy is similar to sympathy, but empathy usually suggests stronger, more instinctive feeling. So a person who feels sympathy, or pity, for victims of a war in Asia may feel empathy for a close friend going through the much smaller disaster of a divorce. Empathy requires us to see things through another person’s eyes – to really be able to “walk around in his shoes” and be able to experience what that person is going through, imagine what it would be like to be that person.
In a beautifully animated RSA Short, University of Houston researcher and educator Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities. She says, “Empathy fuels connection. What makes something better is connection. Empathy is feeling WITH people.”
Here are some professional reads you might want to consider:
Managing Your Classroom with Heart: A Guide for Nurturing Adolescent Learners By Katy Ridnouer
Hanging In: Strategies for Teaching the Students Who Challenge Us Most by Jeffrey Benson
The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills Every Child Needs by Thomas R. Hoerr