Discussion Outline: The second panel with
some members of the empathy curriculum development team. We tested
out the panel process and talked about how we can build a culture
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topic : Empathy as it should exist in educational system.
Sherry: Hello everybody,
as we have our conversation today. I am curious, what is it that brings
you to this discussion on
empathy and education
today? Is there something in particular that comes to mind? What is
motivating you to be here today? Who would like to start?
MI: What I think about
empathy and education is that it CAN be taught. I am looking for the
lessons to be a universal outpouring because we really need empathy in
all areas of our lives.
Sherry: So it is possible
to teach empathy and there are specific ways that it can be done.
Ilene, how about you?
IF: I have been involved
in teaching empathy in various forms for the last 15-20 years. I am
still grappling with which best practices can be taught that kids can
connect with right away.
SM: Devotion to this
How can empathy
empathy can be sustainable
Challenge is: creating
cultural container of framework that allows empathy to be held in
Otherwise it dissipates
Keeping empathy alive
Framework that culture
How it is acted out, not
just taught is important,
Container of empathy must
be kept in place
ER: Learning from
different modalities on empathy.
From books to nonviolent
Have learned more about
Empathy was lacking in
schools at one point.
Mediation training would
have been handy. Learning this at young age can serve a person for life.
Empathy is “Caught, not
taught”. It needs to be modeled.
It can be taught as
well as modeled.
SM: Important to bring
that concept in.
different things to different people.
How does that
relate to education?
How does one’s
understanding of empathy relate to education?
MI: Definition: ability
to be reflective and understand another person’s emotions, the
circumstances they are going through. Also, to have some sympathy for
them, and be able to step out of oneself in order to do it in order to
Even if one’s
circumstances are different from another, the person is able to
understand how things are for the other person.
circumstances in a way and seeing our common humanity
IF: Not only being able
to walk in another’s shoes, but being able to take your shoes off and
step into theirs. Being able to step into curiosity and unknown in order
to really hear and feel another person’s experience, without filtering
it through your own experiences.
We don’t really have a
shared definition. Technical definition_ cognitive, affective,
Empathy as value: We
value everybody’s experience.
SM: Caroline Casey talks
about how in order to be affective, we have to be able to hold more than
one reality at a time.
Humor- multiple meanings
Empathy for others
This is done through
Based on self awareness, recognizing self from others
Empathetic action- what
is action after awareness and feeling
ER: 8 ways that empathy
is used in society- included as overlapping with compassion and
SM: Educational context
Different ways of
Every program is based
on certain definition
Programs may address
other aspects of empathy as well
SM: How to create
conditions for empathy in educational context?
IF - Looking
at underlying knowledge and skills required
specific programs impart certain skills and knowledge
“Roots of empathy” that is really effective and different from other
SM: I want to hear one
specific way that you are aware of that creates conditions for empathy
in education, regardless of the program. What works?
MI: What is the purpose
of empathy? What is the cause of the need for teaching empathy?
deal with others different from self really for the first time when
must learn to accept differences
There is conflict that
arises because of the differences
It is the antidote to
for classroom management
Building culture inside
I think that empathy
needs to be learned everywhere. It addresses a core issue that we have
not talked about yet. It is a place to resolve and unite.
IF: Why we are compelled
to discuss empathy in school setting:
- Schools in general
are unique social structures.
- Kids are compelled by
law to be in school day in and day out.
- We are bringing
together kids from different backgrounds, belief systems and putting
them in a group to learn.
- There are skills that
can be taught to make that go more smoothly
- Research showing
connections between feeling safe and being able to learn
- Stress response
states inhibit ability to access brain part in which learning takes
This is a public health
issue (discusses example of kids fearing coming to school b/c of fearing
what others will say/do.) We must create schools in which kids feel safe
and can get along. Otherwise the host of negative issues that occurs
there will continue to happen.
SM: Empathy is important
in addressing differences among people. We need to develop our
empathetic skill to deal with differences.
MI: I have been doing
diversity work for 30 years now. It is about valuing diversity. We deal
with our own personal wounds and have enough self reflection so we can
sit across from someone completely different. This way we have already
dealt with whatever would have caused me to reject the different person.
reflection part of empathy
person who is very different
without trauma strings attached to self that can cause distorted
perception of other
SM: So an actual
conscious way of doing self-reflection. Working with that will help
support the goal of being connected to others?
MI: (Gives example of an
activity that diversity training provides). People can have stereotypes,
but also address why they exist, and how to change them through
addressing why we think what we think.
My goal on the large
scale is to help society see that we live in a culture of pollutants. It
has to do with the way the system is set up. A lot of these pollutants
have to do with stereotypes, underclass population, and racism. By
teaching empathy we can bring down the walls that have been built that
divide races and classes.
ER: Is the process for
breaking wall down a process of inner dialogue and dialogue with others?
MI: Yes, it would start
with “Who am I”? “: I can see myself for who I am but differentiate
myself from my basic group(more than just being black, white, or brown,
or rich or poor). This is the part of self reflection. The goal is to
see that you are unique person who just happens to be part of a group of
people. This allows us to be open to other groups and address emotions
that arise within us such as fear.
SM: I am really struck by
what I hear from what I have heard from adolescents in a secondary
school context about bullying. Their experience of bullying is all based
on differences. They recognize that is all based on differences. There
is this idea that empathy is about just getting along and ignoring
differences. I am just curious if there is a way that having that
message sent on how ignoring differences somehow feeds bullying.
ER: I am hearing that
there is a common sense of humanity. Common humanity and uniqueness mix
together. It is important to be able to see both.
IF: The way our school system is built is complex:
conformity: What it means to be good, cooperative, how we are all alike
talk about than addressing deep differences like racial and class
differences, and sexual orientation.
to be connected to people’s values.
laws on teachers being able to remain silent when these deep difference
issues come up.
I think you are right Sherry in that our lack of being able to grapple
with these issues results in behaviors like bullying and violence.
MI: Once you built an empathetic environment, those “conversations” are
easier. Important to have an environment in which you feel: safe,
nurtured, and care about. I was a coach for helping to see what barriers
existed for some students that were leading to low test scores. The
school usually wants to put the problem on the family environment.
However the school environment can be changed.
child realize that they can shift from family environment to school
environment in which they feel safe. This involves addressing the
student and the problem. This involves empathy.
teachers did not make space for students and their problems.
They did not want to
implement community setting of where children could be heard. These
classrooms had more problems.
SM: Having empathetic listening at the beginning of the day somehow
cleared the air of the day in order for students to focus on learning.
The classroom environment became more affective and manageable after
having this “circle” experience. Having an empathy circle sounds great.
How do we create these conditions? Specifically dealing with secondary
IF: There is a real neurobiological component going on. Each child is
having a reaction happening when they are in a circle process. That is
about creating a place where the hormones that allow the neo-cortex to
operate can come into play. Kids are coming in with all these stress
responses going on (bad things may happen in their lives night before).
The circle, by allowing the kids to share stories, feel connected, turns
down volume of stress hormones, turns up volume on oxytocin and other
neurotransmitters and hormones that plays into relationships and
critical thinking. So, how do you NOT make the time for that? Learning
cannot happen if fear response and stress is happening.
MI: Children in this time are dealing with a lot of social issues they
are brining to school. It is important to give them space to cope with
it and teach them how to shift mindset in order to learn.
are role models. Teachers must be able to see this and how their
expectations affect child
level expectations affect child and impede child
helps with teachers’ attitudes around children
teachers as well to be empathetic
IF: Gives visual example of “do as I say, not as I do”. This can be
confusing to the child. Teachers must model what they say. If teachers
expect empathy from children, they must model it.
ER: The situation then is that teachers are under stress and need
connection as well.
SM: Circle time with teachers!
IF: Implementing just a
classroom program to teach empathy will not be affective, therefore NOT
sustainable. (Critical to have a “container”). This will allow
sustaining of empathy.
Container of empathy
Center of container:
community of empathy
Connecting components to
center: Programs to teach empathy
Training of staff
discipline conduction in classroom
- All of these must come
MI: (Discusses examples
of training teachers in how to relate to the children. Teaching the
teacher to clear stereotypical thinking and giving child a chance)
“mystery questions” is part of creating a safe environment. Mystery
questions include: is there a god, what happens when I die.
-One person at a time,
one child at a time-
SM: Circle of empathy for
support for teachers is needed.
MI: The most important part of empathy definition is : empathetic
Something needs to
happen on a more collective level as well. In my mind there is this
unconscious place in all of us that is “messy and beautiful”. Looking
at the messy part is necessary as well. We must be willing to look at
it and address it.
Action for empathy
first, then addressing your investments accordingly.
We don’t even take the
time to look in each other’s lives in order for those neurons to
connect. This is part of the important piece need to build a culture
ER: If there are some questions for future discussion, what questions
would you like to explore around nurturing and fostering empathy in the
How will we go forward
with other questions to explore that are more detailed?
MI: Maybe there is a way that there could be taking time to feel the
environment in classroom-for teachers. Slow it down enough to build the
container of empathy. Push for testing and results have pushed many kids
out, because it was all about one goal, not really addressing where kids
stand at the moment. (Example: one kid left behind)
IF: In roots of empathy,
the teacher is actually a baby. I am instructor there to facilitate.
Another person helps us understand how concepts relate to ourselves. The
brilliant thing is that babies do not have filters the way older people
do. This erases prejudgments and stereotypes coming into play.
It is a relationship,
therefore, of total acceptance. Kids in the program get excited to see
the “baby” and vice-versa. There are no hidden motivations. This allows
kids to access a pure experience of empathy that most other programs
What it comes down to,
regardless of programs- tribes or any other programs, it comes down to
time. Teachers do not have time to implement this because of all the
other tasks such as keeping up test scores. Teachers are not paid for
the time this would take. People understand the cognitive value of
empathy, but it is another thing to fit it in (time-wise). This must be
equal to other priorities such as literacy and math. The desire to do
this must be there.
SM: (closing remarks) I can see us spending time on what the efficient
ways are of bringing empathy to education environment by addressing the
Is there anything else
that anyone wants to add?
ER: Thank you to everyone (more thanks among panel members)