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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Bob Sornson

Bob Sornson and Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy in Education

Bob Sornson was a classroom teacher and school administrator for over 30 years, and is the founder of the Early Learning Foundation.  He works with schools and education organizations across the country, focusing primarily on developing comprehensive programs which support early learning success, building classroom and school culture to support the development of social and behavior skills, and offering parent training.

 Bob  is the author of a number of books including: Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy.  "When Emily asks her big sister what the word empathy means, Emily has no idea that knowing the answer will change how she looks at people...  Empathy is the ability to notice what other people feel. Empathy leads to the social skills and personal relationships which make our lives rich and beautiful, and it is something we can help our children learn. This book teaches young children the value of noticing how other people feel. Were hoping that many parents read it along with their children." 

Sub Conferences: Education 




Bob Sornson & Edwin Rutsch: How to Build a Culture of Empathy in Education



(transcription pending) (Video Transcriptions: If you would like to take empathic action and create a transcription of this video, check the volunteers page.  The transcriptions will make it easier for other viewers to quickly see the content of this video.)



Developing Empathy in the Home
Bob Sornson, Early Learning Foundation

1. Start with safety and security. Fear interferes with the development of empathy. Learning to set clear limits in the home with respect and love is essential to the development of empathy.


2. Build consistent family routines. Find the routines which work for your family, hopefully including:

  • a consistent morning routine

  • bedtime routine

  • reading or study time routine

  • after school routine

  •  regular meals together as a family

  • chores for the family

  •  consistent video limits

  • bedtime

3. Talk to your kids. Tell your stories so they learn to see the world from the perspective of others. Help them learn to notice the lives of others.

4. Self-regulation skills are essential for the development of empathy. By learning to calm themselves, regulate emotions, delay gratification, persevere, and stay focused on the right things, students develop the skills which allow them to look beyond themselves. Donít take self-regulation skills for granted. By modeling self-regulation, following your home routines, letting your kids practice waiting (delay gratification), sharing toys, not always getting their way, and doing chores, they learn to adapt their emotions and their physical bodies to the situation. That is self-regulation!

5. Model empathy. Notice the lives of others and act. Or talk about your experience of using empathy, and about the times you forgot to act with empathy.

6. Read great childrenís literature with your kids. Great books draw children into the lives of the characters, and help them learn to see the world differently.

7. Notice the feelings of your kids. Talk about them. Help them learn to use words to describe their inner experiences.

8. Help your children learn to build play skills and relationships. When you love someone, you give energy and attention to noticing their well-being. Loving relationships grow empathy.  




Developing Empathy in the Classroom
Bob Sornson, Early Learning Foundation

1. Start by building a classroom culture in which students feel safe and secure. Students who are afraid of physical or emotional harm give attention to their own well-being, and have less ability to notice the well-being of others.

2. Classroom procedures and routines build a sense of predictable security for children. Well established routines also help students practice self-regulation skills as they learn how to wait calmly, recognize the behaviors that lead to positive outcomes in the classroom, and follow the steps to success.

3. Help students develop listening and observation skills by planning morning meetings, having discussions about what is going well and what needs to improve in our classroom, and teaching specific observation skills and listening which some children have not learned in the home.

4. Self-regulation skills are the foundation for empathy. By learning to calm themselves, regulate emotions, delay gratification, persevere, and stay focused on the right things, students develop the skills which allow them to look beyond themselves. Donít take self-regulation skills for granted. Find ways to purposefully help children develop these skills within the classroom.

5. Consider developing a clear set of expectations for how adults will treat students and how students will treat each other within the classroom. Making a commitment to treating each other with respect, and then learning to stand up and speak up for yourself and for others helps build a powerful sense of community (The Juice Box Bully, Bob Sornson, 2011).

6. Use great literature and tell great stories to inspire students to understand the experience of others.

7. Model empathy. Your students are watching!

8. Relationships matter. Empathy is the ability to understand how someone feels, but caring about others precedes giving effort to noticing the experience and feelings of others. Help kids build relationships which inspire them to trust and care for others.