Empathy in education

Written by: Sierra Porter | Staff Writer

As individuals, there are many elements that affect our daily lives and further influence us as human beings. One element that every human has succumbed to in life is consistent trials and tribulations. As a society, we believe that education and schooling should help us learn and move away from these challenges, including those we face outside of these institutions. For some, this creates a disconnect between school life and home life — believing that a solution in one will fix the other. What our education system is currently missing, that will help this disconnect, is empathy. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. This is not just having pity or sorrow for others as sympathy does, but rather, one truly puts oneself in the other’s shoes, viewing things from their perspective. For one to have a truly valuable education with others, it must also involve some form of empathetic learning. 

Those with particularly consistent negative aspects in their home life, especially young students, face things like changing family dynamics. These include financial issues, sibling bullying, history of neglect or maltreatment and more, and are more likely to have struggles in school — leading to a greater chance of dropping out. 

For many, it’s nearly impossible to disassociate the troubles they face at home away from their school life. It’s up to us, as individuals, to learn and encourage empathy — making everyone’s school environment as positive a place as can be. 

Educators who use an empathetic approach to teaching and addressing classroom issues create an inclusive and open environment for students — encouraging them to build safe relationships with their teachers and peers. Empathetic learning and teaching also promote a positive learning environment where students feel valued and proud of their abilities. 

Creating a safe and comfortable environment for students will allow them to enjoy school more, thus motivating them to stick with their education and make overall better decisions in life. Teachers lead by example, so if one is leading with an empathetic mindset, then that will create a community of compassion and a generation of caring students. 

As a student, one can also promote empathy by showing compassion and kindness to their peers and teachers. You never truly know what is going on in others’ lives, so try to put yourself in their shoes. Showing care for your teacher and their life in or outside the classroom can show them how much their work is appreciated, encouraging them to continue teaching. Being empathetic with your peers will help you understand each other better, creating stronger bonds and deeper relationships, again, further creating a community of positive and caring people. 

Empathy in education is not just the responsibility of teachers and students, but institutions as a whole can also promote an empathetic environment and learning. Many schools explicitly promote empathetic learning through social-emotional learning, or SEL, programs or character education. 

Specific classes aren’t the only thing institutions can do to promote empathetic education. As an institution are they empathetic about their tuition? Empathetic about the types of classes they offer? Empathetic about deadlines and requirements for applying students? Empathic about those that need extra assistance, like disability accommodations? There are so many different ways to promote empathic learning and create an empathic environment as an institution — thus universities and schools all over should be looking at what their students need. 

Empathy in education will encourage a new generation of compassionate, caring and bonded individuals who will take their empathetic learning and apply it to the world. Empathy in education tells us that life is difficult, but you are not alone. 

Contact the author at howlstaffwriter@wou.edu