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Posts from the ‘Teacher development’ Category

3 Key Lessons on Empathy

I did the last internship for my teaching credential in a rural town in Nicaragua, volunteering at a local NGO – Los Pipitos – that supported children with disabilities. During my time there, I worked alongside a promotora de salud (community health professional), Martha; the most patient human being I have ever met, I learned everything I know about empathy from her.

Martha and I used to walk several hours a day in the dusty trails of Yalagüina, trying to reach the homes where children with disabilities lived. Most of these families could not afford to send their children to a special education school or even to the local public school, therefore Los Pipitos educated the families so they could support their kids’ growth and development at home. During the many hours we spent walking, Martha and I developed a close friendship. She always answered my many questions about Nicaragua’s culture, politics and poverty with patience and care. Martha had an amazing capacity to connect with the families we visited and show love and concern, even when the things we saw and experienced were difficult.

These are 3 key lessons that I learned about empathy from watching Martha relate to others.

1. Empathy starts with self-awareness. Empathy is being able to walk in someone else’s shoes, to feel with them. Having a son with cerebral palsy herself, Martha had walked similar paths than the families we visited. Although it was difficult to watch people in pain, sometimes denial, Martha was able to connect with her own emotions, so she could open her heart to these families.

As teachers and parents, this self-awareness helps us to be more present in any given situation. It can be difficult to model empathy for our students or our own children, to connect with their feelings, if we are still thinking about work, an argument we had earlier that day or the endless to-do list. Once we have been able to check-in with ourselves, even if it means connecting with uncomfortable feelings, we’ll be in a better position to connect with others.

2. Empathy heals. Another important lesson that I learned from my dear friend is that when we are able to show empathy for others, they feel accepted and understood. We often encountered families that were skeptical of the help we could provide or scared that we would take their child away. Martha was able to validate their feelings, whatever they were, opening the door for conversation and connection.

When we show empathy for children and youth, or other adults, and we connect with their feelings, that connection and care is healing to whatever they are going through. Showing empathy makes the relationships with our children and students deeper and stronger.

3. Empathy teaches Empathy. I learned the power of empathy by watching Martha connect with people in the community. When she talked and related to others, she did it from the heart. Martha modeled empathy by connecting with people’s emotions, and also by talking about people’s behaviors without judgment.

Children learn how to show empathy from their parents and caregivers, so when adults around them show empathy towards others, they are teaching empathy with their actions. Mary Gordon, the founder of Roots of Empathy, says that empathy can’t be taught in traditional ways, it can only be taught experientially.

As we have seen, in order to show empathy, we need to have some clarity about our own feelings and leave room for the other person to take the stage, being fully present for them. Many people have a difficult time showing empathy, because it means going to a painful place within themselves. Part of showing empathy is being able to manage our own anxiety about the feelings of others and grow to accept them. Empathy, like other social and emotional skills, can be learned and developed over time.

Here are 3 things you can do to develop your empathy.

  • Listen without solving. Tell yourself “I am here to listen”. If you find yourself coming up with ways to solve the problem, go back to my earlier post Are You Listening? for tips on how to become a better listener. Be patient, the other person might not be ready to solve the situation yet.
  • Validate and reflect. Serve as a mirror to the other person. Acknowledge his/her emotions and (maybe) help them connect to the triggers: “You seem angry about the game getting cancelled”, “You sure are upset with me”.
  • Resonate: Match your reaction with his/her mood. Connect with your own emotions by asking yourself “Have I felt this way before?”. Offer comfort, without distracting the person from their own feelings.

Empathy helps people connect with each other at deeper levels, is healing and builds trust. You can develop your empathy by listening without solving, validating the other person’s feelings and resonating with them. It’s never too late to begin noticing when and how you show empathy, and start using the three strategies outlined above. Give it a try and let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you.

Are You Listening?

When I was a kid, I became fascinated with the story of Momo by Michael Ende. Have you read it? Momo is a little girl of mysterious origin with an extraordinary ability to listen – really listen. I remember reading the book and wondering, how does she do it? Can I really listen that way too?

She listened in a way that made slow-witted people have flashes of inspiration. It wasn’t that she actually said anything or asked questions that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with the upmost attention and sympathy, fixing them with her big, dark eyes, and they suddenly became aware of ideas whose existence they had never suspected. Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew their own minds from one moment to the next, or shy people felt suddenly confident and at ease, or down-hearted people felt happy and hopeful. Read more

Focus on Yourself to Nurture Positive Relationships

The relationships that children and youth establish with adults are critical for a healthy social and emotional development. When students and teachers establish positive, caring relationships, students are more likely to use their teachers as resource to solve problems, engage in learning activities, and better navigate the demands of school (Williford & Sanger Wolcott, 2015). Researchers have found that high-quality relationships between students and teachers are linked with students’ academic and social-emotional outcomes. Read more

Why Do You Believe Your Inner Critic?

“I’ll never be able to make these kids learn or behave appropriately. They just don’t listen! If I don’t get them to master the content, I am in trouble. Tests are around the corner… what If I loose my job? I’m not good at this… actually I am really bad at teaching. What if I just quit and forget about all of this? But then, I’ll never be able to find a job that I enjoy…”.
Read more

Got Anger?

A few years back, my principal and I had an argument about some testing that needed to get done. From my classroom, a remodeled closet above the gym, I could hear her heels coming towards my class… I started sweating and my heart was pounding; she was not even there yet, and I was already getting angry again! My mind was quickly building a catalog of all the situations where there had been tension between us, which made me even angrier. The conversation did NOT start with “I hear what you are saying…” and there were some passive aggressive remarks made… by me. Fortunately, we were able to work through the issue and made a plan to solve the problem. When she left, I felt so relieved. Read more

The Courage to Teach More than “Little Virtues”

I recently read an excerpt from Little Virtues by Natalia Ginzburg that has stayed with me for weeks. Born in an anti-fascist Italian-Jewish family in 1916, Ginzburg lived through a lot before she turned fifty. Her ideas about teaching children are still meaningful today, and they help us to reflect on what we want for our students. Read more

3 Ways to Improve Your Trainings

Summer is a time for educators to rest, rejuvenate, maybe travel and spend time with friends and family. But many teachers use their break to do what they love most: teaching. They change their kindergarteners or teenagers for adults to provide professional development workshops for other educators. Technology in the classroom, differentiation, mindfulness… you name it! Professional development for teachers should be experiential, collaborative, grounded on the practice and closely connected to students’ needs. It should also consider that teachers might show resistance to change. Easy, right? Well, not really. Read more

What do you do with your stress? Building Resilience through Emotional Intelligence

Resilience is the ability to withstand stress and catastrophe. Humans have an amazing capacity to adapt and overcome adversities and even after devastating tragedies, individuals and communities find ways to move forward and rebuild their lives. Linda Lantieri founded the Inner Resilience Program (IRP) in 2002 in response to the effects of the events of September 11, 2001 on New York City schools. Read more

Teaching is an emotional practice

One of my first teaching assignments was in a public school in Barcelona. I met the principal and the dean of students the afternoon before starting my new position and was told: “This is a very difficult group of students, some with challenging behaviors. Do you think you can do it?”. I really wanted to teach at that school, so (even if I had my doubts) I said “Of course!”. I didn’t sleep at all that night… I was scared and felt unprepared.

During my doctoral dissertation, I asked teachers why they had decided to go into teaching. Their faces lit up while they described their passion to provide students with the opportunities they had growing up, being inspired by their own teachers or having a social justice purpose in life. These same teachers also shared concerns about staying in the teaching profession where the work hours are long, there is a lack of work-life balance and they are “emotionally drained” by the end of each school year.

Emotions are at the heart of what teachers do and why they do it. Teaching is an emotional practice and we can’t ignore that teachers need support developing their own social and emotional competencies, so they can successfully regulate their emotions and manage the stress that comes with teaching. If you take a look aSix Secondst Six Seconds model of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), you might find that some of these skills come naturally to you and others might require some additional development. Like with our students, as adults, we also have strengths and challenges when it comes to our social and emotional competencies.

 

Jones, Bouffard and Weissbourd (2013) also point out that these skills are influenced by context. If you work at a school or organization where gossip and complaints are the norm, you will tend to display more negative behaviors; while if you work in a supportive environment, you will be more inclined to successfully manage stress or ask/offer help when needed.

In any case, developing your social and emotional competencies is a good investment because it will improve the relationships with your students, provide a different outlook to your classroom management and (hopefully) reduce some burnout. These are some resources that I have found valuable in the development of my own competencies. Try them out!

  •  Assess your EQ competencies. This is normally based on a self-report, and it provides with specific feedback on your skills and a framework to apply EQ in and outside of the classroom. If you don’t know where to start developing your skills, this is a helpful first step. Email me if you want to learn more.
  • Cultivate self-awareness. Are you able to name your emotions and explain why you are feeling that way? Emotional awareness starts with our ability to identify how we feel, not only the obvious feelings, but also the ones that are hidden. Reflect on what your emotions are telling you about a particular situation.
  • Incorporate reflection into your day. Remember we discussed the importance of reflecting to learn with our students? Building a reflection time for adults is key to develop social and emotional competencies. This can be done during team or staff meetings at your school, or you can do it independently at a time that seems feasible and sustainable for your schedule. Just try to be consistent!

Teaching is an emotional practice and teachers need support developing their own social and emotional competencies in order to successfully regulate the stress that comes with teaching. Assessing your EQ competencies, cultivating self-awareness and incorporating reflection time into your day are a few strategies to get started developing your skills. What strategies are you using to build your social and emotional competencies? Please share!

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