Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘emotions’

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.

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

Ready for School?

A few weeks back, I registered my daughter for kindergarten in the local school district. It was a moment filled with different emotions: excitement for the new experiences she will have, worry for the challenges, and also a bit of sadness because she is no longer my little “baby”. A moment of true self-awareness! Read more

Getting Your Principal to Support SEL

Last week, I got a message from an elementary school teacher in New Jersey. Maria integrates Social Emotional Learning in her 2nd grade class and has observed significant changes in her students’ ability to express emotions and solve conflicts independently. In her message, she expressed some frustration because the principal, although supportive of her work, doesn’t want to allocate any resources to implement SEL across classrooms. Read more

3 Strategies to Navigate Emotions

I recently met with a fantastic group of principals. Two weeks into the new school year and they were already discussing serious issues taking place at their schools. You could almost touch the tension in the room. We started the meeting with a simple breathing exercise, so we could all (including myself!) get our minds ready to engage and participate in meaningful ways. Learning ways to navigate emotions and deal with the stress of daily life is a major goal in Social Emotional Learning that applies to both students and adults. Read more

We Feel, Therefore We Learn

Emotions drive learning. That is one of the most exciting findings from Immordino-Yang’s years of work in affective neuroscience with great implications for teaching and learning. Emotions are an essential piece in the learning process, so how can we foster them in the classroom? What can we do, as educators, to engage students in meaningful ways? In my earlier posts How emotions affect learning part 1 and part 2, I discussed how the emotions students experience in the classroom can affect their disposition to learn. 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

Empathy is a Design Mindset – part 2

Empathy is the ability to be understanding of and sensitive to another person’s feelings and thoughts without having had the same experience. In an earlier post, Pelochino described empathy as the foundation of design thinking. Innovators and designers develop a deep emotional understanding of people’s needs, and they use this knowledge to address complex problems. How can empathy be developed in classrooms and schools? 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

How emotions affect learning, part 2

In an earlier post, I discussed the concept of emotion and offered a few suggestions to build self-awareness and self-management in your students. After reading the blog, did you start identifying your different emotional responses during the day? Did you find yourself paying more attention to how your emotions predispose you to act? Understanding how emotions work is key to build our awareness! Today, we’ll explore how emotions affect learning.

Students bring to the classroom emotions from life outside of school; they might be dealing with an ongoing stressful situation at home, like a divorce or a parent loosing their job, or maybe something more momentary, like an argument with a sibling. If students didn’t have a chance to manage their emotions before getting to school, they will need your support to cool off and re-focus before they can move on with their day.

In addition, students also experience emotions that originate in the classroom and that are especially relevant for students’ learning (Pekrun, 2014):

  •  Achievement emotions relate to success and failure resulting from classroom activities. Students might feel hope and pride can they examination stresshave been successful, but they can also feel anxiety, shame or fear of failure. Taking tests, for example, is an achievement activity that tends to create high levels of anxiety and stress in our students. These emotions will influence how students approach the task and how well they perform. Remember our discussion on growth mindset?
  • Topic emotions pertain to the topics/subjects presented in class. Students might feel excited about a new art class, disgusted with certain lab experiments or saddened by the fate of a character in a novel.
  • Social emotions relate to teachers and classmates, as students (and teachers) work together and interact in the classroom. Compassion, envy, sympathy, anger or social anxiety can be present at different times during the day with any and all of our students.

working together As a teacher, it might be difficult to respond to your students’ emotions at all times, while you manage the classroom and attend to academic content. However, there are things you can do to incorporate students’ emotions when you are planning and also during class.

  • Offer a variety of tasks and activities, so students can feel successful during your class/period, and combine both achievement and performance tasks. Building self-confidence in your students by providing opportunities for success and accomplishment is key to promote a joy for learning and to avoid achievement anxiety.
  •  Provide contents that are meaningful to students and, when possible, allow students to define their own learning. You can make tasks more meaningful by connecting content to students’ current interest or relating them to their career goals. When possible, give students autonomy to select tasks or topics for learning. Both of these strategies promote students’ engagement and offer opportunities to practice social and emotional competencies.
  • Build regular check-ins with students (both at the beginning and during the day/class). This can take the form of a classroom meeting, but could also be a silent activity where students quickly show you how they are feeling. Check out this example. You can also use check-in time to ask for feedback about lessons, classroom routines or particular projects students are developing.

Students bring emotions from life outside of school that influence their disposition to learning. In the classroom, students experience emotions based on the activities, topics and social interactions that are presented to them. Offering a variety of tasks and activities for students to feel successful, providing engaging content and allowing for students’ autonomy in learning are a few examples of strategies teachers can use to incorporate students’ emotions in their planning. And don’t forget to have regular check-ins with your students to continue building awareness!

%d bloggers like this: