Sunday, February 2, 2014

Empathy

I went to school on Friday with a bad sore throat. I began my morning classes by telling them a story.

"Guess what? When I woke up this morning I was like this:

[I dramatically stretched my arms as if rising from bed, tried to yawn only to emit a squeaky sound, widened my eyes in terror, tried to speak only to emit more squeaks]

By this point my 1st graders were cracking up.

I told them in my squeaky voice "I had no voice! What do you think it means for art class today if I don't have a big voice?"

I called on 2 or 3 students all of which give the same basic answer: "We have to be very good listeners today." Several students also told me about how they or their family members were recently sick. What followed next was a short (unplanned) discussion of how we feel and what we do when we are sick. 


Some teachers will tell you never to let your guard down because your students will take advantage. I remember as a student in public school that whenever we had a sub or the teacher was acting cranky because they were sick or tired the class would take advantage. In this situation of teaching small, generally well-behaved 1st grade classes I feel I made the right decision. They were great listeners and were extremely helpful and rallied to my support because I asked them. And, in general, the class atmosphere seemed to have an especially warm, connected feel.

Sharing with students and their sharing in return about not feeling well brought to mind the big E-word. Dr. BrenĂ© Brown clearly explains empathy versus sympathy in this short, animated video by RSA Shorts called The Power of Empathy. You can hear more from Dr. BrenĂ© Brown on this topic in a TedTalks called the Power of Vulnerability.

Here are my takeaways from the video below:

"Empathy is feeling with people."
"Empathy is a choice and it's a vulnerable choice."
"The truth is...rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection."



I spent the good part of my weekend between my darkened bedroom and the living room. I watched Lilo and Stitch, planned lessons, and ruminated on empathy. At times I am overwhelmed by the sense of and sometimes the lack of empathy between students and people in general. I was reminded of the power of empathy on Friday.