Can We Teach Empathy?

What struck me the most about the Amanda Todd story  is the lack of empathy from her peers. In her video Amanda talks about how her stalker created a Facebook page with her picture as the profile image and friended all her classmates from her new school. Amanda said that she “lost all her friends” and “then nobody liked me” when the Facebook page was created. This haunts me, that her peers joined in what appears to be mob-mentality and did not allow Amanda forgiveness for her mistakes. There was no “forgive and forget” for Amanda from her peers. Yes, online safety is a major key that our students must learn, but I also believe empathy is another key skill that our students must learn and develop.

According to Katia Hildebrandt, “In a world where forgetting is no longer possible, we might instead work towards greater empathy and forgiveness.” What is empathy? Why should we as teachers worry about teaching empathy to our students? According to Greater Good at UC- Berkeley empathy reduces bullying, making kids kinder and “more inclusive towards their peers.” A reduction in bullying and an increase in kindness sounds pretty good to me.

Not only does teaching empathy lead to less bullying, it also helps students learn better and leads to the creation of positive relationships within the classroom.  We as teachers can help our students learn empathy skills in a few steps. We can model empathy in our interactions with our students, utilize teachable moments in the classroom, highlight commonalities that we all share rather than differences between individuals, and allow for collaboration within your classroom.26207360040_25d72cdaa8_m

Photo Credit: pxlline Flickr via Compfight cc

I think teachers need to keep empathy in mind. According to Edutopia, without empathy in the classroom; teachers are teaching content, not the students within the classroom. It is also important to note that empathy is not necessarily a skill that comes easily to every person and student. It is a skill that can be taught and nurtured in the right environment. When trying to help students with this skill, it is important to ask these important questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Who is “other”? And how? In what functions and degrees?
  • How do we relate? What do we share?
  • What do they need from me, and I from them?

Hopefully we can honor Amanda’s memory by helping our students now, to teach them empathy so that peers will not join the mob-mentality and bully a student that made a mistake that the internet won’t let them forget. Hopefully our students can respond with kindness and understanding instead of hate and bullying. Let’s make Pink Shirt Day everyday.

Resources for teaching empathy

“Developing Empathy” from Teaching Tolerance


3 thoughts on “Can We Teach Empathy?

    1. Thank you! I think we need to emphasize that there is a fellow human being on the other side of the screen and we should treat them as such


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