Let students know that empathy is the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and that practicing empathy involves nonjudgmentally taking another person’s perspective, understanding their feelings, and being able to communicate this understanding.
Explain that, when it comes to empathy, different people have different needs and students’ own needs may even differ from situation to situation. Also note that there is no right or wrong way to demonstrate or receive empathy.
To illustrate this point, read a list of actions that are examples of how empathy might be demonstrated or received and ask students to raise their hands when they hear an option that they would prefer.
The following statements and lists are taken from Brené Brown’s #daringclassrooms Empathy Integration Idea:
Students will likely have varied preferences – use these differences to demonstrate how empathy is a complex skill that challenges students to be flexible and in tune with others. This is also a great opportunity to explain that sometimes students will get empathy “wrong”.
Let students know that these situations (where they get empathy wrong) are called empathy misses and explain that what matters is not if they messed up, but whether or not they cleaned up their mess. Emphasize that when students mess up and miss empathy, it’s always possible to circle back, try again, and clean up the mess.
Finally, on a poster paper write, “I agree to practice empathy, mess up, circle back, clean up, and try again.” To reinforce student’s learning and shared commitment to empathy, have every student sign the poster. If you have room, hang the poster in a visible area of your classroom.