Assess your own level of empathy. Before you start talking about empathy with students, think about your own ability to be empathetic and understanding. The
Toronto Empathy Questionnaire (TEQ) is a quick self-assessment that allows you to reflect upon your skills.
Set clear expectations. Establish the expectation that everyone shares a response to the question, including you. Create your other classroom expectations to ensure the environment is safe for all students to be honest and vulnerable.
Provide multiple modes of participation. If students aren’t comfortable sharing out loud, they can write down their answer and you can share it. Some students, such as those who struggle with
, may need to know the question the night before so they can think it over. Think, too, of how else students can provide responses in ways that don’t require verbal or written communication, so all students feel included and empowered to participate.
Participate. When you (and other adults in the room) share your response, you are developing a reciprocal relationship and showing vulnerability. Students often perceive teachers as “separate.” There’s more than one goal of this activity. One goal is to listen intently to what your students are saying, but, for me, it’s also important to find a way to show them respect and walk beside them.
Embrace teachable moments. Teachable moments will come up as students share their responses, so use those moments. For example, I recently asked my class, “What kinds of things do you do when you feel upset or anxious?” The question led one student to share that she has a lot of anxiety and can have a hard time calming down. Once she shared, other students opened up, too. Many of them said either they or a close friend experience anxiety, and they don’t always know what to do to help. I used this as an opportunity to explain the physical fight-or-flight response that adrenaline triggers in our bodies, as well as to model breathing techniques they can use to calm down.
Reflect. Jot down any useful information you gather from students’ responses. Periodically, ask students their thoughts on the questions to gauge the effectiveness of this activity.