Friday, October 4, 2013

Reflections on "Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply"

This article talks about the importance of developing empathy - both in ourselves and in our students.  I have always recognized how developing a safe environment that encourages risk-taking is critical to students' success in learning.  However, what I didn't know is that there is scientific research that identifies a "very strong relationship between social-emotional learning and cognitive development and performance."  This makes complete sense to me, although I never really thought about it that way before.

I think this article struck me tonight because today in class, my students participated in their first Lit Circle discussions of the year.  At the end of the 20-30 minute discussion, each group filled out a self-evaluation form in which they rated the group members on items like using their book in the discussion, listening to others, asking/responding to questions, etc.  Prior to the group self-evaluations, we discussed the purpose of this reflection:  it is a concrete way to give specific feedback to each group member about what they did well and what they could do differently the next time.  It was absolutely fascinating to watch how carefully and gently my students gave feedback to each other.  Although I had modeled both appropriate and inappropriate comments, and we discussed being open to the possibility that sometimes we see ourselves differently than others see us, I was incredibly impressed at the empathy my students showed as they completed this part of the activity.  Even the special education teacher who co-teaches one of the classes with me commented on how she loved watching them reflect in this manner.  I believe this is one example of pro-social behavior that was referenced in the article.

Moving forward, here are some questions I'm thinking about....  How do I help my students take this sensitivity and thoughtfulness beyond the walls of my classroom?  Can I help them transfer these skills to the hallways, lunchroom, locker room, bus, etc?  They were so impressive today, so I know they can do it.  What can I do to facilitate this in other areas of their school experience?