Can and Should Empathy Be Taught in Schools?

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In “Human Empathy through the Lens of Social Neuroscience”, Jean Decety and Claus Lamm define empathy as, “the ability to experience and understand what others feel without confusion between oneself and others.” They go on to explain, “Knowing what someone else is feeling plays a fundamental role in interpersonal interactions.”

Although there was not a consensus on whether or not empathy could be taught, the benefits of exposing students to the idea of empathy were seen as a move in the right direction. It was asserted that modeling empathy works best for some, but others agreed that it was a skill susceptible to training &enhancement programs; such as direct narratives and class discussions.

Teaching empathy can benefit the overall school climate and gifted students in particular. Infusing the school climate with empathetic behavior has a residual effect on co-workers and staff.

What are some ways teachers can model empathetic behavior for their students? Teachers should treat each student with respect and expect the same in return. They can model empathy by getting to know their students and practicing empathetic listening.  One way teachers can create a caring atmosphere in their classrooms is by adding ‘empathy leader’ to student ‘jobs’. Another way in the early years would be to include examples of empathetic activities such as having young students share what they like about each other.

Finally, we looked at ways parents could extend the learning. First, they need to address their child’s own emotional needs and help them deal with negative emotions at home. Parents should seek opportunities to model empathetic behavior in everyday life such as using times of discomfort as opportunities to understand empathy; for instance, talking about a distressing news story. They should provide opportunities for kids to help others without a material reward … foster sense of doing the right thing. A full transcript of this week’s chat may be found on Storify.

gtchat thumbnail logoGlobal #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7/6 C & 4 PT in the U.S., midnight in the UK and Saturdays 1 PM NZ/11 AM AEDT to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Pageprovides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community.

Head Shot 2014-07-14About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:



Compassion & Empathy: School Climate Essentials

Teaching Empathy: Are We Teaching Content or Students? from Edutopia

Building a Caring Classroom Culture: An Action Plan

Creating More Compassionate Classrooms from Edutopia

Building Social & Emotional Skills in Elementary Students: Empathy from Edutopia

Roots of Empathy

Teaching Empathy: Evidence-Based Tips for Fostering Empathy in Children

The Children We Mean to Raise: The Real Messages Adults Are Sending About Values (pdf)

How Parents Can Cultivate Empathy in Children (pdf)

Developing Empathy

Empathy Teacher’s Guide Grades 3 – 5

Tips on Helping Your Child Develop Empathy

Unleashing Empathy: How Teachers Transform Classrooms with Emotional Learning 

Emotional Intelligence Needs a Moral Rudder

Teaching Empathy to At-Risk Kids

13 Top Games That Teach Empathy

Building Community in the Classroom Page from Cybraryman

Rethinking How Students Succeed

Elevating Empathy on Pinterest

Empathy: The 21st Century Skill

4 Unexpected (& Science-Backed) Ways to Develop Empathy

Does Literature Make You Empathic?

The Development of Empathy An Essential Life Skill!

Nurturing a Kinder, Gentler Child With Empathy

The Relationship Between Emotional-State Language and Emotion Understanding: A study with School-age Children (pdf) by Veronica Ornaghi and Ilaria Grazzani

Human Empathy Through the Lens of Social Neuroscience (pdf) by Jean Decety* and Claus Lamm

Empathy: Why It’s Important, Why We Should Nurture It in Our Kids

Start Empathy: Equip Students. Transform Our Schools. Change the World

Empathic People are Natural Targets for Sociopaths 

Empathy Stretching: Helping Children Exp Switching Places Seeing/Feeling Another Side by Dr Michele Borba

BLOOM 50 Things to Say, Think & Do with Anxious, Angry, & Over-the-Top Kids by Dr Lynne Kenney

Cybraryman’s You Matter Page

Empathy and Kindness Go Hand in Hand

3 Amazing Breakthroughs in the Science of Empathy

Why We Should Teach Empathy to Improve Education


Video Links:

Sesame Street: Mark Ruffalo: Empathy (YouTube 2:28)

Brené Brown on Empathy (YouTube 2:53)

5 Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empathy & Connection from Edutopia

Empathy: The Heart of Dabrowski’s Theory – Linda Silverman

The Power of Empathy: Helen Riess at TEDxMiddlebury


Image Courtesy of Flickr  CC 2.0

Posted on February 25, 2015, in Education, Emotional intensity, gifted, gifted and talented, gifted education, gtchat, Identification, parenting, Psychology, Social Emotional, Twice-exceptional and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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