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Can and Should Empathy Be Taught in Schools?

Empathy copy


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

The Role of Teacher Perspective in Educating Gifted Students

“How much does a teacher’s attitude about giftedness affect their teaching of gifted students?” was the first question we considered in this chat. There seemed to be general agreement that it plays a major role in meeting or not meeting the needs of identified gifted learners. The moderator pointed out that gifted students are the ‘group’ of students making the least progress among all groups and that teachers and administrators needed to be made aware of this fact. It was also pointed out that teacher attitude towards gifted children is responsible for a great deal of friction with parents.

A lesser known issue was discussed concerning the interaction between teachers of gifted students and the rest of the faculty. Too often gifted teachers feel isolated. Teachers in Pull-Out Programs may have little interaction with faculty or staff. Negative attitudes based on misplaced views of gifted students spill over into school policy which also affects them.

Suggestions on how to improve the situation included more courses for pre-service teachers in gifted education at the undergraduate level, gifted certification for any teacher involved in teaching gifted students, providing information about giftedness to general education teachers and on-going professional development in gifted education. A full transcript of the chat may be found here.


Teacher Perspectives Regarding Gifted Diverse Students

Characteristics/Competencies of Teachers of Gifted Learners: Hong Kong Teacher Perspective (pdf)

Teaching Strategies to Educate Gifted Children (Slideshare)

Teachers’ Attitudes Towards the Gifted: The Importance of P.D. & School Culture (pdf)

Journal of the World Council for Gifted & Talented Children Aug/Dec 2011 (pdf) (multiple articles)

Experimenter Expectations

Pygmalion Effect (Wikipedia)

Content or Skills: What Constitutes 21st Century Learning for Gifted Students?

During this chat, we discussed what constitutes 21st century learning; content or skills. With access to the Internet putting content at the fingertips of students, it seemed that education may need to change direction. Ultimately, it was agreed that a balance needs to be found between teaching basic information and skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. A transcript may be found here.


New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards for 21st-Century Life and Careers (pdf)

What Are 21st Century Skills?

Framework for 21st Century Learning

Understanding of 21st Century Skills and Outcomes

Is the Curriculum Rotten at Its Core?

UK ~ “Michael Gove’s New Curriculum: What the Experts Say

Philippines ~ “Coherence & Knowledge in Basic Education

New Assessments and Environments for Knowledge Building (pdf)

Center on Continuous Instructional Improvement

A Framework for Teachable Collaborative Problem Solving Skills (Draft Only – pdf)

Learning in the 21st Century: How to Connect, Collaborate and Create

Learning in 21st Century book cover

On January 25, 2013, Global #gtchat was pleased to host special guests and authors, Ben Curran and Neil Wetherbee from @engaginged. Their soon-to-be published book, Learning in the 21st Century: How to Connect, Collaborate and Create, from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum was the topic for discussion. It was announced by Corin Goodwin, Executive Director at GHF, that the book would be released on February 18th. It will be available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as a book and also in Kindle and Nook formats. Participants joined us from 14 states and 5 countries! A full transcript can be found at Storify.

Post Script ~ Global #gtchat celebrated its 3rd Birthday on January 22, 2010! Take a look at the transcript from the 2nd chat on the very first day here. Special thanks to Deborah Mersino for having the foresight to start our chat!


Engaging Educators website

Perspectives in Gifted Homeschooling Series from GHF Press

More about Ben and Neil at the Engaging Educators Blog

Engaging Educators Blog

Engaging Educators on Facebook

Engaging Educators on Pinterest

Engaging Education: 2013′s Hottest Trend?

Regional Connections: 2013′s Other Hottest Trend?

Going Global: How to Connect Your Classroom to Schools Around the World

Videos from Engaging Educators

Cybraryman’s ISTE Page

Cybraryman’s Google Docs Page

Cybraryman’s Google Hangouts

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