How Important Is Empathy In Education?

Is empathy just part of the feel-good factor in the classroom or is it a crucial and indispensible prerequisite for healthy teacher/student relationships, brain development, identity and learning?

Is empathy less important than what academic research papers and school policies have to say?

Do teachers know how to feel, show and use empathy to build rapport?

Is the educational establishment, in general, too intellectual to humanise the learning experience?

What about ‘loving our students no matter what’?

What does that mean?

Should teachers discover and tune into ‘horizontal identities’?

To learn about horizontal identities and more, watch this short video clip:

Whether we are teaching children or adults, conventional learners or special learners, unconditional acceptance of individuality is of the utmost importance. We may think that we are teaching a cut-and-dried concept, but each student has his/her own personal experience of what is being learnt. Each student will learn it differently and each perspective will lock onto it’s own vision of the lesson.

Is it impossible to understand what goes on inside the head of each student?

Yes, it is probably quite impossible.

So, what can we do then?

We create an atmosphere which is flowing in acceptance and rapport. We throw off ‘vertical identities’ (teacher as boss) and embrace the horizontal identities that students feel willing to express or share with us (teacher as listener).

How will students know they can express themselves?

The teacher can provide them with creative challenges as opposed to facts and figures. Through experimenting and creating in class, each student will express his/her personalised vision of the learning outcome.

When everything is expressed, it can be shared and discussed meaningfully. This is why I believe that poetry, story-telling, comic creation, music and other visual or kinaesthetic arts are the key to whole-brain learning and learning from the heart. They are keys to language learning and all kinds of learning, in general.

During our recent Teacher Appreciation Week on WizIQ which was organised by Dr. Nellie Deutsch, we held a week of classes celebrating teachers. My way of showing appreciation for teachers was to invite two great teachers to share their visions with us under the theme of ’empathy’.

This included:

1) My introductory presentation with a heart-warming story illustrating how empathy in children can change the heart of society.

2) A presentation by Maria Ines Brumana about how games and movies can promote fun, which, in turn, promotes emotional intelligence and positive feelings in class.

3) My interview with Andrew Weiler, author of ‘language learning unlocked’.

3) My presentation, guests, and interview

This presentation gives a background into ELT writers and educational psychologists who have done so much to humanise teaching and highlight the importance of emotional intelligence in learning.

There is also a heart-warming story which illustrates the magic of empathy in children and how we, as adults, may have lost this magic touch.

Empathy in Education by Sylvia Guinan

After my brief presentation I introduced Maria Ines Brumana Espinosa,
who showed us how the use of movies and games bring fun, deeper learning, and social/emotional engagement for deep learning dynamics in class.

Games and Movies by Maria Ines Brumana Espinosa by Sylvia Guinan

4) My interview with Andrew Weiler

Feelings as opposed to emotions are the keys to self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the five pre-requisities for emotional intelligence as described by Daniel Goleman. Andrew Weiler has tapped into the experiential nature of feelings and intuition, and tells us how awareness of these inner experiences can enhance learning in the classroom.

Now, we’ve got to ask – do they cover this in teacher-training college?

Interview with Andrew Weiler

Andrew’s book ‘language learning unlocked’ is soon to be published, and he is also working on teacher training materials.

Here’s to exploring new depths in teaching, self-awareness and language acquisition.

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Sylvia is is an online teacher & writer with a background in English Literature, history and education. She is also an award winning blogger featured by The British Council, online teacher, official blogger for WiziQ, professional development organiser, and passionate researcher into creative learning via Educational Technology @Eslbrain. She is currently focusing on ELT publishing and children’s publishing. Her personal projects for 2014 include writing ELT books through story-telling, comics, poetry, and social and emotional learning, while continually creating and sharing brain-friendly learning materials and ideas online. Her other main interests are art, writing, poetry, and psychology, which which help her to create fun quality time with her children and add colour to her language lessons. When she's not teaching online, she's writing course books, blogging or running her English language Facebook groups.
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