The best start to a new school year doesn't fit in a backpack, and it can't be ordered online. It is as essential as a pencil. Like an art class, it can come in many styles. It’s longer lasting than your summer vacation. It alters your brain better than a textbook. It creates more fun than the latest gadget. It is possible to equip every single student with it. And even better, when we do, it can transform the world.
Empathy starts with putting yourself in someone else's shoes — a key step in understanding perspectives that differ from your own. This isn't just a nice thing to do; it is an essential skill for embracing differences, building relationships, gaining a global perspective, communicating effectively and conducting richer lives.
And like a muscle, empathy gets stronger. Most of all, it can be developed at any age. This is the muscle that allows you to stand up for something, and not just stand by.
According to Vicki Zakrzewski, education director at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, "Scientific research is starting to show that there is a very strong relationship between social-emotional learning and cognitive development and performance." She adds, "An empathic environment is a smarter environment. At the same time, these skills have to be cultivated, because the environment can inhibit their development."
In other words, empathy, like a physical muscle, is present, but to manifest itself it must be exercised.
As I think about empathy in the classroom, I would like to see more sincerity, kindness, camaraderie, support, global knowledge and compassion than standardized tests and memorizing facts. What if our schools utilized the chalk and pencils a little less and increased conversations among peers a little more?
A consequence of empathy is an increase in social skills. Advocacy — for self and for others — is a profound result of empathy. Let’s equip our children with the best education of empathy, and transform their world.
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— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.