I attended the Ceceilyn Miller Institute's School Climate and Anti-Bullying Conference at Stockton University (near Atlantic City, NJ) yesterday. The over-arching theme was to change the culture of our schools so that bullying does not happen. One presenter discussed the dangers of technology. One presenter said that technology is not going away and we, instead, need to focus on adjusting the thermostat on our school climate. The concept of empathy was the overarching theme.
What is empathy?
The notion of "empathy" is a fairly recent phenomenon, dating back to mid-19th century Germany, with their notion of “Einfühlung” (or “feeling into”). The idea developed as a reaction to the then-modern scientific attitude of literally knowing matters of study. Today's understanding of empathy is that it is having the ability to see life from another person's perspective. Studies show that empathy is innate in many animals, but history shows us that it is missing in many humans, and exists in varying degrees among people who do have it. Can we improve the ability to empathize in others?
Can empathy be taught?
Dr. Seuss knew in 1971, when he wrote The Lorax that most societal issues stem from a lack of empathy. If we are to change the world, we need people to see that they are only a mere particle in a world that does not revolve around them. How do we do this? Neuroscience shows that empathy can be learned. It's a misconception, though, that by providing "character education" and teaching empathy to our children that all of society's issues will be solved. It is the lack of empathy, though, that will keep society from solving its problems, wrote Robert Nielsen, a professor of family and consumer sciences at the University of Georgia.
Daniel Goleman, an emotional intelligence guru, writes that we can increase our own levels of empathy through practice. He offers these tips in his book, Social Intelligence:
1. Pay attention. In the age of personal devices, we are actually losing empathy. Put your device away and talk to people. Have meaningful conversations where you actually look at your friend's face. Practice your non-verbal skills - read eye movements, facial expression, and body language more carefully. The more aware we are of our surroundings and interactions, the more we can sense what other people are going through.
2. Communicate meaningfully. Be aware of your own facial expressions and tone of voice.
3. Participate in cognitive empathy. Know that even if you do not agree with someone, that you can listen and understand where they are coming from. Part of this skill is listening without judging. This point is essential for our students. We need to get them to a point where they do not feel the need to argue or fight over every point of contention.
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.