Empathy serves to connect us and sometimes protect us. Humans are social animals. Our ability to read each other’s nonverbal cues is critical for harmonious coexistence. Empathy can be seen as a sort of antenna, detecting the signals of different emotions: joy, sadness, comfort, fear, affection, or even malintent that others may be experiencing. This lesson offers tools for growing our active listening and observation skills as a path toward better understanding our capacity for empathy.
This Lesson puts empathy at the forefront of discussion; first making the idea of empathy and the potential health benefits of practicing it, explicit. We’ve provided tools (videos, and PDFs) for supporting discussion topics that lead up to a creative challenge: ‘Try on a Fear’. As is always the case, your current classroom culture, how familiar students are with each other and with you (the teacher), and possible prior classroom investigations into the discussion topics will affect how deeply each topic will need to be explored.
Pass the Fish
This routine is *best* done in the spirit of stories around a campfire. I light a candle, turn off overhead lights, and pass a stuffed fish to designate the person who has the floor. The list of questions is sure to bring some thoughtful discussions from Pass-the-Fish participants!
Mirroring for Empathy
A core aspect of empathy is to feel what others are feeling. In this exercise, we will practice embodying different shapes, postures and gestures in order to “be present” with the people around us and to feel what they are feeling by carefully reflecting their movements, as if we are their mirror image.
Top Notch Listeners
This exercise asks participants to make a list of the people in their lives who really make you feel heard.
Consider the following questions:
What helps you know they are listening? How are they a good listener?
Step Into the Circle
This exercise is designed to help students in the classroom share their lives with each other and get to see similarities and differences within the group. It’s a chance to learn about each other in a safe and scaffolded way.
Try on a Fear
As with any skill, if we practice empathizing we get better at it. We can surprise ourselves by finding relevance and connection more frequently in the world around us. This activity helps us practice empathy and perspective taking.
It cultivates belonging through story sharing and practicing vulnerability. We will literally try on the fear of another person and explore how it would feel to experience that fear.