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Stepping Into An Empathetic Space

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

In Their Shoes

Through our learning on culture and diversity, I wanted the children to understand that the differences surrounding our world are something we should celebrate. While these differences can exist within race, gender, interests, and personal beliefs, they are also apparent in the experiences we all go through each day. When these experiences, good or bad, are dealt with, we must possess the empathy to understand the perspective of others in order to make them feel heard and supported.

As many of us know, when we discuss empathy almost everyone says, "it means putting yourself in others' shoes" which the students also brought up. However, I wanted them to truly understand what this meant. Clearly we aren't actually putting on others' shoes, but metaphorically we place ourselves in a space that we may never have explored before. Doing this can be uncomfortable as many experiences are personal to the individual, so how are we supposed to understand how they're exactly feeling? This was the focus of our exploration on Monday.

After conducting these discussions, the students were allowed to play a quick round of emotions charades where they acted out different emotions and we would follow up with different contexts in which these emotions could be felt. Many of these circumstances were theoretical; demonstrating how the kids were able to think about these conceptual experiences without even having experienced them themselves.

For the little kids to visualize and understand this abstract concept, they viewed a read-aloud of Red: A Crayon's Story detailing an individual who felt different due to the label placed on him while others around him displayed an opposing feeling of confidence as they were representative of their label. Because the other individuals in his community struggled to empathize with him, the students were given the task to place themselves in the shoes of three characters to indicate how they were feeling throughout the book.

Learning about empathy is only the first step to becoming empathetic individuals, so our next step was to learn the ways in which we can show empathy. But as I have mentioned, this is extremely difficult as there are many situations in which we have never experienced ourselves. A fun but educative example of the application of empathy was watched in this short clip of the movie Inside Out.

Observing how others demonstrate empathy helps us to grasp the benefits of developing this characteristic and practice applying it to our lives. After this example, I challenged both groups to experience and manage difficult situations through their newfound learning about empathy. The older children rolled dice with different scenarios and explained to their peers how they would navigate that situation, while the young children created mini skits with a partner to practice being empathetic friends. While their empathy is still developing, just the thoughtful act of engaging in these scenarios shows the children's willingness to adopt this trait and embrace the importance of empathy in their everyday lives.

Empathy Skits

Dozie and Brayleigh - Brayleigh's friends have been purposefully ignoring her when she has been attempting to talk to them

Brayleigh and AYTEF Volunteer (not filmed) - The volunteer practiced hard for try outs but did not make the team

Dozie and AYTEF Volunteer (not filmed) - The volunteer's friend purposefully excluded him from a group assignment

With our Wednesday SET session being cancelled due to rain, our conversation regarding the differentiation between sympathy and empathy will continue onto the next week. Look out for an update of our future learning!

Sympathy or Empathy?

To assess the extent of our empathy, the children worked on empathetic surveys, evaluating the involvement of empathy in their lives.

As previously mentioned, placing ourselves in the headspace of others can prove to be challenging when the space is a new environment we've never dealt with. To practice with this, the children worked on Seeing the Other Side where they would share their opinions and thoughts on a subject but also formulate other opinions on the same idea. While the groups were given prompts, they both engaged in the implementation of empathy for unknown situations they might not have faced in their lives before.

One common observation made throughout this week's learning was the children's difficult in differentiating between empathy and sympathy. Aren't both of them good things? One asked me, and while that is partially true, empathy sets us up for more proactive conflict resolution as well as paves a road for effective support of others. To understand these two closely-connected concepts, the big kids watched this video illustrating how the two approaches can be used in the same context.

The young children analyzed different images and we discussed the differences between the pictures using their noticings. Having these visuals help the children to better categorize the two characteristics and understand how they are oftentimes misinterpreted, ultimately making them become more cognizant of their distinctions.

Where Does This Take Us?

To wrap up our learning for this week, the older children were assessed with a categorization activity where they identify approaches that are sympathetic and empathetic. Doing this activity allowed them to demonstrate not only their knowledge on sympathy vs empathy, but also how they can demonstrate empathy in all situations, not just the ones we have experienced.

As a whole group, the younger kids and I collaborated to respond to different situations with empathy. Each child was given a turn to determine the emotions that arises within a specific situation and how they could implement empathy to offer their support. They worked individually to summarize their learning with a graphic organizer which prompted them to reflect on all the related concepts in our learning this week.

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