Committee for Children Blog

Tap Into Empathy and Respect and You Can Connect

respect - empathy“Tap into empathy and respect and you can connect.” I recently heard this in a Ted Talk about strategies for having better conversations. The talk reminded me that we can all take part in tackling the challenges of having different points of view and that we do this through empathy and respect. Although the focus of the talk is on politics, the core message applies to many types of conversations, for people of all ages. The reality is that people have different views and opinions on many topics, and using listening and empathy skills can go a long way in helping us navigate these differences.

Empathy places ourselves in the shoes of the other. Empathy reminds
the other that we share in their humanness.  —Andy Otto

How Can Educators Help?

In my last post, I promised to share more about how to help build students’ capacity to communicate for understanding and disagree respectfully. One way of doing this is by cultivating key social skills that students can take with them and use throughout life.

Teach the Second Step Curriculum

The Second Step curriculum includes lessons on listening and empathy, and the lessons are grounded in respect. Students learn to notice and recognize how another person is feeling, and understand that people can have different feelings about the same thing. They learn to use assertive communication skills to get their point across without disrespecting others.

Listening and empathy are the foundation for healthy, effective communication because they help us understand before we judge. Thinking about others’ perspectives helps boost empathy, and part of having empathy is noticing when others’ feelings are different from ours. Empathy builds acceptance and appreciation for differences. It motivates us to use caring words and actions toward others even when we do not agree with them. These skills and capacities make us less likely to argue and more likely to respond with understanding and respect in situations where there are contrasting values, beliefs, and opinions.

These are some of the ways the Second Step curriculum* helps empower students to listen and communicate with awareness, courtesy, respect, patience, and understanding:

Academic Integration Activities
Example: For Reading class, students choose characters from a book and write about different characters’ perspectives.

Lesson Stories and Discussion
Picture and video stories are used to define empathy and provide examples of what it looks like. Students have opportunities to talk about what empathy means to them.

Lesson Activities
Students practice their listening and perspective-taking skills at the end of each lesson.

Daily Practice Activities
After the day of the lesson, students continue to engage in ongoing activities for skill
development. Example: A reflective writing activity to name at least two skills students can use in conversations.

Anticipate, Reinforce, Reflect
The teacher uses this process to support students in applying their skills daily.

1. Anticipate—Students predict when they might need to think about someone else’s
2. Reinforce—The teacher supports positive perspective-taking behavior with specific feedback.
3. Reflect—Students think about a time when considering someone else’s perspective helped them work with another person.

If you haven’t tried the Second Step program, check it out. If you have, dig a little deeper beyond the lessons to give students daily opportunities for learning about, practicing, and using skills for empathy and understanding. Prepare students for a lifetime of mutual respect in conversations so they can make dialogue work.

*Examples are from the Grade 4 Second Step curriculum.

Empathy is a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in empathy becomes soluble. It is effective as a way of anticipating and resolving interpersonal problems, whether this is a marital conflict, an international conflict, a problem at work, difficulties in a friendship, political deadlocks, a family dispute, or a problem with a neighbor.  —Simon Baron-Cohen