Walking the Hallways in Another's Shoes
March 1, 2019
The young student looked confused. As a visiting five year old, he was easily lost in the crowd of older and bigger elementary students in an unfamiliar hallway as he tried to find his way back to his classroom. The fifth grade students noticed the child’s confusion and misdirection and immediately came to his aid. With gentle nudges and encouraging words, they redirected him down the hallway; seeing to it that he made his way back to his classroom where he immediately found the warm embrace of his teacher and fellow classmates.
Such was the scene I witnessed in a Daycroft hallway. It reminded me in real terms of the work we’ve been doing around the notion of empathy. At Daycroft, we talk about empathy in our classrooms and in our morning circle time. Our teachers study the importance of fostering empathy in our students and spend time analyzing their own ability to demonstrate this trait. The research indicates that empathy and the associated notions of caring, understanding and compassion all lead to greater academic success for students who embrace this aspect of learning.
Author and educator Tom Hoerr, in his recent book, The Formative Five, sights the importance of empathy as a leading factor in student and school success. Recognizing and understanding other perspectives, being aware of our own potential biases, learning from how others think and feel, all contribute to a child merging into adulthood with the necessary skills and mindsets that will lead to healthier well-being later in life. Creating safe spaces for our students to explore this landscape is the important work of teachers and parents alike.
Bart Bronk, the Head of University Liggett School in Grosse Point, MI, shared his perspective in a recent webinar. Bronk suggests steps we as adults can take to assure our students learn and nurture empathy. His suggestions include listening deeply to our students. Hearing their fears and concerns allows us to model empathy as we share our own vulnerabilities and explore ways to navigate our rough edges. Creating safe spaces, in our homes and schools, wherein students find the security of knowing that they are known by the adults in their world is an equally important factor.
When the fifth grade students at Daycroft demonstrate empathy for a wandering, confused five year old, I’m confident they have learned well what it’s like to walk in another’s shoes. Empathy is alive and well.