Last week a parent asked, ”Can schools teach empathy?” Here’s my answer.
Empathy isn’t taught. The human brain is wired for empathy (mirror neurons). Adults shape an environment; that environment shapes the child’s empathy. So schools can’t not educate a child’s empathy. If they don’t do it well, they do it poorly.
Since we want young people to graduate from school with their social-emotional intelligence trained for success in their personal and professional lives, designing culture for the graceful expression of empathy is one of the chief responsibilities of all educators: school principals, teachers, and, yes, parents in their homes.
A great first and second grade teacher named Kathy would tell the class at the beginning of the year, “Here, we have one rule: Be Kind.” Her classroom was magical. Having only “one rule” didn’t keep her from holding the line on other things like homework or cleaning up. The kids got it, and no one argued. Of course, they all wanted to work and play in an environment where everyone is kind. Saying there is “one rule” gave her leadership a name and her classroom culture a focal concept around which everyone could build something beautiful.
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