Group projects. The bane of some students, yet working together in groups is something that students experience a lot in school and will continue to experience later in their careers. Too often as teacher, we throw students into a group project and expect them to work well together yet never teach them how to work cooperatively. Unfortunately this can set them up for failure.
Empathy. The ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Brene Brown has a great clip that discusses the concept of empathy. The ability to have empathy and use communication skills is shown to increase success at school and decrease problem behaviors like substance abuse and aggression. Yet, we often don’t teach those skills.
Teaching empathy is a critical foundation for having good communication and relationship skills. Students who exhibit empathy and perspective taking skills often have better peer relationship, will help others, or provide emotional support for peers. These behaviors are then linked to getting better grades at school and higher achievement.
The following are some ways to incorporate teaching empathy and communication skills into your classroom.
Students can identify behaviors involved in listening and respecting others’ ideas.
Have students do a short group activity. The human knot works great for this. After participating, have students list the behaviors that worked in the group and then things that didn’t work and discuss.. Now do the activity again, but this time remind students of the things they listed as important to working in a group. Debrief afterwards and have students take the time to reflect. I then introduce my “Group” expectation sheet we use whenever we work in a group. I have this sheet laminated and on a clipboard for each group as a written reminder to help them work together.
Students can define empathy and apply empathy skills while identifying feelings.
It is important for students to understand what the word empathy is and then to practice what empathy looks like. One way you can do this is to show pictures of people feeling different emotions on their faces, asking students to identify the emotion being felt. Then have students pinpoint the clues they used to recognize the feelings, asking them consider how we can better understand the feelings of others. . Students should be able to make the connection between emotions on display and understanding feelings to help them get along with others.
Students can understand that people’s perspectives are based on their feelings, experiences, and needs or wants.
Perspective taking is key to empathy. If students are to build healthy relationships and avoid aggression, they need to think about feelings and the needs of others. Using clues such as body language, facial expression, and tone of voice, are all ways students can consider perspective.
Unfortunately, students often fail to consider points of views different from their own. This can lead to misunderstandings, hurt feelings, conflicts, and aggression. If a student doesn’t take into account perceptions then they may act on assumptions. Students are less likely to bully others when they understand how a victim feels. This is empathy. In groups, students who take the time to think how others feel in the group will work much more productively.
Students can distinguish between disrespectful and respectful disagreement.
This is a biggie. I make a big deal of this when I start the year off teaching argumentative writing and debate, yet it should be taught regardless of subject. Being able to disagree respectfully is very important for students to avoid misunderstandings and prevent aggressive conflicts. It is also important to strengthen their interpersonal relationships and not tear them apart. Many students don’t know how to distinguish between disrespectful and respectful disagreement because it has never been modeled for them – therefore it must be taught. Students can work more successfully in groups if they know how to communicate differences in a respectful way.
Students can distinguish the differences between passive, assertive, and aggressive communication styles.
Students need to know the differences between the three major types of communication. Students who practice being assertive are able to express themselves respectfully are able to stand up against bullying and other risky behaviors. Students need to learn how to practice appropriate, assertive body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and choice of words.
After teaching students about the different types of communication, have them role play. My students love this. Give them a scenario and have them react to it using the three different types. The more they see and practice, they more comfortable they will become. Learning to be assertive is important for students being bullied, but it is also important for working in groups and making sure your voice is heard in a respectful manner.
“When you show deep empathy to others, their defensive energy goes down, and their positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems” – Stephen Covey