Watching the flooding in Texas and listening to the stories of people who are losing everything reminds me of the importance of teaching our children about empathy. I have always seen empathy as the ability to feel the pain of another person or to try and see life from another person's perspective. This isn't easy for adults, let alone school-aged children; however, empathy is an essential skill for success in life. When students are empathetic, their hearts break when they see tragedies like the flooding in Texas and they are filled with a passion to help, support, and lend a helping hand. Teaching empathy in the classroom and as a school leader should be one of our top priorities.
4 Tips to Teach Empathy to Students:
Personalize- Try and find stories of people that were impacted by the tragedy and share them with students. There is nothing like the power of a personal story to help students connect with the tragedy and to build empathy for those effected by the flood. Here's a video of a family as they return to their home after Harvey. Video on "A Family Returns Home After Harvey (HBO)"
Perspective - Students can build empathy when they understand the scope of the tragedy and how it has effected the lives of so many people. It's best that this perspective is given in a way that they understand. For example, you could talk about how your school has 1,000 students and tell your students to multiple that by 10 to help them gain the perspective on how many people were in the shelter of the convention center in Houston. Perspective helps them to understand the size of a tragedy. For example, ABC Reporter, George Stephanopoulos shared, "Harvey caused a flood the size of the Grand Canyon." Starting this video at 4:14 shows personal stories on how people were effected by the hurricane. Video on Hurricane Harvey victims share survival stories: Part 1
Emotions - We don't talk much in schools about emotions but it's important that we talk to students about emotions and how to express them. Take time to listen to your students' emotions and to see how they are responding to the events in Texas. Plus, ask them to describe how they would feel if they lived in Texas.
Serve/Donate - Perhaps the greatest way that we can learn empathy is to serve and donate to support another person or a group of people. I know that my life was changed when I went on mission trips in areas that experienced extreme poverty or a tragedy due to a hurricane. One man that I became good friends with, Wendell, had his house damaged by a hurricane. Becoming friends with Wendell as we worked on rebuilding his home allowed me to show love, care, and empathy toward another person. Donate to the Red Cross recovery from Hurricane Harvey