Teaching from the heart in 13 steps

Engaging your students through empathy requires teachers to share their own stories and vulnerabilities and foster a safe space for learning. Here, Beiting He offers 13 ways to create a caring classroom

Beiting He's avatar
28 Aug 2023
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Using empathy in the classroom can have a great impact on learning
3 minute read
Empathy is an important quality for tutors to practice in the classroom

In the tapestry of education, woven with the threads of intellect and curiosity, one core element stands out: empathy. Teaching weaves in not only the skills of imparting knowledge but also of understanding, forging a connection between educators and their students. Engaging students through empathy is an art that elevates the classroom to a place that entwines hearts and minds.

What are the characteristics of an empathetic teacher?

A teacher who embraces empathy steps into the shoes of their students, navigating their emotions, fears and aspirations. Beyond the conventional role of instructor, they also become a guide, cultivating an atmosphere of trust and openness that nurtures both intellect and character.

An empathetic teacher not only comprehends the academic struggles and triumphs of their students but also recognises the emotions that lie beneath. By acknowledging the trials, fears and joys that shape each student’s experience, an empathetic teacher creates an environment where young hearts feel safe to explore, question and create.

An empathetic teacher is a skilled storyteller, using narratives to connect the familiar with the unknown, the known with the yet-to-be-discovered. In this space, lessons are no longer rigid monologues but dynamic conversations that adapt to the rhythm of the students’ understanding. A teacher who imparts knowledge from the heart crafts lessons that resonate with the interests and backgrounds of their students, intertwining the subject matter with relatable experiences and real-world applications. As a result, learning is not a chore but a voyage of discovery, guided by a compassionate and knowledgeable mentor.

Challenges of teaching with empathy

Teaching from the heart is not devoid of challenges. Empathetic teaching demands a willingness to bear witness and provide safe harbours for students to weather tempests. It requires the teacher themself to be vulnerable, to share their own stories and create a tapestry of shared experiences, where authenticity reigns supreme. It also demands emotional energy, a commitment to understanding and patience. The empathetic teacher must balance their students’ individual needs with the demands of the curriculum.

In a rapidly changing world, where technological advancements and information overload can sometimes overshadow the human touch, teaching from the heart reminds us that education is a deeply personal experience that extends beyond facts and figures. A caring, empathetic and passionate educator can have a profound effect on their students, setting them on a trajectory of success, fulfilment and purpose.

13 ways to bring empathy into your classroom

Empathy is a skill that can be honed and nurtured. Engaging students through empathy is a powerful way to create a positive and supportive learning environment. When students feel understood, valued and connected, they become more motivated and invested in their learning. Here are tips for effectively engaging students through empathy:

  1. Get to know your students. Take the time to learn about your students’ backgrounds, interests and experiences. This shows that you care about them as individuals and helps you tailor your approach to their needs.
  2. Practise active listening. Pay attention to students’ verbal and non-verbal cues, and show genuine interest in what they are saying.
  3. Use your own personal stories. Share experiences that relate to the topic you are teaching. This helps students connect with you on a more personal level and creates a sense of mutual understanding.
  4. Show empathy in your responses. When students express concerns or struggles, acknowledge their feelings and offer support, even if you can’t immediately solve the issue.
  5. Create a safe space. Foster an inclusive classroom environment where students feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of judgement.
  6. Incorporate student interests and hobbies into your lessons whenever possible. This shows that you value their passions, and it helps make learning more engaging.
  7. Provide students with choices in assignments or projects. Options allow them to explore topics that resonate with them. This promotes autonomy and investment in their learning.
  8. Organise small-group discussions. In these exercises, students can share their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on a given topic. This encourages meaningful conversations and builds empathy among peers.
  9. Assign reflective activities. Reflection encourages students to think about their own feelings and experiences related to the subject matter. This can lead to deeper connections and insights.
  10. Use role-playing activities or simulations. These activities can help students step into different perspectives and understand other viewpoints. This promotes empathy as they try to see the world through others’ eyes.
  11. Connect learning to real-life issues. Discuss current events, social issues or real-life scenarios that help students to develop a broader understanding of the world.
  12. Encourage peer support. Group projects or study-buddy programmes create opportunities for students to support each other emotionally and academically and foster empathy and teamwork.
  13. Check in regularly with students individually or in groups to see how they are feeling and how their learning experiences are going. This shows that you genuinely care about their well-being.

By implementing these strategies, you can create a classroom environment that promotes empathy and emotional connection, leading to more engaged and motivated students. Teaching from the heart through empathy is a transformative experience that shapes not only the intellect but also the very essence of each student.

Beiting He is assistant professor in the School of Liberal Arts at the Macau University of Science and Technology.

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