Teaching Empathy: Author Q&A
Teaching Empathy: Author Q&A
PUBLISHED: Thursday, March 05, 2020 by Andilynn Feddeler

As classrooms become more diverse, it is increasingly important that students learn how to empathize with others who may come from very different backgrounds. Teaching Empathy: Strategies for Building Emotional Intelligence in Today’s Students guides teachers to create and maintain classrooms in which students are sensitive to the needs of others. Learn more about this book and cultivating globally minded students in this interview with the author, Suzanna E. Henshon.

Q: Why is it important for educators to teach empathy in today’s classrooms?

A: Most people become teachers because they want to make a difference in the world. Empathy is the most important way that people can connect with each other. Every student needs to experience empathy in their life. Teaching empathy is the first step toward creating a caring school and a compassionate world. As a teacher, you have the potential to touch the future, and every day you can make a positive impact in your classroom by teaching empathy.

Q: How can educators incorporate empathy into the content they’re already teaching?

A: Teaching empathy is best done in a situational context. When you plan a lesson, you think about the content and core skills that students will acquire; empathy doesn’t usually fall under a science, math, or reading lesson plan. Although you may find value in planning a lesson ahead of time, you can address empathy in lessons in an unplanned way. Spontaneity adds to the power of the lecture.

You can’t plan where every class session is heading. You can anticipate the questions students may ask, but you can't always see where the discussion is going. These unexpected questions allow you to tackle a subject in new ways. For instance, if your students ask questions about a current event, such as a family losing its home to a fire, you can discuss what it must feel like to lose your home and possessions. Then, your students can take action by raising funds through a bake sale to help this family in need. You’ve turned a question into a teaching moment about the power of empathy. This isn’t something you can write into a lesson plan ahead of time; it has to come directly from you in the moment.

Q: How does empathy relate to emotional intelligence?

A: Emotional intelligence is the ability to connect with your own feelings and to understand what other people are going through. Empathy is a facet of emotional intelligence. If you can imagine yourself in someone else’s situation, your emotional intelligence capacity will rise. Empathy is intricately linked to emotional intelligence, and these two qualities are developed concurrently.

Q: How can empathy help students become more globally minded?

A: In a global economy, it's important to understand that your perspective may not be universal. Because the world is so interconnected, your students will be global citizens. If your students end up in the business world, they will work around the globe, serving a worldwide audience. No matter where they work, your students will encounter other people’s needs and perspectives. That’s why empathy is so important. Empathy teaches students how to stand in someone else’s shoes and to see the world from different points of view.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: I hope readers are able to implement my ideas in their classrooms. In this book, I provide instructions for teaching empathy, along with specific exercises for how to implement it within your classroom. Some teachers have already used these exercises with their students, and so far the results are good. Teachers have emailed me with specific examples of how this book helped them in the classroom. It’s wonderful to know that these ideas are making an impact in classrooms around the world. And it’s exciting to think that this book could help teachers teach empathy for many years to come.

Suzanna E. Henshon, Ph.D., taught composition and creative writing for 13 years. Before receiving her Ph.D. in gifted education at William & Mary, Sue studied at the University of Chicago (MA) and Wesleyan University (BA). She has 370 publications, including several novels and three books with Prufrock Press.