HAVE YOU BEEN HEARING THE WORD EMPATHY LATELY? It is funny the way things rise to the surface over time. Last year everyone was talking about Growth Mindset. Now, it is all about empathy. Google the two of them and see what I'm talking about.
Sometimes I talk to the press for various things, and I had a reporter say to me recently, "Oh, is this that growth mindset thing again . . ." I could tell by her tone that she thought it was just an educational buzzword, or popular jargon of the modern classroom. I get where she was coming form. Sometimes an idea or phrase catches on and the next thing you know it is everywhere.
For example: Gluten Free. I was at the grocery store the other day and say Gluten Free stickers on the following items: bananas, brocoli, water, and jelly beans. You can imagine my relief to know that my water was gluten free. I kind of feel the same way about the label organic which is placed on tons of fruits and vegetables. I mean, on a certain level, aren't vegetables organic? Yet, the world of marketing believes that if you put that sticker on stuff, it will sell. They aren't wrong.
But just because an idea seems to be trending, does't make it less true or valuable. Growth Mindset will literally transform the pathways in your brain. Everytime, we struggle to learn something new, or reflect on something that hasn't worked, and then try again, our neuro pathways make new connections. And someone please offer me a legitamate argument against empathy and human understanding?
Including concepts like growth mindset, and empathy in my classroom are crucial for the survival of mankind. I don't mean to make my job seem more important than it is, but teaching young people how to navigate life with a positive approach to problems but academic and emotional can have a lasting impact for generations.
Perfect example: We play a game in my classroom on the computers. I create questions, and then the students answer them. Now, I can set it up so that the faster they answer, the more points they get and so that the screen shows them where they are ranked after each question. Some of my students love this feature -- they find a thrill in racing against the clock. Some of my students hate this feature -- it causes them anxiety and makes them freeze up. We've talked a lot in class about these two facts -- some kids love it and some kids hate it. Sometimes we play with those features on, and sometimes with them off. But either way, we've talked about how everyone feels. All the students feel heard, and known. I can tell you right now, which of my students find the speed answer function highly anxiety-creating. I can see their faces, and although we still sometimes use those functions, they know I understand this is stressful for them. We are a community, and we understand that everyone in our community has different needs. We also understand that those different needs are equally valid.
I've got a girl in my class who struggles with stress. She's got it in every aspect of her home life. She wakes up with stress in the morning, and goes to sleep with stress at night. She does not need the added stress of a timed vocabulary test. It is one thing too many. My acknowledgment of her discomfort, and understanding of her feelings, has validated her own feelings. She knows she isn't a "weirdo" for feeling the way she does. She understands that what is feeling is normal, as a result she is able to relax in class and do her best work. She isn't worried about being ridiculed or mocked. Our empathy toward her, and respect of her feelings, has allowed her to feel like a part of our community.
Empathy can transform a classroom. Instead of a student acting out because they feel frustrated and unheard, a student can function within a class. Empathy can give someone the space to live, and breathe and be.
Not to get political, but I've probably seen the post that says, "This is what happens when you give everyone a trophy." I get where that statement is coming from, but it does little to end devisiveness and it certainly doesn't show empathy. I posted in a blog a long time ago that it doesn't matter if I am picking on a student in reality, if they feel picked on -- I've got to do something about that. It doesn't matter if my intentions were something entirely different, how they feel is not only important but valid because they feel it. The kids marching in protest feel something really strongly, and mocking them and belittling them won't change it or solve any of the tremendous problems in front of us now.
One thing everyone can agree on these days, is that America has got some issues. We are not all that united right now. I think the first step toward coming back together is taking the time to show empathy, compassion and kindness toward one another. We don't need politcal leaders to do that for us - it is something simple that we can start right now in our own neighborhoods and homes. All the things we collectively say we hate about poltics and politicians we can toss aside, and live our lives the way we say we want them to. Instead of demanding that our leaders behave in certain ways and possess certain character traits and qualities, let us be the ones to demonstrate thoughtfullness, compassion and generosity. As Malala Yousafazi once said, "Why should I wait for someone else to speak for me, why don't I raise my voice?"
Why not, indeed.