Educators today encourage students to share their voice, spread their ideas and develop communication skills through effective storytelling. However, in order to fully support student voice, we must also develop the right conditions in which their voices can make an impact.
When students share their voice, they want their listeners to fully experience what it’s like to see the world from their perspective. This is empathy. Teachers often hear that the best way to connect with their students is to empathize. So how can educators better encourage empathy between themselves and their students, as well as among groups of students?
First, let's acknowledge that it can be a challenging endeavor to experience a deep sense of empathy, especially if one has not shared experiences similar to those of the other person. Showing true empathy requires exploring why the person feels or experiences the world in a certain way.
Empathy isn’t created by listeners guessing the speaker’s intent or imagining what it's like to be in someone else's shoes. In fact, empathy starts when listeners stop guessing at what’s on the mind of students and peers, and instead learn to actively listen.
Teachers can express empathy towards their students by asking students to share their thinking. When a student shares their thinking, they are expressing their understanding on an intellectual level, as well as revealing in detail how they think and feel about a particular experience or concept. When student thinking is effectively shared and heard, teachers and fellow students are equipped with the information needed to join in on the student’s perspective.
Four steps to build empathy
There are four simple steps educators can employ to encourage active listening and build empathy among their students:
- Listen to the story the student is sharing.
- Paraphrase the story the student just shared.
- Receive confirmation from the student that the story has been perceived the way they intended.
- Allow the storyteller to reflect upon the listeners’ perspectives.
Here is a example activity that follows these steps:
Applying empathy and active listening to video creation
Let’s suppose students are asked to tell a narrative story using video. The students are tasked with expressing a particular life experience. Before creating their video, it’s important for the storyteller to consider the variety of ways their story may be perceived. Teachers can support this early process by having students first share their story verbally while others actively listen. Doing this simple exercise provides real time feedback to the storyteller. Then, the storyteller can keep that feedback in mind as they move forward in creating their video.
Nurturing a classroom of active listeners
This protocol for active listening can be applied to stories told in person and to stories told through multimedia such as video. The beauty of this framework is that it requires something from everyone involved: the audience is tasked with active listening and building empathy. At the same time, it’s also important for the storyteller to actively take in feedback as they become aware of their audience. This multifaceted communication drives deeper collaboration and understanding among everyone involved. Active listening allows both the storyteller and the listener to develop a depth of understanding and provides a window of the storyteller’s values, levels of thinking, emotions and presuppositions behind their experiences.
Let's continue the conversation on Twitter. What are your ideas and tips for how educators can encourage empathy between themselves and their students? Be sure to tag #WeListenEDU in your response. We can't wait to hear what you have to say.