The Empathic Educator

January 20, 2014
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

For me, writing has always been a bit like driving during a Wisconsin snowstorm: Before you can hope to arrive at your destination, you must first get a little traction. Brainstorming topics for my first blog entry had me feeling that the traction I needed was building. Then, reminded that my blog needed a name, I felt the wheels slip.

So, as Stephen Covey recommends, “first things first.”

What to call a blog that reflects on Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® training in a school setting? I tried to come up with a catchy title off the top of my head. Colleagues and friends provided suggestions. I generated a list of education terms and a list of terms we use in training. I created a sort of vocabulary Venn diagram, looking for overlapping concepts and word pairs. Nothing seemed quite right.

Then, just as I thought the wheels would forever spin, traction! Empathy is a concept that’s woven throughout the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program. Hoping to appeal to all who work in educational settings, what about calling the blog The Empathic Educator?

A quick Google search revealed no other apparent use of that name. It was alliterative. It was catchy. It had relevance to the training program. It had relevance to the target audience. Maybe it could work!

The Google search stimulated my curiosity. What resources were on the web about empathic teachers? About teaching empathy in schools? About the relationship between empathy and behavior? About empathy and bullying? A seemingly endless number of resources emerged from my searches.

An Empathy Quotient Quiz
Knowing that there are tests for IQ and for emotional intelligence, I wondered, might there be an empathy quotient test? There is.

Developed by the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge by Simon Baron-Cohen and Sally Wheelwright, the Empathy Quotient is a self-administered screening tool for measuring empathy levels in people with autism. Check it out and score your own empathy quotient.

The Role of Empathy in CPI Training
Throughout the Nonviolent Crisis Intervention® program, we teach trainees to be empathic. We emphasize that an empathic approach helps us be more effective in crisis management and in building effective relationships. We teach the value of using an empathic, nonjudgmental approach in our Supportive response to Anxiety. Empathy is always mentioned in our discussion of verbal intervention tips and techniques. We talk about the value of Empathic Listening. And empathy is certainly relevant to establishing and re-establishing Therapeutic Rapport. An empathic approach helps us provide good care at all levels in crisis prevention, intervention, and Postvention.

An Empathy Quotient Quiz for Educators
So what if we adapted the Empathy Quotient instrument for educators? What would we learn? How would we measure up? Ask yourself, “What would my educator empathy score look like?” Consider the following questions and how you would rate yourself on a continuum ranging from “definitely true” to “definitely not true.”

  • I can easily tell how a student in my class is feeling.
  • I’m quick to spot when a student feels awkward or afraid or uncomfortable.
  • I can sense how my behavior affects the feelings of a student or a parent.
  • I put a lot of effort into getting to know my students and using that understanding of their perspective to develop effective behavior and learning plans.
  • I consider my students’ points of view in assigning learning tasks and behavior solutions, and I adapt when it facilitates the students’ success.
  • When one of my students is sad, frustrated, angry, or emotionally hurting, I feel that it’s my job to help.

What Do You Think?
We often say that empathy is the ability to walk in another person’s shoes. When it comes to empathy, do you really “walk the talk”? Are you an empathic educator? Stay tuned for more to come on this topic, and let me know—what are your experiences with empathy in the classroom?

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