Encouraging Empathy is the core of the Mutt-i-grees® Curriculum; the preceding two themes set the foundation for developing empathy, and the themes that follow — Cultivating Cooperation and Dealing With Decisions — build on this skill. Although known as a social skill, empathy is critical, not only to effective relationships, but also to academic achievement. It is often referred to as the missing piece in the education puzzle. Empathy, or lack of it, is also at the root of bullying and other anti-social behaviors that disrupt learning and classroom management. Although we are born with the capacity for empathy, it needs to be nurtured and can be taught. Often, children learn to be empathetic by example. If their teachers, parents, and other adults ask them how they feel, they will learn to do the same and acquire the ability to take others’ perspective.

Looking through a different lens. It is important to learn how to recognize and understand how other people experience the world since not everyone thinks, feels, or reacts the same way. Think about the world as your students see it. Or pick one child: what is it like to be in that child’s shoes? How does the child feel? The ability to take another’s perspective is essential in the ability to effectively communicate and collaborate with other people. This skill is known as empathy; helping children develop empathy enables them to be caring and compassionate.

Try this in the classroom:

In your shoes: Play a game of “walking” in someone else’s shoes. Pair students with a member of the school staff for part of a day; have students shadow staff and perform as many job responsibilities as possible. Following the activity, ask students what was fun, challenging, and surprising about their experience “walking” in someone else’s shoes.

Switch! At random times throughout the day (or when you see students engaged in a disagreement) call out “Switch” and have students switch places and roles. Help students take each other’s perspective and try to work together or resolve conflicts more effectively.