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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Expressing Sympathy vs. Engaging in Empathy

It is easy to confuse the terms sympathy and empathy. They are indeed very similar and often go hand in hand. Empathy goes deep into the heart of another, and allows someone to feel the emotions of another. Sympathy allows us to feel sorrow, but empathy allows us to connect. Expressing sympathy is's the right thing to do, it shows courtesy and professionalism, and provides a kind gesture for people who are experiencing a hard season. Empathy is not as clear cut, and kicks it up a notch! The ability to engage in someone's emotional state and seek to understand how another feels, is far more than expressing sorrow. Engaging in empathy provides us with opportunities to sustain a support system for others who are struggling. It becomes an investment. 

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We as adults do not always distinguish between sympathy and empathy, so we know kids will need lots of support in order to learn how to engage in the emotions of others. The most important thing we can do is model empathy. This way kids can see adults around them interacting and engaging in the emotions of others. We need to be mindful of the watchful eyes who are observing how we adults interact with each other. Our tone, body language, and facial expressions are examples of how kids will in turn act toward others. If we want children to express empathy toward their peers, we must first make sure we as adults are doing the same. Protecting the culture of our schools requires us to take care of each other.

    Empathy requires time, and we all know how precious that is. Time is the most important thing we can give to another person. Time is what our kids want from us the most. I often think about how many kids do not get time with adults outside of school. They may go straight to their room, stay in front of the television or other screen, or they may go home to an empty house. Some children may not know what it is like to be heard! If that is the case, they certainly do not know how to listen. How many kids in your classroom do you think are in this situation? How many need more time to be heard? Empathy is all about listening with the intent of understanding, and feeling the emotions of another. Each of us need it, even if we do not realize we do. All kids need it from us. 

This week is our last week before the holiday break. I challenge you to take even more time to listen to what people are (or are not) saying. 

Ask yourself these questions:
*Which students do not know how to be heard?
*What can I do to find minutes in the day for listening to individuals?
*How can I model empathy for students?
*Are there colleagues who need to be heard? Can I be the one to listen?
*What about parents? How can I engage and connect through empathy with families?

We have a loving and caring school culture. Our kids feel safe and secure. Our families trust us to care for their children each school day. What can we do to strengthen it? We teach so much more than content through our daily instruction...the life skills and functions we embed into our daily instruction are vital to the success of our students. For some students, those embedded things are a lifeline. 

Have a great week! 

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