Listening with Empathy

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“Listening is the beginning of understanding… Wisdom is the reward for a lifetime of listening. Let the wise listen and add to their learning and let the discerning get guidance.” —Proverbs 1:5

According to Danah Boyd in the article “Bullying” Has Little Resonance with Teenagers, when trying to discuss the topic of bullying with bully behaving teenagers they simply don’t want to listen to adults lecture them. They have already heard. Even mentioning the word ‘bully’ can turn off troublesome youth from engaging in conversation, much less work to resolve the problem. We have to come up with another way to approach this topic.

“A lecture on bullying is going to be completely ignored…, either as irrelevant or meaningless to them personally…They don’t see what they’re doing as bullying.”

As teachers, how do we talk about bullying AND keep the students engaged in the conversation? Teaching upper elementary and middle school students for the past dozen years, I have come across a fair share of bullies on campus, not just students either. I have witnessed bully behavior from teachers, parents and administrators. Fortunately, I have not witnessed any severe cases of cyber or text message bullying in our school; however, I am sure it exists to some degree. I will begin the conversation this week with my students. The interesting point Boyd mentions is if we want to prevent children from being bullied, taking away the technology might not be the end all answer. To stop the bully behavior we need to teach children to understand others’ perspective and have empathy for them.

What is empathy? Watch this video on the evolution of empathy by Jeremy Rifkin, author and political advisor and social and ethical prophet.

I found a very useful Wikispaces site Educational Origami that is chocked full of helpful videos and resources about internet safety and cyber bullying.

How do I go about teaching empathy?

Stephan Covey writes in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that some psychologists believe one of the highest forms of intelligent behavior is the ability to empathize and listen to another person’s point of view.

“The ability to paraphrase another person’s ideas; detect indicators (cues) of feelings or emotional states in oral and body language (empathy); and accurately express another person’s concepts, emotions, and problems—all are indicators of listening behavior.”

Watch Dr. Covey discuss his technique for improving empathic listening and resolving conflict between two people.

I like the idea of the talking stick to allow each ‘side’ to share without interruption until they feel the other side understands their perspective. I have used a board marker when having kids share in a talking circle, but I haven’t used this technique when working with resolving conflicts. Living in Borneo, I think I will try to find a cool tribal talking stick variation. Also, I will begin inviting students to add on to what others have previously shared in order for them to concentrate and listen to who is sharing and what they are saying.

Watching this video reminded me of Art Costa’s 16 Habits of Mind. A number of years ago, I attended a workshop by Kiwi businesswoman of the year and Art Costa’s protégé, Karen Boyes, on incorporating the Habits of Mind within the school and classroom. One of the habits is “listening with empathy and understanding.”

Here is a list of the 16 Habit of Mind:















Click here to download The Habits of Mind activity worksheet for teaching listening with understanding and empathy.

And if you are keen to learn more about the 16 Habits of Mind, then I would recommend attending one of Karen Boye’s Habits of Mind bootcamps that she leads annually in New Zealand. She is an outstanding presenter. Click the link Spectrum Education to learn more about Karen’s workshops and other educational resources she provides to schools.

Here is another Parenting Tips for Healthy Kids video about modeling empathy to a child:

I must remind myself the importance of modeling listening with empathy and understanding with all my students everyday, all the time. There are those occasions when I fail to do so, and I must remember what I say and do is always teaching my students something. I need to make sure it is the right thing. I believe teaching the importance of listening with empathy will tie right in with discussion of bullying online or on the court.

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About Brent Fullerton

An international educator who strives to enhance learning.
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One Response to Listening with Empathy

  1. Kim Cofino says:

    Another great resource I’ve been using this year with my tutor group is Team-Building Activities for the Digital Age: Using Technology to Develop Effective Groups. It’s not specifically about empathy, but it is about understanding different perspectives and how to promote positive interactions in teams and small groups.

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